With the trend for low and no alcohol beers set to continue through 2021, Richard Croasdale gives his pick of the very best
Sunday 14 February 2021
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Low and no alcohol beers were already enjoying a surge in popularity before lockdown began last year, but the trend only increased as more of us took the opportunity to get in shape and moderate our drinking. In one of our most sober research projects ever, the Ferment panel went on a level-headed bender, in search of the most delicious alcohol-free options out there. These are the results.
Brooklyn Brewery Special Effects
Lager’s a tricky style to pull off without the booze lever to keep things balanced, and there are plenty of examples where sickly malt and metallic hops clash to form a kind of uncanny valley; almost lager, but also very much not. Special Effects manages to circumvent this with a character that offers a broader spectrum of flavours and aromas, most notably on the hop side, where lemon zest and pine meet an almost Earl Grey floral note, before the hallmark lager crispness hits. Definitely a favourite.
Vandestreek Playground IPA
Probably the most straight-up IPA on our list, and all the more impressive for it. Hailing from Utrecht in The Netherlands, Vandestreek has accumulated plaudits aplenty, including for its alcohol-free beers. You won’t find any trickery here, just three hops (Mosaic, Citra and Cascade) for an old-school balance of aromatic hops and moreish bitterness, with a very convincing body to boot.
Coast Sabro IPA
Another alcohol-free specialist, Coast has been bashing out highly-rated IPA styles since it launched in late 2018, and they’ve only got better over time. One of the brewery’s latest, a single-hop Sabro number, is possibly its best yet. My gut feeling is that single-hop wouldn’t necessarily be the way to go with an alcohol-free beer (you need a bit of interest from somewhere) but this beer turns out to be a great outfit for Sabro, with those distinctive coconut and vanilla notes shining against a supportive malt backdrop. Yum.
Big Drop Galactic Milk Stout
We like our milk stouts big, boozy and barrel-aged, so this virgin effort is doomed from the start, surely? No, as it turns out. The mouthfeel is bang on, presumably thanks to ruinous quantities of lactose; but this, combined with plenty of caramel sweetness, is perfectly balanced by layer upon layer of complex, roasty bitterness, with smooth coffee, dark chocolate and even a touch of hazelnut. It’s a rounded bitterness, certainly, but that’s perfect for the AF treatment.
Mikkeller Limbo Yuzu
As you’d hope and expect from the Danish maverick, Mikkeller’s Limbo Yuzo is quite different from any other alcohol free offerings on the market; fruity, tart and refreshing, with Yuzu juice playing a prominent role. It’s brewed with Mikkeller’s own yeast, which as devotees of the Limbo series will know, gives it a distinctive sweet, grapefruit aroma, which plays nicely with the hop notes of lychee and lemon zest. Lip-smacking stuff.
Lowlander 0.00% Wit
Another Dutch entry, this entirely alcohol-free beer is the result of a collaboration between botanical brewer Lowlander and a company called PeelPioneers , which sources reclaimed orange and lemon peels from bars and restaurants. The combination of wheat and citrus is a classic, and this virgin version does not disappoint, with plenty of fresh, zesty goodness.
Infinite Session Pale Ale
The chaps at Infinite Session were among the first UK craft brewers to get wide distribution for their low alcohol beers, which still rank among the best out there. Flavour profile-wise, it has a distinctly traditional British vibe, somewhat similar to Brewdog’s Nanny State, though in our view superior. It has a pronounced bready maltiness and subtle, aromatic hops presenting mango and lychee, but which also give a nice bitter kick at the end. It also has a great body and perfect carbonation – crucial for balancing out the lack of alcohol.
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