Alcohol-free and low-alcohol beer has long suffered from a mixed reputation, but recently, there’s been a notable increase in quality (and variety) of alcohol-free beers and beers with an ABV of 2.5% and under.
Big breweries see it as an exciting new market and, for smaller operations, crafting beers with more taste and less alcohol is an interesting challenge. Without alcohol to provide body, richness and sweetness, there’s less space to hide poor technique.
Low-alcohol beer is appealing to many, because you’d have to drink a huge volume of low-alcohol beer in order to approximate the effect of a pint of standard beer – meaning you can enjoy a refreshing drink over the course of an evening and expect a more moderate effect. Note that in the UK, beers containing up to 0.5% alcohol can be called either ‘low alcohol’ or ‘alcohol-free’, as this labelling is accepted in Europe.
Read on to discover which low-alcohol beers are best. For more like this, visit our product review section where you’ll find 200+ buyer’s guides, including taste tests of non-alcoholic spirits and wines.
Rothaus Tannenzäpfle, 0.5% ABV
German brewery Rothaus was founded in 1791 and is a cult brewery in many regards, with an iconic label design and an output that includes some of the country’s finest beer.
Its vegan-friendly Tannenzäpfle (named after the fir cone on the label) is an impeccable pils, which tastes just as good with almost no alcohol.
The beer is light gold, with a rich, bready nose and light, herbal hop counternote. The flavour doesn’t quite follow through as perfectly as in their normal pils, but the malt is pleasing, with a light sweetness, delicate hop flavour, and clean bitterness.
Dry Drinker (£13.37 for case of 6 x 330ml bottles)
Big Drop stout, 0.5% ABV
Founded in 2016 by two friends looking to ease impending parenthood with a low-alcohol beer, Big Drop is relatively new to the market. This offering, the stout, was the first in its range and established the brewery’s house style.
It pours like any other stout – black with a mocha head – and has a light, roasty nose that brings in elements of cocoa and coffee. To drink, there’s a pleasing, smooth mouthfeel.
With just enough carbonation to prickle but not overwhelm, the chocolate note from the cocoa nibs comes through at the end. The bitterness works well – it’s not overpowering, and it creates a nice balance.
Ocado (£1.30 per 330ml bottle)
Mikkeller Limbo raspberry, 0.3% ABV
Mikkeller produces a dizzying array of beers across the spectrum, from hop-bombs to crisp pilsners, and its alcohol-free offering is no exception. The brewery has at least six different beers on the go at any one time, with many new varieties overlapping – Henry & His Science is another low-alcohol cracker, but availability worries kept it out of contention for this taste test.
Limbo raspberry appears to be something between a Flanders red or brown ale and a lighter take on a kriek or framboise. Pouring a hazy cranberry, it has a huge, fluffy head. There’s a slightly spicy nose, with lots of raspberry juice and even tinned mandarins. It drinks sherbet-sour, but the sweetness is quite full and the body is amazingly good for anything of this strength.
The raspberries come through well, with the yeast adding a spicy, slightly tropical note. This is more sour-sweet than purely sour, with an unexpected but pleasing spiciness.
Harvey’s Old Ale, 0.5% ABV
Harvey’s is an established English family brewery dating back to 1790, and is sited in the same Victorian and Georgian buildings in Lewes that have been its home for generations.
As you might imagine, it tends to the traditional, and while its Old Ale is normally a 4.3% ABV dark mild, this low-alcohol incarnation still has a deep copper-chestnut pour, with a light, off-white head that shortly gives way.
There’s a surprisingly rich malt nose, enhanced by the touch of caramel and burnt sugar coming through as well. It’s not hoppy, but the malt or yeast give hints of dried fruit.
The body, while not as rich as the standard alcoholic version, is impressive, with dark caramel-malt sweetness and a fruity note balanced out by hoppy bitterness. The carbonation is high enough to carry it without going into lager territory.
The finish is quite long – a lingering brown sugar tempered by that bitterness. This is a great example of a traditional, malty English beer made to very high standards; it’s extremely drinkable and you won’t lose as much as you’d think with this low-alcohol version.
Thornbridge Zero Five, 0.5% ABV
Thornbridge, a brewery based in Derbyshire, is a rare British outfit that does German-style beers justice.
Zero Five is its entry into the low-alcohol market, and is a light pale ale. It pours pale gold, with a generous head that fades quickly. The aroma is citrussy, with a peachy element and soft apricot notes. There’s a hint of malt, but the nose is light and hop-driven.
It also drinks lightly, with a crisp bitterness against the delicate malt base. The hops impart that citrus-and-peach flavour with each sip, but don’t overwhelm. It’s a clean, fairly dry finish, though the bitterness lingers to the next sip.
This is a very light and clean – maybe even slightly restrained – pale ale.
Thornbridge (£1.50 per 330ml bottle)
Ramsgate Brewery Gadds No.11, 1.2% ABV
Possibly best known for its Gadds range of beers, Ramsgate Brewery is based in Kent. It’s said that the numbers on the label correspond with the brewery staff’s opinion on how many pints it takes to get drunk on – given that the No.3 is a 5% strong bitter, this gives you an idea of how light and easy the No.11 is!
Unfiltered, it pours a pale gold, with a little haze that can be avoided if it’s left undisturbed for a while before opening. There’s a pillow of white foam that settles, but doesn’t go as far or fast as the fully alcohol-free beers.
There is a lovely, light nose that shows off the hops to best effect, with a light sweetness girding it. Steady carbonation carries the light body along, and it’s smoothed out with some lactose – it feels a bit heftier than 1.2% ABV would normally suggest. The hops carry through pleasingly and it has a slightly sweet, lingering finish.
Eebria (£1.60 per 300ml can)
Schöfferhofer grapefruit, 2.5% ABV
Named after the German word for ‘cyclist’, ‘radler’ beers are essentially shandies. It was an innkeeper based on a popular cycling trail outside Munich who hit upon mixing beer with lemonade, in order to keep up with demand when over 10,000 cyclists descended upon him in one day – hence the connection.
The Schöfferhofer grapefruit radler is apparently the first blend of a hefeweizen (or wheat beer) with grapefruit juice and it absolutely pops with flavour.
It’s a bright coral orange, and is not so much cloudy as opaque. The head is suitably impressive when poured, but doesn’t stick about for as long as a normal hefe. From the moment you open the can, the aroma of grapefruit zest and juice leaps out at you.
It drinks quite sweet, with the grapefruit also adding a balancing acidity. There’s a full mouthfeel, with fine but decent carbonation. The fruit flavour is natural, with a mix of juice and zest.
That grapefruit sharpness sits on top of the soft hefeweizen, which also contributes some fruitiness. The finish has a touch of banana from the beer, with grapefruit zest lingering.
Maisel’s Weisse alkoholfrei weissbier, 0.5% ABV
Independent and family-owned, Maisel is mainly associated with hefeweizen, and the brewery sticks to what it knows.
Pouring a cloudy, ruddy amber rather than the softer gold of other hefes, the Weisse alkoholfrei weissbier has a pillowy head that fades fairly quickly. The nose is muted but has a rounded sweetness, plus wheat-malt notes, banana, clove, and even a touch of nutmeg.
To drink, it has a full, slick mouthfeel and good carbonation with gentle, small bubbles. The fruit and spice balance out somewhat and there’s a slight sharpness helping out at the end as well.
While this is not anything close to dry, this is far less sweet than other alcohol-free hefeweizen that we tried. It also swerves the unfermented wort notes that affect some of its peers.
Lucky Saint unfiltered lager, 0.5% ABV
Lucky Saint is a newcomer, having been publically active for less than a year at the time of publishing. Its beers are contract-brewed in Bavaria, so Lucky Saint is able to take advantage of the technical know-how available there.
This vegan-friendly pilsner is brewed with a step mash before being fermented and conditioned for twelve weeks. It’s then vacuum-distilled so the alcohol can be boiled off at 40C, which helps keep the beer’s flavour and aroma intact.
It pours with a very slight haze, unless you keep an eye on the final finger in the bottle. A pleasing, pale gold, the head settles fairly fast. It has a light nose, with some bread, a hint of honey from the malt and slight lemon-and-ginger notes coming through.
This has a light body and mouthfeel, and is easy to drink with full carbonation. The bready malt and honey sweetness come up against a slightly lemony note and a clean, herbal hop bitterness. The finish is easy and well-balanced.
Light Drinks (£1.99 per 330ml bottle)
This review was last updated in September 2019. If you have any questions or suggestions for future reviews, or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on alcohol guidelines, read our guide to drinking responsibly.
Have you tried a low-ABV beer that you could recommend? Leave a comment below…