12 Sep 2019

Over 4 million people in the UK took part in Dry January this year (2019) – that’s around 1 in 10 people who usually drink decided to go sober or at least limit their ABV intake for a month. Do these figures show the beginnings of a shift in attitude towards alcohol in society or is this low/no alcohol phase just a fad?

People abstain from alcohol for many different reasons. The most common reason is raising money for charity, other reasons are a post-Christmas cleanse or a resolution to be healthier and cut down. Others have faced a realisation that they consume a bit too much, so taking a month off will help them reset, recharge and hopefully return to alcohol with a different frame of mind. Studies have recently shown that 72% of people who participate in Dry January are still drinking less, six months later.

Here at Adnams, we've been looking at low alcohol beer for a long time, it started with ‘Solestar’, at 2.7% abv back in 2011, we then dropped that to 0.9% in 2016. It’s a restricted fermentation brew, which means we don’t use as much malt so there isn’t a lot of sugar for the yeast to ferment. Plus, we ferment at a colder temperature than normal and at lower pitching rates. Basically, we do everything we can to slow down and restrict the fermentation of the beer, then we add a lot of dry hop. The beer works well, and is enjoyed by many people, but we wanted to get closer to the flavour and sensation of a full-strength beer.
We looked at various ways and methods and decided that if we wanted to get closer to the normal flavour of a beer, we really needed to be able to ferment a beer using the normal brewing process and then remove the alcohol afterwards. There are two main ways of doing this, either through vacuum distillation or reverse osmosis. Vacuum distillations distil off the alcohol, but even under a vacuum it does use some heat which will ultimately change the flavour of the brew.

We opted to use a process called Reverse Osmosis, which means we can filter out the alcohol and water leaving the flavours of the beer behind. This process is also done at really cold temperatures, which helps to lock in those flavours. This was by far the best method of producing alcohol free beer that we came across, and by best, I mean best for flavour. This means that Ghost Ship 0.5% has all the flavours and aromas of Ghost Ship 4.5%, but with almost all the alcohol removed. It’s all very high-tech magic allowing our Ghost Ship to sail away almost free from alcohol but remaining full of its original flavours and aromas.

The rapid growth of the low/no category is an industry wide success story. Industry innovation means consumers now have access to a wide range of lower strength products in many different forms which helps increase freedom of choice. Consumer enthusiasm for low/no products can be seen in record UK sales, with over £110 million worth of sales in 2018-19. Spending on low/no alcohol beer alone has grown 100% over the past three years to £57 million, equating to 12.5 million pints. A poll produced by the Portman Group shows that 24% of UK drinkers have already switched to low/no alternatives or would consider doing so in the next six months.

We think the low alcohol beer market will continue to grow; if the beers are good enough. Creating a dealcoholised beer means that a pint can be enjoyed as part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. It’s a great choice for designated drivers and for anyone wishing to cut down on their alcohol consumption whilst still enjoying a good beer. Enjoying a drink socially is a great way to meet people, to exchange ideas and thoughts, and to build a strong, local community, so having the opportunity to do this free of alcohol can only be a good thing.

In Germany and across continental Europe Low and No Alcohol beers have been around for a long time and prove very popular. Many big sporting companies are using alcohol-free beer to promote their events and sponsor their teams. The reason for this is the Isotonicity and nutrients found in beer, normally the alcohol in beer prevents us from drawing attention to some of these positive elements of beer, but once we remove the Alcohol, we can talk up the benefits of alcohol free and low alcohol beer. With just 23 Kcal, 0.1g of sugar, 4.4g of Carbohydrates and 0.5g of protein per 100ml of Ghostship 0.5% it really does stand out as a good choice for gym-goers post workout.

Do I believe there has been a shift in attitude towards alcohol? Yes, I do. As more people start to take care of their well-being, mental health and physical health – and with more breweries and companies making alternatives more readily available, it’s becoming easier for people to cut down or quit. It is also becoming ‘trendy’ not to drink, or to drink less among the millennials. The trend is gathering pace, with 42% of millennials saying they’re drinking less alcohol than they were three years ago.

Is it time for the industry to start changing? Just like when the smoking ban was introduced the pub and drinks industry will need to change and adapt to make sure we can stay afloat in society. I do believe it will be commonplace for every pub to have a 0.5% or lower ABV beer on tap and this little category will boom in years to come. In August 2019, Ghostship 0.5% was honoured with a Gold Award in its category of beers up to 1.2% in the World Beer Awards. This shows that low ABV beers are starting to get the recognition on the main platform within the beer world.

2019 so far has been a very interesting year on all accounts. There have been big shake-ups within the UK drinks business, with the rise of low and no ABV products being one. I am so pleased to see these fantastic products rise from the bottom of fridges and into the consumers hands. With 2020 on the horizon, let’s hope that as the clock strikes midnight on the 31st December 2019 we can leave ‘Just a lime and soda’ behind for good!

Source: Adnams plc