Going sober for January? We’ve zeroed in on the best alcohol-free beers
With the year everyone’s had, we could all do with a stiff drink. But, as is now tradition come January, scores of merrymakers and over-indulgers are about to set down their spirits, banish the beer — and sober up for a full 31 days. ‘Dry January’ is upon us; and it’s going to be tougher than ever.
That’s why we’ve tested almost every alcohol-free beer on the British market. We’ve poured, sipped and sampled over 25 different bottles and cans — all in search of the perfect antidote to a very imperfect 2020.
You can find our recommendations for the best alcohol-free beers below. And, before you grab the ring-pull and pop the top on our choice list, here’s a quick explanation of how all the lagers, pale ales and porters we tried fly below 0.5% ABV. Cheers!
One of the main reasons we turn our collective noses up at alcohol-free beer is because it’s an alien concept — a blue-bottled bar interloper lapped up by our less interesting friends. But, although it continues to be eyed with the disdain and mistrust of frozen yoghurt or decaffeinated coffee, it’s actually been around since 1919 — thanks to Prohibition.
It starts life as normal beer, going through the hopping, mashing and fermenting processes — before the alcohol is removed through heating. And, while this distilling does alter the flavour of some beers, it unlocks and deepens flavours of others. Unfortunately, it’s a hit-and-miss process — but sometimes a genuinely tasty brew floats to the surface. So suspend your prejudices, reach for your pint glass and open your mind; here are the best alcohol-free beers you can buy.
Tasting notes: Cacao, vanilla and bitter coffee
Where it’s brewed: Ipswich
Give it a chance because: It’s surprisingly authentic for an alcohol-free beer, achieving that heavy pour and residual sweetness you’d expect from a boozy milk stout. It does have a lighter mouth feel than a usual stout, but overall works its dark magic commendably.
Tasting notes: Lemon, peach and apricot
Where it’s brewed: Derbyshire
Give it a chance because: It captures the sublime taste of American hops without the alcohol. True, it might feel a little thin, but if you’re all hopped up, this is the way to go.
Tasting notes: Fruity notes and soft malty body
Where it’s brewed: Amsterdam
Give it a chance because: It’s very nearly, almost, practically identical to the real deal. Except it’s still got a little way to go. However, for a beer lacking any alcohol at all, this is an incredibly impressive offering.
Tasting notes: Ripe citrus, orange and sherbet lemon
Where it’s brewed: Ellon, Scotland
Give it a chance because: It’s suitable for vegans — which is rare for any beer, let alone an alcohol-free one. One of the most refreshing beers we tried, you’ll get resinous pine notes, a foundation of malt and a riot of freewheeling citrus.
Tasting notes: Spicy fruit and wheat
Where it’s brewed: Bayreuth, Germany
Give it a chance because: It’s genuinely quite good for you. Ideally isotonic and nutrition-conscious, it may be beer — but it’s vitamin rich and full of spicy, fruity flavour.
Tasting notes: Crisp, refreshing, fruity and malty
Where it’s brewed: Italy
Give it a chance because: We may be in the depths of winter, but there’s nothing like a crisp Italian lager to transport you back to summer. The first alcohol-free offering from one of the UK’s biggest beer brands, it’s easier to source than many on this list and offers clean citrusy flavours with a dry finish and smooth mouthfeel.
Tasting notes: Malt and soft fruit
Where it’s brewed: Liege, Belgium
Give it a chance because: It’ll grow on you. It’s flavourful enough, if a little watery — but press on and you’ll discover a fruity, malty lager that won’t change the world, but does a very solid job.
Tasting notes: Wheat, baking bread and cloves
Where it’s brewed: Erding, Germany
Give it a chance because: It’s a real thirst quencher. Perhaps more a bottle for summer than the upcoming cold months, Erdinger Alkoholfrei is brewed under the strict Bavarian Purity Law, which makes it a market leader.
Tasting notes: Pine, spice and floral flavours
Where it’s brewed: London
Give it a chance because: We’re great fans of an IPA at Gentleman’s Journal, and this one really took us by surprise. Spicy, floral and with a light amber body, it’s got a very welcome elderflower twang — and is well worth a try.
Tasting notes: Pine, malt and honey
Where it’s brewed: Ipswich
Give it a chance because: It’s cracking. There’s a pattern here, and pale ales obviously hold their own against the distilling process more so than any other beer. It’s got a solid body, a little sweet malt and plenty of pine on the nose. Your new go-to alcohol-free beer.