The best non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks taste tested
Drinks experts Richard Davie and Miriam Nice recommend their top picks for low-alcohol and alcohol-free beverages, including lagers, stouts, spirits, wines and kombuchas.
Richard Davie is a brewer, writer and consultant with roots in home-brewing. When he's not making his own beer and cocktails, he works at award-winning micro pub The Beer Shop @richarddaviebrews
Miriam Nice is a published author and illustrator. She has written more than 350 recipes for BBC Good Food @miriamjsnice
Richard and Miriam’s book, The Art of Drinking Sober (£12.99, Orion), is out now.
Where a decade ago low-alcohol drinks were often little more than a punchline, every year this category gets more exciting, as new entrants to the field bring out interesting innovations and the standard of the offering goes up across the board.
At the same time, we're thinking more about drinking less, and perhaps being more open to the idea that a drink can be special even if it isn't alcoholic. Newer low-alcohol beers and spirit substitutes are finding clever ways to communicate the intensity, complexity or satiety you'd associate with a cold lager or gin and tonic.
Alcohol-free spirits first came onto people's radar in 2014 with Seedlip, who proudly stood up for a non-alcoholic gin-style product that cost £35 and required a trek to Selfridges. In the wake of the attention this drew, it and similar offerings are nowadays available in supermarkets up and down the country at rather less luxurious prices. In addition to gin, producers have reimagined alcohol-free equivalents to vermouth, amaro, amaretto and coffee liqueur, and the list continues to grow.
Non-alcoholic beer has improved greatly in the last few years, with both higher visibility and greater quality, so we’ve highlighted a few more of our favourites in that category.
What is alcohol-free?
Some of the entries below are labelled ‘low-alcohol’ at 0.5%, rather than ‘alcohol free’. In the UK, anything under half a percent alcohol is no longer restricted under licensing laws. At no more than 0.5%, it is unable to render you drunk and some breads and ripe fruit contain as much or more alcohol.
Visit our alcohol-free drinks hub for plenty more round-ups, guides and mocktail recipes.
Low and alcohol-free beer
A UK company, but brewed in Bavaria, this is redolent of the Helles style, all soft malt and gentle bitterness for a crisp, easy satisfying lager. A limited draught presence in pubs, too.
£1.80 per bottle (330ml) – available from Sainsbury’s
Best pale ale
Adnam's flagship pale ale, but without the alcohol. Retains much of the mouthfeel, keeps that pleasing citrus hop note and goes down a treat.
£3.50 for 4 x 330ml bottles – available from Tesco
Old ale, Harvey’s
The autumnal classic, but de-alcoholised. Rich fruit cake and a touch of chocolate, sweetness without becoming unbalanced and a lighter carbonation make for a solid option for cask ale fans.
From £28.40 for 24 x 275ml bottles – available from Harvey's
No worries, Lervig
Very much made in the image of the current vogue for hazy IPAs, this has a full body, opaque glow, negligible bitterness and oodles of fruity aromas.
£1.95 per bottle (330ml) – available from beermerchants.com
Galactic milk stout alcohol-free, Big Drop Brewing Co
Milk stouts are more visible than they have been in decades, and that lactose works perfectly here, adding body and sweetness to counter the rich roasty notes of a satisfying stout.
£1.50 per bottle (330ml) – available from Waitrose
This innovative brand has done a great job of recreating amaretto without booze. Sweet, almondy, rich and special. Well chilled, this would be a lovely way to end a meal or to swap into cocktails.
£20.12 per bottle (700ml) - available from Master of Malt
Sea buckthorn, Bax botanics
Best alcohol-free gin
This has a really complex flavour profile, rich in ginger, rosemary and chamomile notes, softened by the sea buckthorn. Pairs brilliantly with tonic.
£18.99 per bottle (500ml) – available from baxbotanics.com
Smidgin gin, Adnams
Best low-alcohol gin
Southwold distillery Adnams’ new concept is a high-strength gin intended to create a low-alcohol serve without compromising on flavour. Don’t be fooled by the 50% alcohol volume – despite being stronger than most gins, Smidgin is specially crafted to be served in small 2.5ml measures with tonic water, yielding a full-bodied G&T with just a fraction of the alcohol. The 200ml bottle even comes with a copper spoon to allow precise measurement of each serving. We found each sip delivered a complex balance of botanicals, from fresh juniper to warming cardamom and floral hibiscus, culminating in a crisp, dry finish.
£26 per bottle (200ml) – available from Adnams
Jukes 6, Jukes Cordialities
Not only is this a great substitute for red wine, it’s really neatly packaged too. In mini bottles that can be diluted to taste, it’s highly portable too.
£38 for 9 x 30ml bottles – available from Jukes Cordialities
Damascene Rose Bubbly
A delightful combination of subtle rose, grape juice and citrussy freshness. Poured into flutes or coupes this is a very special drink indeed – ring the changes from an elderflower pressé!
£20.28 for 12 x 270ml bottles – available from Luscombe
Thomson & Scott 'Noughty'
Having earned its place as the world leading alcohol-free alternative to champagne and sparkling wine, Noughty sets the bar high. Two varieties are currently available, boasting a range of credentials: vegan, organic, low in sugar and halal-friendly. The lightly carbonated chardonnay offers clean, crisp notes of apple, while the rosé is a delicate blend of fresh summer berries. At only 14 calories per glass, it is also the lightest wine we tried, yet this does not detract from the flavour. Produced using traditional winemaking methods along with vacuum distillation, both drinks achieve a sophisticated balance of sweetness and acidity which is invigorating on the palate.
Italian alcohol-free sparkling, La Gioiosa
This light and sweet sparkling wine alternative has hints of apple, white grape and elderflower. Great substitute for prosecco and good-value too.
£5.99 for a bottle (750ml) – available from ocado.com
Golden Hour – blood orange, bitters & cardamom, Punchy Drinks
If you’re a fan of campari or aperol, this is a great substitute and an excellent grown-up drink in its own right. Wonderful balance of blood orange, bitterness and natural-tasting sweetness.
£1.50 for 250ml can – available from Ocado.com
Royal Flush, Real Kombucha
Done right, kombucha gives you the complexity and interest of a fermented product but without the booze; pair with food as you would a sparkling white wine or a lighter lambic-style beer. If you can't get enough of this funky drinks, read our review of the best kombucha to buy.
£30 for 12 x 275ml bottles – available from Real Kombucha
Non-alcoholic drinks inspiration
This review was last updated in November 2020 If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’d love to hear about your favourite non-alcoholic buys. Share your suggestions in the comments below...