/ Food & Drink

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

Drinks being poured in pub

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…

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?

Justin G8YTZ says:
16 November 2012

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?


SaraJayne says:
16 November 2012

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!


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.


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.

Marianne says:
7 May 2013

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.


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.


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.


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