The best non-alcoholic beers have come a long way in the past decade or so. Where once upon a time, designated drivers and Dry Januarians would be lucky to find a solitary alcohol-free ale at their local pub or off-licence – and even luckier if it actually tasted of anything – nowadays there is a huge selection to choose from.
Big-name manufacturers such as Budweiser, Becks, Heineken, Peroni and Guinness all offer their own varieties, but there's also a growing number of craft breweries jumping on the booze-less bandwagon. As a result, drinkers can now enjoy flavoursome lagers, IPAs, stouts and wheat beers without fear of breaking the law or their own vow of abstinence.
Non-alcoholic beers offer many health benefits, and are also less fattening than their alcoholic counterparts, since each unit of alcohol contains 56 calories.
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Best non-alcoholic beers: Beer guide
Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu is one of Bavaria's oldest breweries, and its Franziskaner Weissbier one of the region's most popular ales. So it kind of figured that this virgin version would be up there with the best low-alcohol beers.
Cloudy with a small amount of carbonation, FWA is a natural and elegant brew that's characterised by an aromatic, malty nose and succulent bursts of banana and citrus fruit.
Since it's packed with vitamins, this German beer works wonders as an isotonic thirst-buster on a hot summer's day. But does that mean we wouldn't drink it in the winter? Does it heck.
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Founded as recently as 2019, Freestar brewery is already making waves in the drinks industry. That year, its debut (and so far only) beer – this self-titled zero-percenter – was crowned best low-alcohol choice at the World Beer Awards.
The first non-alcoholic beer to be made using a completely alcohol-free process, this IPA-style lager draws upon natural ingredients including malted barley, perle hops, pomelo and bergamot to deliver a piquant brew that's bursting with citrussy zest.
Freestar is also made using 80% less water and 70% less waste than industry standard, meaning it's also friendly to the environment as well as your palate.
London brewery Infinite Session (get it?) specialises in making low-alcohol beers, stating that they “love beer but hate hangovers”. To be honest, all three of its products could have easily made it on to our list of the best non-alcoholic beers –
they also do a lager and an IPA. But since we were only allowed to choose one, we plumped for this American pale ale.
Double dry-hopped with Mosaic, Simcoe and Citra, Infinite Session Pale is full-bodied and packed with flavour. It's refreshing, too, its frothy mouthfeel and delicate notes of mango and apricot making you crave (infinitely) more.
Big Drop is another brewery whose output consists entirely of non or low-alcoholic beers. It has produced some scrumptious seasonal treats over the past few years, including a pumpkin-spiced ale and a gateau stout for winter, as well as the Japanese-inspired Kodama IPL for summer.
For us, though, the Ipswich company's standout offering is this Galactic Milk Stout. Made from cocoa nibs, rye and oats, it's a truly decadent drink with those notes of vanilla, toasted malt and chocolate transporting you instantly to your favourite coffee shop.
Even better, the beer's 91 calories per 330ml can is much less than you'd expect to get in a 'full fat' stout, meaning you needn't feel too guilty about this particular pleasure.
Can't decide whether to have wine or beer with your meal? Well, Binary Botanical gives you the best of both worlds. Described by its maker The Good Living Brew Co as a 'table beer', this amber-coloured ale is infused with organically farmed hop leaves and wine yeast, making it every bit as tangy and refreshing as a prosecco.
It also contains the kind of juicy fruit flavours you might expect from a good wine – passion fruit, white peach, guava, gooseberries and grapefruit – with hints of rosemary and elderflower adding to the experience.
Binary Botanical is also available as an alcoholic 4% ABV version, but if you're looking for a cool and sprightly wine alternative that won't leave you feeling light-headed, then this low-alcohol variety deserves a place at the table.
Brooklyn Brewery has been one of the major success stories of the recent craft beer boom, so we expected great things from the company's first low-alcohol beer – and we weren't disappointed.
Special Effects is made from pale caramel and dark-roasted Munich malts, and dry-hopped with Mosaic, Citra and Amarillo – a technique that's rarely seen in non or low-alcohol beers. The result is an intense, amber-coloured lager that marries tropical fruit flavours with surprising notes of pine and herb.
It's one of the best low-alcohol beers we've tasted. And with an ABV of just 0.4%, you can have a truly 'special' night without worrying about a hangover.
BrewDog manufacturers a range of low-alcohol beers, some of which are based on its 'full-fat' varieties. And to keep abstainers motivated throughout Dry January, the Scottish brewery even announced it was offering them at a 25% discount. Nice.
Our pick of the bunch is Punk AF (AF stands for alcohol-free, in case you were wondering, a virgin take on BrewDog's hugely popular Punk IPA. Brewed using eight different hops from North America, New Zealand and Europe, along with Caramalt and Munich malts, this straw-coloured beer contains hints of juicy tropical fruit and fresh pine.
The mouthfeel is not as lively as some low-alcohol beers we've tested, but its well-balanced, complex flavours more than make up for it.
Becks have long been producing their sparkling brand of pilsner lager - but if you’re looking for the same familiar taste but with no alcohol, then the Beck’s Blue should be just what your tastebuds are craving for.
Bottled at 0.0% ABV, Beck’s Blue is created using the same process as their alcoholic big brother – and it actually tastes very similar. Golden and crisp, this is best served straight from the fridge.
We haven’t tried it side by side with the 4% ABV version, but we think it would make a good blind challenge.
Pistonhead’s range of beers have been around for a while now and immediately jump off the shelves thanks to their eye-catching skull logo. This 0.5% brew is made with Mosaic hops and has been double dry hopped to punch out the flavour.
It’s full of malty character and well worth dropping into your shopping basket and straight into the fridge when it arrives home. A perfect tipple for when BBQ weather returns.
Dutch brewers Heineken are a household name thanks to their clean, crisp offerings – and if you ever find yourself in Amsterdam, then a visit to their ultra-modern interactive visitor centre is a must.
Along with shaking floors and neon displays, you’ll get some tokens to use at the end of your experience which can be exchanged for a few refreshments – and you might want to consider dropping one on the counter for their alcohol-free offering.
It’s a great pour, and while the hops aren't exactly jumping out of the glass, you can be sure of a well made, thirst quenching beer that hits the spot.
Fact time: Did you know the red star on the Heineken label symbolises the brewery’s five ingredients? Water, hops, barley and yeast, with the fifth element representing the passion they put into their beer. We think that’s pretty cool.
Best non-alcoholic beers: Buying advice
If you've ever been shopping for non-alcoholic beers, you'll have noticed that not all varieties are completely alcohol-free. While many are classed as having 0% ABV, others may contain up to 0.5% ABV – the maximum allowed for a drink sold without a licence in the UK.
You needn't worry too much about the numbers, though, as they're much of a muchness and it would be almost impossible to get drunk on 0.5% beer – indeed, that's roughly the same amount of alcohol as you'd find in a ripe banana.
Note that you should aim for the 0% stuff if you're allergic or intolerant to alcohol. And if you happen to be a recovering alcoholic, it's probably best to avoid these beers altogether, since they can provide sensory cues that you might wish to avoid.
Changing attitudes towards drink-driving and healthy living have contributed to a boom in non-alcoholic beer consumption, with the market growing by as much as 39% in 2018. New specialist online retailers are cropping up all the time, while supermarkets are offering a broader selection than ever before. Pubs and bars have been a little slower on the uptake, but your local – when it opens back up – should still offer a couple of the more well-known brands.