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Why you should be brewing low-alcohol beers

A bottle of No Alcohol beer being held in front of a shelf of beer bottles.

In 2017, renowned beer writer and historian Martyn Cornell boldly proclaimed, “No, Heineken, the alcohol free beer market is NOT going to double in the next four years.”

He was sort of right. According to the Financial Times, writing in 2022, it only actually nearly doubled in five years.

Martyn was right to be cynical. When he was writing, we were just seeing the first embryonic glimpses of brilliance in the alcohol free beer world. An exciting glimmer of what was to come. But now the quality is there, and NOLO drinks are being hailed as one of the UK’s most dynamic markets.

Analysts IWSR show a 16% increase in alcohol-free product sales over 2022 alone. The demand for these products is now proven. It’s no longer a risky venture. And that’s why, if you’re not already, you should be brewing alcohol-free beers of your own.

Heineken identified a drop in alcohol consumption amongst younger consumers of legal drinking age, reporting that only 8% of young people consume alcohol at least once a week compared to 50%, ten years ago. That suggests a potential market coming through in the new generation, who may be more open to adopting alcohol-free drinks.

Incentives to brew alcohol-free beer

The British government is also doing its bit to incentivize UK brewers to produce more low-alcohol products.

The changes to alcohol duty implemented in August 2023 introduced a new, lower rate of duty for drinks below 3.5% ABV. This is to “support public health, encourage product innovation, and ensure the alcohol duty system reflects modern drinking practices,” according to the Society for Independent Brewers.

And it makes it easier for brewers to stack up the numbers.

There is also a consultation currently underway looking at whether drinks containing 0.5% ABV or less should be labelled as alcohol-free – as they are in the USA and Germany, for example.

This will help with the confusion some consumers currently have about what alcohol free actually means, and whether it is appropriate for them. Since products like orange juice, which contain fermentable sugars, can easily have up to 0.5% ABV naturally without any labeling requirement, it would seem reasonable that the NOLO drinks industry is given a level playing field.

How to brew alcohol free beer

More and more experienced craft brewers have been jumping on the trend, which has improved the quality of aroma, flavour and mouthfeel. In turn, they have attracted new customers, happy to try alcohol free beers made by familiar names like Thornbridge and Williams Bros. These established brewers tend to make their low and no alcohol beers by brewing them to strength, tweaking their ingredients and brewing style which doesn’t require any large capital outlay at the outset. This is in contrast to the dealcoholisation of an existing product, through vacuum distillation or similar, which requires expensive equipment.

I asked Crisp Malt’s Mike Benson for an overview of the best ingredients that are out there right now, for those looking to brew lower alcohol beers to strength.

Lacons Bewery on the east coast of the UK brewing low-alcohol beers.


“In the past, fermentation was controlled by using very low temperatures with yeast being pitched close to zero degrees,” Mike says. “This officially made it a beer, even though limited, if any, fermentation would happen. Yeast strains such as Lallemands Windsor yeast became a weapon for the brewer as it does not utilise maltotriose, a sugar that is present at an average 10-15% in standard wort. This yeast yields beers with a fuller body and higher residual sweetness.  When matched with high temperature mashing, the brewer is able to produce a nice low ABV beer.

“Now, yeast manufacturers have developed yeast that goes a step further and does not utilise maltose, the most common sugar in wort and maltotriose, resulting in attenuation of only 20%.  High temperature mashing can lower this further.”

Mike is talking about innovations like Lallemand’s LoNa, a maltose-negative hybrid strain developed using “advanced classical and non-GMO breeding methods” to purposefully achieve very low attenuation.


When it comes to malt, obviously, Mike is the expert voice! He took me through some of the options for creating a malt bill that achieves the fullness and mouthfeel that can be needed in an alcohol-free beer:

“My go-to malt for low and no beers is Vienna malt.  Low in diastatic power (DP), it can help to restrict the formation of fermentable sugars during mashing while providing a nice base with plenty of body and mouth feel from the extra kilning and higher protein levels.

“One base malt is not enough, and backup comes in the form of Chit malt.  This is an under-modified malt with very little extract that adds a large amount of body through the complex high molecular weight proteins.

Caramalt can be used to improve smoothness and body.

Clear Choice malt also refines the smoothness of the beer. High temperature mashing can extract higher levels of polyphenols, making the beer astringent, but as it is free from flavor-sensitive tannins, Clear Choice side steps this issue.”

But not every malt is the right malt for low-alcohol brewing, Mike warns. Extra Pale and Lager malts can be troublesome since they generally have higher DP levels and produce a more fermentable wort.

Malted barley grains, brewers malt used for low and no alcohol beers in containers and spilled onto a table.


Finally, I asked Mike what brewers need to consider when it comes to hop selection and use:

Hand holding green hops

“Normal hopping regimes work well,” he told me. “But the BU needs to be in line with the final gravity of the beer to keep the balance: normally around 35 IBU’s. Care should be taken to avoid any hop creep because extra fermentation in package can be disastrous.”

Flavor additions

Some of the most important and recognizable flavor characteristics in beer come from fermentation, and these can be lacking in NOLO beers. Even breweries using expensive vacuum distillation or reverse osmosis equipment may still blend back some regular beer to add those flavors in.

Flavor houses have spotted a gap in the market here and are supplying brewers with fermentation flavors that can make a huge difference to the final taste of low and no-alcohol beers.

If this doesn’t sound like an acceptable route for you, some researchers are championing the use of dry-hopping to add terpenes and esters as well as masking off flavors. A study published in BrewingScience has demonstrated that this method will give the desirable fruity and floral hop aromas to alcohol-free beers, although the bitterness may be less perceptible than in an alcoholic beer.

What styles should you brew?

The next decision is what kind of alcohol-free beer to brew, so I turned to the British retailers to get an insight into what sells well. Mike Dalton runs an alcohol-free bottle shop in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK and reports that in their first year, bold flavored fruity pale ales have been the consistent customer favorite. Clear Head from the Bristol Beer Factory is his biggest seller. Hopped with Citra and Mosaic, Clear Head has a little added lactose to build body and mouthfeel.

Laura Willoughby, the co-founder of Club Soda in London’s Covent Garden, has also noticed this trend. One of their most popular lines is Big Drop Brewing’s Citra. But she also stresses that there is room in the market for a range of styles.

“Alcohol-free beer buyers like variety, and we find people come and ‘pick and mix’ in the tasting room,” Laura told me. “Our best sellers are Lucky Saint and Big Drop Citra. They have a solid fan base. Brulo, Lowtide and Impossibrew are also very popular, and Clausthualer, which has been around since the ’70s, is our dark horse. It is a great value beer and tastes great.”

Mike has also noticed more customers are looking for alcohol-free stouts and bitters than they were a year ago, requesting something with a bit more depth and body.

“It could be part of Shrewsbury’s tourism profile, but I get quite a lot of older people in their fifties and sixties coming into the shop, who are looking for traditional beer styles. They always give a really good reaction to Sam Smith’s AF Brown Ale, Thornbridge Brewery’s Zero Five, and Ilkley Brewery’s Nowt Mary. When people recognize the brewer, they are much more likely to buy – it does come with a lot more credibility when it’s a name they know.”

A line up of beer glasses on a table filled with beers from pale ales to bitters

Things to consider

With the growth in popularity of alcohol-free beers, packaging them in kegs is a much more viable option than it was just a year or two ago. It is much easier now to find venues that have the throughput to finish the keg in a timely fashion. One of Dry By Choice’s tricks of the trade is always offering at least one beer on draught in the shop for customers to taste. It makes a huge difference to his overall sales. Club Soda also sell a lot of draught products at their dedicated alcohol-free bar.

“We sell a lot of beer on tap, and the customer is hungry for more,” Laura says.

Finally, there is a word of caution. Alcohol in beer doesn’t just play a role in flavor and mouthfeel of beer. It also creates a low-nutritional environment that makes those beers resistant to infection. It is a combination of the alcohol, hops, pH, and lower availability of nutrients that prevent contaminants from growing. Studies are showing that beers with a very low alcohol content still have a good level of protection, but 0.0% ABV beers do not.

This means that extra caution needs to be taken to make sure the beer is clean and packaging lines are sterile to prevent infection from being introduced. Brewers should also make sure that their trade customers understand the importance of clean lines to make sure the beer stays at its best.


Article written by Laura Hadland

What’s Brewing and Vineyard Magazine columns, World’s Best Beer Book 2022, and Brit Beer Writers Best Alcohol-Free Writer.

Find out more about the British drinks writer Laura Hadland here.

Read more from Mike Benson, our Craft Brewing Sales Manager, on brewing low and no alcohol beers.

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