This time last year, I asked in this publication ( FAB News ) if 2019 might be the year non-alcoholic beer explodes into the mainstream. It had been a small, yet steadily growing category, without any major investment in UK consumer communication campaigns. But the scene seemed to be set for significant growth.
And that’s exactly what happened.
If you’re into great tasting beers without the alcohol, 2019 didn’t disappoint. We’ve now seemingly moved away from non-alcoholic beer being just something people drink as a soft drink replacement when driving, to the drink of choice for a rapidly growing group of enthusiastic consumers.
And these consumers are being presented with a choice like never before.
Over the past 12 months Heineken has invested heavily in promoting their 0.0 product. And it seems to have paid off. Last year Heineken announced global growth of 7.7%, its best performance in over a decade, attributing a major part of this success to the launch of Heineken 0.0 in 38 countries.
Budweiser Prohibition Brew has also had advertising weight behind it, and has seen significant growth in 2019. AB InBev anticipate no and low alcohol beers will account for 25% of their sales by 2025. Both Heineken 0.0 and Budweiser Prohibition Brew are fighting it out for shelf and on-trade fridge space with the traditional Beck’s Blue option.
But perhaps the most exciting development within the no alcohol category is the fact that all beer varieties are now innovating in this space and offering some seriously good products.
Within craft, BrewDog is leading the way. Nanny Sate has been established and growing for a few years, but 2019 saw the launch of Punk AF, a 0.5% version of BrewDog’s flagship Punk IPA. And to kick off the Dry January season, BrewDog has just launched its first alcohol free bar, offering 15 beers on tap – all below 0.5%, including the newly launched Hazy AF, and a 0.5% coffee stout called Wake Up Call. Could this be the start of something serious for the non-alcoholic on-trade?
Perhaps the toughest nut to crack from a product development POV is a low abv real ale. Adnam’s Ghost Ship’s 0.5% had set the bar and has been growing steadily in distribution, and last year saw the launch of Old Speckled Hen’s 0.5% product, that in my opinion, has raised the bar further. Others are getting in on the act.
Add to this, there are also a range of innovative breweries specialising in low alcohol beers, with the likes of Big Drop and Nirvana all offering an exciting (and seriously good tasting) range of predominantly 0.5% lagers, stouts, IPA’s and pale ales.
So whatever beer you’re in to, it’s a truly exciting time for those that want to avoid alcohol in the week, or perhaps all together. And according to a recent Mintel report, this is quite a lot of us in the UK, with 24% of beer drinkers increasing their consumption of low or no-alcohol options over the past year.
Nielsen state that alcohol-free beer is the fastest-growing drinks trend, with non-alcoholic beer sales up 58% last summer, compared to 2018 figures. It’s becoming a crucial and mainstream category.
So now that in-home low alcohol beer drinkers have a wealth of choice and quality to pick from, it will be interesting to watch the on-trade. Having a choice of 1 or 2 bottles from the fridge is the base level. Having a non-alcoholic beer option on tap in every good bar and pub is surely the holy grail for those that enjoy these types of beer and lifestyle.
If BrewDog’s first alcohol-free bar takes off and is rolled out across the UK and Europe, others will surely follow. Younger people may be drinking less, but they still want to go out. It’s all to play for.
Not convinced? Here’s five great non-alcoholic beers to try:
Of all the non-alcoholic beers I’ve tried, I think this is the closest to the original product that it intends to replicate. It tastes amazingly like 5% Heineken. It’s an enjoyable, simple and refreshing beer, that is becoming the go to non-alcoholic lager.
Big Drop, 0.5% Pale Ale
The good people at Big Drop gave me their full range to try, and they have some fantastic beers. But the Pale Ale is my favourite. It’s dry hopped, full of zesty flavours, and properly hits the spot. Really refreshing.
BrewDog Hazy AF, 0.5%
Hazy Jane is my favourite BrewDog drop, so it’s probably not surprising that Hazy AF is right on the money for me. It’s got the same big hoppy tropical hit, which is massively impressive for a non-alcoholic beer. It’s worth the trip alone to BrewDog’s AF bar.
Old Speckled Hen, 0.5%
This beer seeks to offer the malty and toffee flavours that Old Speckled Hen is known for, but without the alcohol, and it really does work well. I think it’s delicious. And the fact it comes in a 500ml bottle is very welcome.
Brooklyn Special Effects Hoppy Lager, 0.4%
This tastes more like a pale ale to me than a lager, but it hits the spot. Heaps of flavour and perhaps a little sweeter than other low alcohol beers I’ve been trying. Very enjoyable though.
by Jamie Williams who is Managing Partner of creative agency isobel and a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers