Laithwaites buy 6 save 25%

The latest in low alcohol drinks

By Master of Wine, Christopher Burr


Low and no alcohol drinks

Do you ever feel that you want a low alcohol drink? After several years of rising alcohol levels in Beer, Cider and Wine, low and no alcohol has found a lot of support, and is stocked widely.

Alcohol levels in Beer Cider and Wines has been increasing steadily for the last 30 years. When I was selling Beer for Bass Charrington's in the 1980's we sold a lot of Mild Ale at 2.5% Alcohol by Volume, Bitters at 3% and up to a maximum 4%, and lagers were becoming fashionable, and the imported lagers tended to be 4-4.5% or even 5%. "Session" beers were always lower in alcohol. I often crave a glass of good Mild Ale, but most beers are now 4% and above.

Similarly with Ciders, I remember being shocked by a brand we owned through Taunton Cider called Diamond White, which was launched at 5%, and not very expensive, so had sadly become a favourite of alcoholics sitting on station platforms with bottles and cans in brown paper bags!

As a wine merchant, starting in the 1970's, it was unusual for most wines to be over 12.5%, unless it was a very hot summer and autumn. But whilst there are lots of wines below 12.5%, now there are also many popular wines at 14 or even 15%. It is interesting and I for one support, whereas many do not, the Chancellor's plan to put duty on wine over 12.5% up by 44 pence a bottle in August, and hopefully it will encourage winemakers to keep the alcohol levels at no more than 12.5%. This is where I think most wines find a balance between fruit, acidity and alcohol, where the alcohol is hardly noticeable, for me far preferable.

There are interesting reasons why alcohol is part of the beverages we like. The ethanol in alcohol captures the aromatics and flavours and gives a product more taste and bite. Ethanol also stimulates the pain sensors in the mouth rather than the taste buds, and gives the taste more bite or grip, as do tannins in wine. A parallel in food is ginger and hot spices.

This makes many products more instantly appealing, but not more drinkable in a session like a meal, where a lot of alcohol is often too heavy after one or two glasses. More alcohol also sometime helps a wine win accolades in competitions, where judges are tasting many wines, more alcohol makes those wines stand out.

Do you ever feel that you want a low alcohol drink? After several years of rising alcohol levels in Beer, Cider and Wine, low and no alcohol has found a lot of support, and is stocked widely.

So, what are the alternatives?

Firstly, low alcohol wines. Most traditional German wines, less so the dry styles, can be as low as 7 or 8%, and most often are no more than 10 or 11%.

Asti Spumante can be as low as only 5%, but often 7%. Both these groups of wines taste absolutely fine, delicious as they should be. Many would never know they had less alcohol, unless they looked at the back label.

Most supermarkets stock these, and they are both great with cheeses. Sainsbury's Asti is 7% ABV and £5.75. And Asti Martini, is widely stocked and normally around £8.50-£9, but is 9% ABV.

ASDA have a spumante called Nozeco, at a tiny 0.5% ABV, and £3 a bottle.


Shop Nozeco >

Waitrose have an excellent German range from the Rheinland producer Leitz. The Madelenekreuz Riesling Kabinett is 9.5% ABV and £13.99 per bottle. But Leitz have also produced a good zero alcohol Sparkling Riesling, by distilling the alcohol out of the finished wine, called appropriately Eins Zwei Zero. £9.99.

Eins Zwei Zero Sparkling

Shop Eins Zwei Zero Sparkling >

For a good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, go to Sainsburys and try the Brancott Flight which is only 9%ABV, and is £9 a bottle. Red wines are harder to capture the flavours and aromas with less alcohol, but the low, 0.5% ABV Tesco Low Alcohol Cabernet Tempranillo from Spain is one of the best I have tasted at £3.15 per bottle.

Ocado have also done a good job stocking the best zero alcohol Cider. The very fruity Tropical mixed fruit Cider , Kopparberg, £3.00 per 4 cans.

Kopparberg Tropical Fruit zero Cider

Shop Kopparberg Tropical Fruit zero Cider >

Beer, is in many ways the easiest to make alcohol free, as malted barley and particularly hops have a very distinctive flavour, and most are made by what s called a spinning cone method, whereby the alcohol is removed by centrifugal force, leaving essential flavours intact.

San Miguel also make a 0.4% beer ( that miniscule amount of alcohol makes a big difference to flavour) again at Tesco for £3.70 for a four pack.

San Miguel Zero

Shop San Miguel Zero >

The best British no alcohol beer is brewed by Adnams in Southwold, Suffolk, called Ghost Ship at Ocado for £1.40 per 500ml bottle (pack of 8).

Adnams Ghost Ship 0%

Shop Adnams Ghost Ship 0.5% >

For me the best low and no alcohol spirits are gins, where the botanicals or flavourings can make a really good product without alcohol. Add tonic water and a slice of lemon, and there is masses of flavour and taste.

I was given a bottle of Sipsmith, widely available, and I have made excellent sloe gin with it, but the best for me is Tanquery 0% at £14 for a 700 cl bottle through Amazon.

Tanqueray zero

Shop Tanqueray 0% >

Of course there are masses of other non-alcoholic drinks, try Kombucha, which is taking the USA by storm. Or simple a good Tonic water with ice a lemon, is very refreshing.

I had a friend who was a muslim and didn't drink alcohol, but to keep his guests company, he had a second decanter to the Scotch, with Apple juice for himself, and often drank a tonic without any spirits.

Moderation is good, I think we will see more and improving low and no alcohol products over the next few years, many worth trying. Some of my favourite wines I now drink are between 8% and 12,5%, I find too much alcohol less attractive, unless it is a small glass of fine Port or Sherry.

Christopher Burr. Master of Wine. May 2023.

Christopher Burr, MW

Christopher Burr, MW

Christopher has been involved in the wine business for over 45 years. He is one of only 502 MW’s from 31 countries worldwide. Learn more about his experience as a Master of Wine here.

Read more articles by: Christopher Burr, MW

Let us know what you think! Review or comment on this page


Laithwaites buy 6 save 25%