Blog: Say Hello to No and Low
If I ever decide to change my profession I shall not consider trends forecasting as my new job. I am the person who responded incredulously to the release of the film ‘Titanic’ with the comment ‘Well no-one will go and watch it - they already know the ending.’
When I started my business The School of Booze in 2008 I had no inkling that 10 years later there would be such a demand for no and low alcohol drinks
At that time my experience of what is now referred to as No-Low was an unsatisfying near beer that had the texture of cardboard and the flavour of
soap. My Road to Damascus epiphany happened in 2016 when I was asked to write a feature about no and low alcohol beers. I did the research at home
one evening and drank several different styles that were satisfying, flavoursome and most importantly, drank like beer. The next morning my head had
none of the fuzz I would have expected had I been drinking beer with alcohol. Wow, I thought. Now I get it.
Most No-Low drinks in the UK contain 0.5% alcohol or lower. To put that in context, 0.5% alcohol is about the same alcohol content as 4 overripe bananas.
Most dental mouthwash contains a significant amount of alcohol (up to 25% ABV). Every person who eats carbohydrates has alcohol in their gut as the
sugars in the food they ate ferments. For non-drinkers worried about the 0.5 % ABV in drinks it is minimal.
In the last couple of years I have worked with a No-Low beer brand, a supermarket chain on their No-Low offering, and also an organisation called Club Soda, which espouses mindful drinking and advises people on how to cut their alcohol units. But why would someone (me) who drinks alcohol and founded a business with the word booze in its name be involved with the No-Low sector? Well most No-Low contained alcohol until it was removed. Filtering or vacuum distillation are the most effective methods of removing alcohol and retaining as much flavour and character as possible. And just because I drink alcohol does not mean I would never choose a non-alcoholic drink.
Britain is a leader in the production and consumption of No-Low. It is not easy to produce a drink without alcohol that mimics its alcoholic counterpart
and that does not make the drinker feel as though something is missing. With wine, cider and beer it is often the body and texture, and with alt-spirits
it is that ‘bite’ and the heat of alcohol that is hard to duplicate.
For me British No -Low beer (ale in particular) is especially noteworthy. Brewers have several devices to achieve this such as adding highly aromatic and
flavoursome hops; including multiple types of cereal e.g. oats in the brew, and by adding lactose. Certain types of cereal and lactose will increase
the body of the beer which in the absence of alcohol can be rather light.
With cider and wine it is much harder to produce a No-Low that does not drink like apple or grape juice. I have been taste-testing No-Low cider and wine
and concluded that the trick is for the makers to use cider apples and grapes that contain tannins as this enhances the mouthfeel, body and texture
of the drink. Tannins are compounds sourced from organic materials. Think of a cup of black tea and the drying effect in the mouth – that is tannins.
No-Low sparkling wine benefits from carbonation which contributes to body and mouthfeel. Combined with the acidity from grapes and acidity as a by-product
of carbonation this also convinces the brain that it is a grown-up drink.
Just as gin is definitely in amongst alcohol drinkers, so is alt-gin -i.e. no alcohol. Here producers have a range of botanicals to choose from which replicate
those in gin. With dark spirits, spice can be employed to bestow that hit of heat one would expect from alcohol. Blend a concoction of alt-spirt with
the right mixers and garnish imaginatively and it is hard to tell the difference between a cocktail and a mocktail.
But not all No and Low are iterations of alcoholic drinks. There is a plethora of adult soft drinks. My favourite? Give a cheer to the ancient drink called
Shrub. Shrub originated as a honey, water and vinegar-based drink of the Middle East and became popular in England in the medieval era. Some of the
best Shrubs I have sampled are made from cider vinegar infused with fruit and herbs. If that does not make your mouth water, how about this – sour
cherry and mint, or peach and basil. The tang from the vinegar emerges subtly from beneath the juiciness of the fruit, with the herbs adding an invigorating
There is much to explore in this flourishing drinks sector and what I have outlined above is just a sample of the inventive alternatives to alcohol. If
you want to investigate more, then websites such as Dry Drinker have a vast selection of No-Low drinks. If only all of Britain’s pubs would offer customers
a better selection of No-Low. People who do not drink alcohol still want to socialise but they want adult drinks, not infantilising sugary pop or fruit
juice. And sometimes alcohol drinkers do not or cannot have alcohol – think drivers and women during pregnancy.
Come on pubs, when British producers are creating such delicious adult alternatives to alcohol what is your excuse for not giving your customers the option?
Jane Peyton is an award-winning drinks educator and founder of the School of Booze