Whether you’re the designated driver, pregnant and blooming or just prefer not to have an alcoholic drink, more and more people are opting for the booze-free night out. In recent years, the non-alcoholic offering has exploded in popularity. Just looking at beer alone, the latest data from Drinks Ireland estimates that non-alcoholic beer sales in Ireland grew by 129% between 2017 and 2020. Thankfully, with this surge the quality has improved as a result.
Let’s take a look at beers first. Many non-alcoholic beers are made by a method of de-alcoholisation where the alcoholic beer is brewed in the traditional way and is then removed using a method such as steam distillation, water vapour or gas stripping. There are other methods to remove the alcohol but this one is favoured by many breweries as it retains the flavour best.
While we’re used to hearing about the likes of Heineken 0.0%, be aware that many non-alcoholic beers have some percentage of alcohol in them. Legally, they can be up to 0.5% ABV and still be considered non-alcoholic. Now you’d have to drink quite a lot in one night to be considered over the limit for driving. But its worth noting, especially for pregnant women who may prefer a 0% option.
Non-alcoholic wine has been around quite a while. It was the Carl Jung company who patented the de-alcoholisation process in 1908. When you look at the history of wine, there are quite a few women who were trailblazers and Maria Jung is one of them. Her husband owned Riesling vineyards along the River Rhine and Maria travelled all over Germany selling it. It was on her travels that she noticed that they were losing quite a bit of their older customers because they were forbidden from drinking wine because of ailments such as heart, kidney and liver trouble. It was her son Carl Jung Junior who came up with the method of de-alcoholising wine.
Unfortunately, for a method that was established over a century ago, non-alcoholic wine still has a long way to go.
In my opinion, non-alcoholic beer has made much more progress in recent years. Although you can still tell the difference between the alcoholic and non-alcoholic version, it can be a close call in some situations.
Non-alcoholic wine, on the other hand, still verges exceptionally close to the term “expensive grape juice. It can be sickly sweet without all the lovely nuances that come with its alcoholic pal. But things are on the up and if you’re really undecided consider opting for a non-alcoholic sparkling wine. The bubbles might help distract you!
L’Arjolle Equilbre Zero Viognier Sauvignon
O’Briens | €8.95
Situated in Pouzolles, which is in the Hérault department of Languedoc-Roussillon on the southern coast of France, Domaine de l’Arjolle is a family winery that has really focused on non-alcoholic wine. Their range includes a non-alcoholic rosé, a merlot grenache and a sparkling wine. But their l’Arjolle zero sauvignon blanc viognier was one of the best non-alcoholic whites that we tried. Traditionally, a sauvignon blanc viognier blend isn’t quite as acidic as a sauvignon blanc and it is certainly more subtle when the alcohol is removed – and sadly missed! But the fruit flavours are smooth and fresh, with notes of apple on the nose followed by peach and apricot on the mouth. This was better with food but it’s a light wine so keep your food choices in line with that.
Thomson & Scott Noughty
Avoca | €15.95
While we don’t usually choose a favourite when it comes to our wine reviews, this Thomson & Scott Noughty organic sparkling chardonnay deserves a special mention. Produced in Germany with 100% chardonnay grapes, it is made by Amanda Thomson, also known as the creator of Skinny Prosecco (which usually gets a huge amount of press every January as people go on their new year’s health kicks). But we haven’t chosen the wine based on the celebrity status connection. Instead, it’s one of the few non-alcoholic wines that isn’t exceptionally sweet. With 2.9g of sugar per 100ml, it has almost half the sugar content of other non-alcoholic sparkling wines. In fact, it’s quite dry and crisp with flavours of apples and citrus along with a fizz that is well balanced.
Marks & Spencer | €5.20
Red non-alcoholic wine is, in my opinion, the hardest to get right. This alcohol-free Merlot from Marks & Spencer does hit on the sweet side but it’s a delicate fruitiness (rather than a liquidised jelly which some non-alcoholic reds are). You’ll pick up flavours of red fruit like berries and plum and it becomes a bit more complex with the hint of spice on the finish. Admittedly, it has a vinegary tone to it but, thankfully, this really eases if you treat it as a wine to pair with food rather than drinking it on its own. We tried it with a good spicy pepperoni which worked well and helped balanced the sweetness. You could also try an arabiatta pasta or some barbecued ribs.
Roadworks non-alcoholic IPA
Aldi has a good non-alcoholic selection, including this Roadworks IPA. It’s made in the Pearse Lyons Distillery in Dundalk and it just goes to show that decent non-alcoholic options can be very reasonably priced. This IPA packs a punch for a non-alcoholic beer. Featuring oats (both rolled and malted) alongside malted barley, this Irish-brewed IPA has a lovely freshness, with citrus and tropical flavours from your first sip. It’s also layered with a sweet maltiness, with a hint of honeycomb and some bitterness on the finish.
Dungarvan Brewing Company Main Sail alcohol-free pale ale
Nationwide | €2.25
The guys in Dungarvan Brewing have always been forward-thinking and Main Sail pale ale was Ireland’s first microbrewed alcohol -free beer. In fact, head brewer Cormac O’Dwyer has led the way so their beers are bottle- and can-conditioned, which means a natural carbonation process occurs within the bottle or can, eliminating the need to add further gasses to the beers. Through the process of removing the alcohol, this beer has retained its refreshing hoppy flavour. This presence of hops gives a refreshing citrus taste and is elevated with a hint of herbal flavour.
Wicklow Wolf Moonlight non-alcoholic hoppy ale
Nationwide | €2.50
Irish craft beer company Wicklow Wolf were also quick out of the trap to offer a decent non-alcoholic beer. I remember going to their stand at the Big Grill back in 2019 for a taste of their Moonlight and they were fully sold out halfway through the weekend, such was its popularity. Before you even take a sip, you’re met with a bang of citrus aromas which carries through in the taste, along with some floral notes. A fresh but slightly bitter finish makes this a popular choice.