Visit the Tandleman's Beer Blog site
Is it a sign of the times that London’s latest craft brewery is to focus entirely on low and no alcohol beer? Nirvana Brewery Co, is a new craft brewery based in East London, is aiming to produce “great quality, full flavoured craft beers, but with low or no alcohol.” Steve Dass, Co-Founder of Nirvana Brewing and said: “We want to create a range of alcohol free beers in a way without compromising on quality or taste. Ultimately, we want to produce a range of beers that can be enjoyed by those looking to cut down – as well as craft beer fans. The aim it seems is to target specialist craft bars etc in London and around the country.
Interestingly the brewery mentions “We’ve already seen a huge rise of people wanting to drink non-alcoholic beer as part of a healthier lifestyle in both the UK and Europe.” Now funnily enough I was reading yesterday in the German press about the fall of beer consumption, down by roughly a third since the seventies. “For years this number has slowly been going down,” Walter König of the Bavarian Brewers’ Association explained. As well as the fall off in lunchtime drinking Herr König mentions the public’s changed perspective on beer. "In people’s minds, beer is not healthy. Consuming anything that seems unhealthy has decreased… There is more health awareness, though with a false understanding - beer in moderation is healthy.”
The Local.de goes on to mention another aspect, not reflected in the statistics, is that more Germans are drinking alcohol-free beer. The nationwide German Brewers’ Association wrote in their annual report for 2016 that there are now about 400 different brands of alcohol-free beer - 50 more than the previous year. And every 20th litre of beer brewed in Germany is alcohol-free. So is Nirvana Brewery on to something? The first thing to say about that is that Britain isn't Germany and it doesn't follow what happens there will happen here. The history of no and low alcohol beers (NABLABS) in this country isn't exactly a glorious one. Frankly beers such as Kaliber and Whitbread White Label were pretty poor and nowadays while you may encounter the odd bottle of Beck's Blue or Clausthaler, you'd probably be advised to check its "best before" date before handing over your dosh. You'll be just as unlucky if you fancy a low alcohol beer. When the Government reduced the duty on low alcohol beers it encouraged a rash of them, the vast majority of which lasted a few months before sinking without trace. That isn't to say that there aren't honourable exceptions, but you'll be unlikely to find them down your local.
The problem with low/no alcohol beers is that typically, they just don't taste very nice - ales taste thin and even German ones taste a bit odd when the alcohol is taken away. The ambition of providing "a good quality craft beer that is full in flavour" as Nirvana hopes has proved to be a Will o' the Wisp for the industry as a whole. It would be a brave man that thought this will have a different outcome, though of course I wish them well. Nirvana aims to export their beer, but wait. Let's return to Herr König. "We can compensate for what’s not being drunk inland with export increases and alcohol-free beer,” he said. Looks like a fair bit of competition for Nirvana then.
Is history of NABLABS about to be overturned? Will this venture fly or are there thin times ahead?
I suppose that there are exceptions to the rule and one variable would be where you draw the line in deciding low in alcohol is low. 2%? 3 or more? That will make a difference. I still reckon that for no alcohol beer, there isn't a rosy outlook taste-wise. There will also be more possibilities if you drink at home rather than the pub though it will still be a hard find to source them. As usual, I talk from a pub perspective.
If you do want to take a punt on these kind of beers, the Independent and the Telegraph have some advice. Good luck.