Sober reflections on alcohol-free beer

The range is widening, the quality improving – and sometimes it’s just the best option

The rise in demand for low- or no-alcohol beers has brought several new brands to the market. Photograph: iStock

The rise in demand for low- or no-alcohol beers has brought several new brands to the market. Photograph: iStock

 

With the surge of interest in alcohol-free drinks, the range of low- and no-alcohol beers is growing annually. Both Heineken and Guinness have produced their own versions.

Guinness released its Open Gate Brew lager in 2018 – made, the blurb claims, “using a special yeast strain that only produces a very limited amount of alcohol”. The international craft brewers have been at it for years; the Danish Mikkeller’s Drink’in the Sun and Brew Dog, Punk AF (.5%) and Nanny State (1.1%) are probably the most popular.

Over Christmas, I tried two Irish alcohol-free craft beers several times and enjoyed both. Dungarvan Main Sail, introduced in 2019, is light and fresh with a good hoppy herby touch and plenty of refreshing citrus. It is 0.4% and therefore qualifies as alcohol-free. Claire Dalton of Dungarvan says: “We use the same brewing technique, using less grain and therefore less sugar which means less alcohol. The challenge was to get some body and flavour into it – so we used a wide variety of grains. It has been very well received.

“Initially, we did it as a once-off to see if there was an appetite out there, but we’ve brewed it several times since. People are definitely looking for no- and low-alcohol beers, but want a more full-flavoured version. The Main Sail ticks their craft box and their flavour profile too.”

The other alcohol-free craft beer I enjoyed was Moonlight from Wicklow Wolf brewery in Newtownmountkennedy. It was maltier, with a pleasant fruitiness and crisp citrus on the finish.  

Beer without alcohol doesn’t taste quite the same. Part of that is down to the process used in making it. Also, as with wine, alcohol is part of the taste and carries other flavours. But if you are spending an evening in a pub, frequently it is the best option.

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