The Rise of Low or No
Our drinking habits are changing and this is revealed in figures from the Department of Health which indicate that over a 12 month period, sales of low or no alcohol drinks sold have risen by 20.5%. In stark contrast, the sales of drinks containing a high percentage of alcohol have fallen by 12%. The data analysts, Nielsen identified £2m was spent on one BrewDog product in the 12 months ending last July, a rise from £1.3m the year before.
The question remains as to why this trend has appeared. Some suggest that the millennial generation are more health conscious and are actively choosing a tee-total life style. Certainly it would seem that freshers’ week is not the same as it was a decade ago, as drinking among young people has fallen steadily - a far cry from the lad and laddette images of drunken nights out. Social media has also had a role to play as it has been argued that the drunken photos posted innocently from years ago have come back to haunt those revellers - images that employers are now able to access. In fact, many younger people apparently think getting drunk is something that is the preserve of the older generations and is rather naff. Eventbrite surveyed young people and found that only one in ten saw getting drunk as “cool” while four in ten took a very dim view, viewing being drunk as as “pathetic” or “embarrassing”.
It’s not just the millennials who are cutting back or choosing low or no, The Office of National Statistics data indicates that the proportion of adults saying that they drink alcohol is at the lowest level since records began. Just to give you an idea of what that looks like, only 56.9% of those aged over 16 indicated that they had drunk alcohol in the week prior to their interview. When this was carried out in 2005, the figure was 64.2%
Some would say it is foolhardy not to adapt and meet to this growing demand and that it exactly what many breweries have been doing. BrewDog, launched the original version of their 0.5% hit, Nanny State, way back in 2009 with the aim to smash the idea that a no or low had to taste like dishwater - they wanted a beer that could challenge the likes of any full bodied alcoholic beer. We’ve already noted just how successful the beer has become.
Nirvana Brewery is just one of many craft breweries in London, but what sets it apart from the rest of the pack is that it only brews beers with an ABV of 0.5% or less making it the country’s first non-alcoholic brewery. Until very recently, a bold move such as this would have been scoffed at, but with the changing times, Nirvana saw an opportunity. In 2017 they launched their four beer range; Karma, Sutra IPA, Tantra and Cosmic. Nirvana’s shrewd business gamble is paying off as you can now find their beers in Whole Foods, a variety of London pubs and they plan to expand.
It is important to note that low or no didn’t just appear in the last 18 months, they have been around for a while, but were usually the butt of the joke in the drinks aisle. Where once a lack lustre bottle of Kaliber stood, now there is a dazzling range or low or no alternatives which are hip and cool. Its not just Nirvana, who are working hard to update the image and taste of those dark days, there are the big boys like Heineken, who launched 0.0, in 2017 an alcohol-free lager, and Becks with Blue, but the smaller craft breweries are in on the this too, like Big Drop. There is even a movement to revive the tradition of ‘small beer’. If this is a new term for you, don’t worry, will we cover this in our monthly history feature.
There is a big difference in the way that multi-nationals create low or no brews; using enormously expensive equipment that strips away the alcohol through reverse osmosis. This process can produce vast quantities of beer very rapidly. The craft breweries, working on a much smaller scale, tend to use a very different process. For them, the way to create small batches of low or no means slower fermentation times, lowering the sugar levels, and meticulous care and precision with over-hopping. It is time consuming and not for the undedicated brewster!
The growth of the low or no industry also can be said to reflect the success of initiatives like ‘Dry January’. Not to mention One Year No Beer, Go Sober for October as well as the Mindful Drinking movement. Tesco statistics show that in ‘Dry January’ their sales of low alcohol beer, wine and spirits were double that of the previous year. There is now a growing section in supermarkets dedicated to the low or no brands. The growth in this industry is supported by the explosion of a new phenomenon where our relationship with alcohol is put under the spot light and a whole new perspective is born. You can join a collective like Club Soda, rock up to the Spitalfields’ biannual Mindful Drinking Festival or sit down and immerse yourself in one of many recently published books on the subject, including The Sober Diaries, or take on The 28 Day Alcohol Free Challenge.
So, there you have it, a whole new world of low or no for you to explore if you haven’t already. There is no need to fear that the experience will be a tasteless disappointment; far from it. No you too can enjoy being the designated driver this Christmas!