Why aren’t pubs offering decent non-alcoholic drinks?

by , Which? Magazine Deputy Editor Consumer Rights 16 November 2012
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If you’re off to the pub and want the taste and experience of wine without the alcohol units, you may want to stay clear of alcohol-free wines. That’s if you can find them in your local anyway…

Drinks being poured in pub

We asked our panel of wine experts to blind taste test 10 non-alcoholic wines (less than 0.5%). Overall, they thought the drinks have a sticky texture ‘more like a breakfast juice’ and ‘really don’t taste like wine’.

As well as lacking the richness, body and complexity of wine, these alcohol-free wines were also pretty pricey. Costing between £2.99 and £5.99, they’re quite expensive when you compare them to other soft drinks. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to find any decent soft drinks in pubs, whether it’s pricey alcohol-free wines or not.

Soft drinks down the pub

On recent trips to the pub I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much choice you now have when choosing your tipple. It wasn’t that long ago when most pubs seemed to offer the same small choice of big brand lagers and bitters; cider drinkers could either have sweet Woodpecker or dry Strongbow; the stout would always be Guinness; and the wine would usually be undrinkable.

Now you can choose from an ever-changing range of local real ales and ciders, beers from around the world, and an enormous selection of wines. So why can’t you buy a decent soft drink?

For some reason, pubs think that if I choose not to drink alcohol then I want something that’s so sugary it makes my teeth feel furry. They also seem to think it’s perfectly acceptable to rip me off – if you mix two drinks together, such as orange and bitter lemon, a pint can work out more expensive than a pint of beer. This may just be me, but something that has no other physical effect than giving me a sugar rush should be much cheaper than alcohol.

Alcohol-free beers wouldn’t go amiss

Unless the pub sells Fentiman’s Victorian lemonade, which I’m rather partial to, then I find cranberry and lime is OK. And soda and lime is also acceptable, especially because it’s cheap. But it would be really nice to peer over the bar to see a whole range of soft drinks suitable for an adult palate in the fridge.

And some alcohol-free beers wouldn’t go amiss, either. You can get a rather nice alcohol-free Becks at many supermarkets, but I can’t remember the last time I saw something like this available in a pub. Our expert tasters who rated the non-alcoholic wines recommended elderflower and ginger beer as a nice option.

There’s got to be a market for people who don’t want to drink alcohol, so why don’t pubs cater for the tastes of non-drinkers? And have you found a better soft drink, even an alcohol-free wine, you can recommend?

24 comments

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Justin G8YTZ

This article raises a very good point. My wife does not like alcohol but when I am out I am often driving so unable to drink any alcohol. We also don’t like sugary “soft” drinks much. Of all the non-alcoholic drinks, beer is currently the best tasting option, but whenever I ask for a non-alcoholic beer in a pub, I more than likely get a look to suggest that I am probably overdue for my next visit to the shrink!

But there would seem to be a big market out there for an alternative, but where would this market come from? Would growth in this segment decimate sales of the cheap to produce, heavily promoted and very profitable sugary soft drinks they already sell?

Look at it this way… A major brewery quite some time ago realised that you can sell a paper cup of coffee for the same price as a pint of beer and which do you think is cheaper to produce and sell more of?

Justin

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SaraJayne

Yep, this is a problem. It’s got a lot to do with why I don’t frequent pubs much. I wonder how many of our closing-down pubs would benefit from better non-alcoholic selections!

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wavechange

The main reason that pubs are closing is that Tesco et al. are selling vast quantities of alcohol much more cheaply than pubs can. But it would be good for pubs to sell more alcohol-free and low-alcohol products, especially now that they are open so long.

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wavechange

I am not keen on any sweet drinks, so it’s coffee or tea for me, please. Non-alcoholic beer is keg beer at its worst.

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Marianne

Hi wavechange. How many non-alcoholic beers have you tried? Have you tried Erdinger’s non-alcoholic wheat beer? Schneider Weisse? Clausthaler? Bavaria? Jupiler? Krombacher? No? Then perhaps you should, before you dismiss non-alcoholic beer altogether. (But Beck’s Blue and Bitburger Drive should be avoided at all cost, I’ll give you that!) This country would be a right sight healthier if more non-alcoholic beers were offered in restaurants and pubs.

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wavechange

You are right, Marianne. I have not experimented very much. I am not very keen on the taste of wheat beer and I hate fizzy drinks since I was a kid, which means that lagers do not appeal to me.

I am also not keen on importing beer, on environmental grounds. Coffee is imported, of course, but the weight involved is much smaller.

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Ben Ward

Anyone expecting non-alcoholic wine to taste like ‘wine’ is going to be disappointed. These products should be treated as drinks in their own right and approached as such. In fact, there are excellent alcohol-free wines stocked by the major supermarkets, in particular, the Fre and Ariel ranges and the Sainsburys own label wines. As for alcohol-free beer in pubs, I have found Becks Blue to be widely available (it would be great to see some more choices) and if you can tolerate a higher alcohol content (2.8%), try the Carling Zest, a really refreshing tipple.

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Ben Ward

NB: Ariel wines are available to order online but the Eisberg range can be found in supermarkets.

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rarrar

I find Cobra and Erdinger’s alcohol free ( 0.5%) beers/lagers very acceptable and I must say it is nice to see the Fentiman’s range of soft drinks making an appearance in more restaurants and pubs.
But fully agree that finding a soft-drink which isnt sweet is not easy.

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Michelle

I am often disappointed when I ask for a non-alcoholic bitter shandy and have to suffer a lager shandy. My preferred non-alcoholic beverage is Kopparberg pear cider, at present I have not found this on sale in any pub. However as its not widely available in supermarkets I’m not surprised, I’m just hoping someone from the breweries reads this and takes note.

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Marianne

Hello! Try a Wetherspoon’s pub (I know, not your first choice eh?) for the Kopparberg pear cider. I’ve had it in 3 branches so far. And at £2.55 per large bottle, it’s almost as cheap as a soft drink. Cheers!

I did try the alcohol-free wines and found that they tasted very much like basic grapejuice. They didn’t have the breadth of taste that a good wine has.

I haven’t come across alcohol-free bitter – Michelle, where have you seen it on sale?

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Ben Ward

Quit drinking for five years and you’ll be able to tell the difference between alcohol-free wines and basic grape juice — believe me! [And I speak as a former hotelier who maintained the finest wine cellar in the state of Colorado]

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wavechange

With rising obesity, perhaps it is time to move away from sweet drinks altogether. While I’m not one of the cranks that refer to sugar as a poison, I do think that many of us need to consume much less of it. Perhaps because I am not accustomed to drinking sweet drinks, they taste incredibly sweet.

I have tried drinking fruit juice in pubs, but it’s far too sweet for me.

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Bob

My wife drives when we go out to the pub and finds it very hard to find a reasonably priced non-alchoholic drink unless it’s tea or coffee. There’s only so much pop a person can drink. Perhaps pub could cater with reasonably priced Schloer or something? What ever happened to the offers pubs used to give to the ‘nominated driver’?

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Helen

Agree that cranberry lime & soda is a good non-sweet drink-I buy Ame Elderflower & orange sparkling cordial from Waitrose for home and parties. It’s nice to drink in a wine glass to avoid boring ‘ why aren’t you drinking’ conversations! Crabbies and others now do a non-alcaholic ginger beer but are rarely available in pubs.

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Alex Bath

Having to give up drinking three years ago on Doctors Orders I am astounded at the prices charged in Public Houses for non-alchoholic drinks and the extremely poor selection and quality. We are all being urged to severly moderate our drinking habits but the drinks industry seems to be totally unaware of this plea. How I long for a good substitute for a decent wine or draught beer. Wake up Brewing Industry!

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Angela

Having lived for a while in Germany, I can confirm that the UK is far behind when it comes to providing a decent range of non-alcoholic drinks. Non-alcoholic beers are completely mainstream – and delicious – in Deutschland and the brewed non-alcoholic drinks such as Bionade taste interesting without being sickly. You can drink them all night without feeling sickly or like your teeth are going to rot. Becks Lemon and similar (essentially flavoured shandy in a bottle) are also on offer. They are popular (and even credible!) and help people not to get more drunk then they’d otherwise like.

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dave

Alcohol-free beers are not only, to my taste, appalling but overpriced. Beck’s is sold in silly small bottles. Although it is not available, as far as I know, in the UK, Erdinger alcohol-free wheat beer (Weissbier) is almost indistinguishable from its alcoholic equivalent and it comes in 500ml bottles!

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Marianne

Hi Dave,

Erdinger alcohol-free is available in a few select pubs in the UK and from these guys: http://www.alcoholfree.co.uk/ – I’ve ordered a case of their mixed non-alcoholic beer and loved every one of them! I agree that Beck’s Blue is overpriced and isn’t nice at all. If you live in London the Belgo restaurants sell Jupiler LA which is ok.

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Alex

I agree with Which saying that the best alcohol-free wine available in supermarkets is Torres Natureo white. Overall, I agree that the selection is poor and the prices are too high.

As to beers, alcohol-free beers used to be only bland lagers, but recently I am very satisfied with alcohol-free Bavaria, which is also very cheap (arguably, cheaper than Coca Cola).

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Lisa F

I have very recently stopped drinking due to a health scare and at this point am still unsure of its outcome, I would like to suggest Thorncrofts cordial to those who are unaware. They make a detox version which contains only apple juice to sweeten among lots of herbs and cleansing extracts and its exquisite with sparkling water, my partner and I would drink it on our nights off (drinking) before this happened. They also make a nettle version which as described on the bottle bottle is like sauvignon! Its crisp and drier and more tart than sweet, we love it! However as big fans of real ale and red wine the quest is on but having a ‘Bavaria’ or Eisberg red or wine is doing it for me. Im just grateful I can enjoy a ‘drink’ without resorting to juices, or pop. I don’t and never have been into sweet drinks apart from breakfast juice. My question to you all though is do you think a pub selling large varieties of quality low/free alcohlic wine and beer is viable in the uk? We are so far behind and generation upon generation so caught up in our pub/drinking culture. Is there a market big enough out there?

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Ben Ward

In answer to your question, I think the viability of a pub/bar along the lines you mention would very much depend on its location and image.

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Marianne

To answer your question, I think it is possible it would work but why not just encourage every pub to have a few non-alcoholic options (that are not soft drinks or juice) on offer?

Also, see this article: http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/in-the-mix/2013/05/04/alcohol-free-liverpool-bar-the-brink-scoops-three-awards-at-national-ceremony-100252-33281833/

It’s amazing to see how many non-alcoholic options are available in bars and pubs and cafés abroad, especially in Germany, Canada, the US and the Netherlands.

This map might help, depending on where you live. And by all means, feel free to send in your own contributions! http://alcoholfreebeerhere.com/

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