One of my favourite tipples, usually enjoyed at Egham’s tremendous Beehive of a Tuesday evening after swimming, is Fullers ‘Hop Head’. However, I didn’t realise that the term is also a well-known collective phrase that refers to those of us that identify as beer-lovers. Nice. Now, as many religiously go-sober for October and dry-out during January, it will probably come as no great surprise that, as with full-strength craft ales, there’s enough booze-free beer available to engage anyone who loves flavour and taste but not the hangover, whether they identify as a fellow ‘Hop Header’ or not.
The great thing about alcohol-free (AF) beer these days is its sheer variety and you can lay your grubby mitts on almost any style that takes your fancy – IPA, porter, stout, blonde, lager, fruit, sour, Weiss beer et al. Last year the alcohol free market accounted for less than 2% of all sales but is on target for over 10% by 2024. But the question this all begs is why is AF beer so successful, especially when no-alcohol wine and spirits aren’t and both irredeemably fall at the proverbial first taste-hurdle?
The main reason is that the two main flavouring ingredients of beer, malt and hops, are still very much present in the alcohol-free versions. Furthermore, brewers are still able to add whatever additional flavourings catch their eye and their customer’s palate, such as cocoa nibs for a chocolatey porter, citrus for a fruity tang or honey for an ever-popular golden pint. Plus, let’s not forget beer is lower in alcohol to begin with so perhaps doesn’t have to make up that much ground on its more robust rivals. Mind, if you’re intending to climb in the car after a few you’ll need to take account of the fact that the rules requiring AF beer to have a maximum 0.05% abv were abolished in 2018 and most now have an alcohol level in the 0.5% region, some ten-times what it used to be. More low than no.
The last few years have undoubtedly seen a transition to a more health-conscious lifestyle and, together with the disappearance of any previous AF stigma (personified by the 80s TV ad “I’d rather be Hemelling!”) the froth looks to continue to rise. So, if you’re seeking to cut down on your weekly unit tally, being a ‘blender’ by taking a day-off now and again or simply want to try a different drink, as Summer finally arrives and the mercury creeps-up: cheers!