Runner, designated driver or non-drinker? Nine of the best alcohol-free beers rated for this summer
- Credit: Archant
The non-alcoholic beer market has exploded in the last few years as they become more popular. Nick Richards rates nine of the best on the market
Whether you're on a health kick, a designated driver on a night out or simply a non-drinker, alcohol-free beers are an increasingly popular option.
As a keen runner I'm currently going six months without alcohol in order to get as fit as possible for a couple of autumn marathons so have a vested interest in an area of the beers, wines and spirits aisle I usually avoid.
A decade ago you'd struggle to see past Kaliber as a non-alcoholic lager, but now there are a whole host available in supermarkets and the big boys clearly want a slice of this booming market.
Well-known lager brands Heineken, San Miguel, Becks, Peroni and Budweiser have all entered the alcohol-free arena in recent years as well as local brewers Adnams and St Peter's Brewery.
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With savvy branding, cool labels and a touch of class, drinking one of these beers at a party or barbecue over the summer means you can easily blend in with your pals and not stick out like a sore thumb - and that must be better than having to endure fruit juice all night.
To avoid confusion, in the UK an alcohol-free beer must be less than 0.05% but across most of the European Union a beer can be labelled alcohol free if it contains less than 0.5% ABV which takes in all the beers reviewed.
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Brewdog Nanny State, 0.5% ABV, 330ml can, £1.15. This is not great. Citrus-heavy and almost a sour taste this beer had me wincing with every mouthful. Described as a hoppy ale, this left me with my feet firmly on the ground. I couldn't even finish the can.
San Miguel, 0.0% ABV, 330ml bottle, 75p. This is excellent, feels like a full bodied lager. Tastes like a beer and has a strong after taste. Some alcohol-free beers taste watery and diluted but this is great. Half way through the bottle you forget it's alcohol-free which is surely the strength of a beer without any alcohol.
Erdinger Alkoholfrei, 0.5% ABV, 500ml bottle, £1.30. Of all the non-alcoholic beer brands, Erdinger has done most to align itself to the fitness industry.
It proudly labels itself as an isotonic drink packed with vitamins and will do wonders for your immune system and reduce tiredness. Keen runners may have been given a pint of this after running the Cambridge Half Marathon and its regularly featured in running magazines. It's the non alcoholic beer I've had the most of in my life and the one I'm most familiar with. It's light, uncomplex and very drinkable.
Heinken, 0.0% ABV, 330ml bottle, 90p. A good crisp straightforward alcohol-free lager. Like the San Miguel it doesn't try and over complicate things. Has a bit of depth, pleasant after taste and served ice cold is a lovely refreshing drink on a hot day. This would be excellent at a barbecue or curry if you had to drive home. Really good.
Peroni Libera, 0.0% ABV, 330ml bottle, £1.15. Well this was a surprise. I would have put money on this classy looking bottle being the hands down winner but it's not great. Peroni is my go to lager in a pub, but this is a rather poor imitation of the regular beer and doesn't have the same clarity as rivals Heineken, San Miguel. It's the most expensive beer too but genuinely nothing amazing about it. Stick to the cheaper ones, this flatters to deceive a little.
Bavaria, 0.0% ABV, 330ml bottle, 50p. The cheapest of the beers, this is actually great in that it doesn't try and do something amazing. It reminds me of a shandy which is what I think an alcohol-free beer should taste like. It's light with a beery and pleasant after taste
Brooklyn Special Effects, 0.4% ABV, 355ml bottle, £1.30. Bizzarely this has that same piney taste as a regular Brooklyn Lager which the label describes as the real special effect. I really couldn't tell the difference between this and a regular Brooklyn.I'm not the biggest fan of the Brooklyn taste but this is certainly drinkable.
Great psychedelic label and if you love a Brooklyn this one's for you.
St Peter's Without, 0.0% ABV, 500ml bottle, £1.30. I should love this as I usually favour dark ales that tip the scales at around 6.5% ABV such as Adnams Broadside, Shepherd Neame's 1698 and McEwan's Champion. This beer from the Bungay-based brewery promises a full bodied ale with rich and malty taste. For me it's too yeasty, it tastes like a brewery smells. A bit overpowering in my opinion and a bit tough to drink. Beautiful golden colour, but not for me.
Ghost Ship, 0.5% ABV, 500ml bottle, £1.30. Billed as a citrus pale ale with Citra hops this is a lovely golden colour and has that Ghost Ship taste to it. Personally I don't rate Ghost Ship although I know it's one of Adnams most popular beers. Plenty of depth and boldness, this beer certainly had a unique and refreshing flavour. I don't think this is an entry-level non alcoholic drink, it's too complex for a first timer who would probably prefer something more run of the mill
Conclusion: It's a victory for the mainstream lagers who have produced the most palatable and tasty drinks. The alcohol-free take offs produced by Adnams, Brewdog and St Peters just don't work for me. When alcohol is taken out of a beer I don't think a rich and complex taste is what you want to be left with so my advice is stick to the lagers as, for me, they tasted better.