The rise of lighter alcohol

By Amelia Ball

2 Oct, 2020

We’re suddenly spoilt for choice when it comes to low- and no-alcohol drinks – just in time for those long sunny afternoons with friends.

If the stresses of 2020 have you keen to make some changes, a boom in new drinks could be up your alley. A growing number of wines, beers and spirits are rolling out with much less alcohol than their traditional counterparts and, in some cases, none at all. While these types of drinks aren’t new, more serious producers are now entering the market with a focus on quality and flavour. 

The boom is no surprise to Fourth Wave Wine’s Nicholas Crampton, who is committed to the category. He is behind the no-alcohol wines Plus & Minus, which has a Pinot Noir and a Shiraz, with a Blanc de Blancs soon to release. Fourth Wave Wine also produces the moderate-alcohol range Tread Softly, with its 12 wines spanning 9.5 and 10.8 per cent ABV, and will soon launch the new low-alcohol range Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing. 

Nicholas says he’s seeing much more demand for these wines than in the past, which he credits with ongoing health and wellness trends. People are looking to make healthier drinking choices in a range of ways, he says, adding that lower alcohol tends to equate to fewer calories. Happily, the demand for these products has coincided with an improvement in quality, which Nicholas puts down to three factors. 

“Firstly, we simply use a better-quality wine to start with. Historically, many low-alcohol wines were very commercial, entry-level wines made as cheaply as possible,” he says. “Secondly, we’re getting a lot more practice and taking the winemaking of these wines a lot more seriously. They are planned pre-vintage with careful site selection and bespoke winemaking. Like rosé a decade ago, when you really focus on improving the winemaking and style, quality sharply improves.” Nicholas also believes the growing preference for lighter-bodied wine styles lends itself to reduced-alcohol options. “Fresh, crisp whites, delicate rosé, and ethereal pinot noir are perfectly suited. Big, rich shiraz less so,” he says.
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They are planned pre-vintage with careful site selection and bespoke winemaking. Like rosé a decade ago, when you focus on improving the winemaking and style, quality sharply improves.
Other related new wines include the Jacob’s Creek Better by Half range, which has three wines at 5.5 per cent ABV – a Rosé, Brut Cuvee and a Pinot Grigio, which also claim to have half the calories. And New Zealand’s Giesen has just released its 0% Sauvignon Blanc, with the Marlborough winery among a band of producers that comprise the NZ Lighter Wines initiative.    

More than wine

Australia’s craft brewers are turning out quality options, too. One look at Queensland’s Sobah – with its Pepperberry IPA, Finger Lime Cerveza and Lemon Aspen Pilsner – proves just how far alcohol-free beers have come. Big Drop Brewing Co was also created to solely produce non-alcoholic beers, and their Pine Trail Pale Ale, at 0.5% ABV, continues to collect global beer awards. And Holgate Brewhouse and Modus Operandi are just two big local craft names that have recently joined the no-alcohol party with new releases. Mid-strength options are evolving as well, including Balter’s Captain Sensible, and Stone & Wood just adding the 2.7 per cent ABV East Point to its range.

Beer authority James Smith of acknowledges that people in craft beer circles have traditionally ridiculed light beers, but that’s changing. “There’s been a growing acceptance of mid-strengths over the past few years, partly because they’ve gotten a lot better and also, I suspect, as those in the industry and consuming craft beers are getting older and having more reasons for wanting to remain sober or wake up fresh,” he says. “Add in the growing focus on health and wellbeing, and the time would appear to be ripe for it.” 

For fans of spirits, since UK’s Seedlip’s became the first to distil non-alcoholic options for mixing, other have joined the scene. These include Lyre’s – its American Malt and Dry London Spirit among the bestsellers – and Australia’s own Seadrift. And while there is a sudden proliferation of hard seltzers, those alcoholic sparkling waters that have been a huge hit in the US, several non-alcoholic pre-mixed drinks are set to release this summer.

Amelia Ball is the editor of Halliday magazine.