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Low alcohol vs. No alcohol: what’s the difference?

Jun 24 2020

Low alcohol vs. No alcohol: what’s the difference?
With more Brits than ever turning to sobriety and the growth of the non-alcoholic drinks market over the last few years, no longer are drinks simply non-alcoholic or alcoholic. The boom of the low and no industry has called for some new terms, some that better define alcohol content of a drink, not just whether or not it contains alcohol.

From ‘non-alcoholic’ and ‘alcohol-free’ to ‘reduced alcohol’, what are the differences between these low and no buzzwords we’ve seen in beer fridges and on supermarket shelves? 

What is the difference between low alcohol and no alcohol in the UK?

Non-alcoholic

Up to 0.05% ABV 

Although the term ‘non-alcoholic’ sounds like the product contains zero alcohol, in the UK, it can actually contain 0%-0.05% alcohol. The reason beverages with 0.05% ABV can be called ‘non-alcoholic’ is because it is impossible to feel the effects of 0.05% alcohol, as your body breaks it down faster than you can actually consume it. 

The government’s view is that the term “should not be used in conjunction with a name commonly associated with an alcoholic drink”, which is why you won’t often find ‘non-alcoholic’ beers or ciders. It seems the term is reserved more for drinks that never contained alcohol in the first place, such as Appletiser, J2O and Kolibri.

There is, however, an exception for non-alcoholic wine that is “derived from unfermented grape juice and is intended exclusively for communion or sacramental use”. The labelling or advertising of these non-alcoholic wines should make it clear that they are exclusively for these purposes, too. 

Also, be aware that other countries have different rules when it comes to this term, so make sure you always read the packaging when abroad. 

Alcohol-free

Up to 0.05% ABV 

In the UK, ‘alcohol-free’ and ‘non-alcoholic’ are essentially same (up to 0.05% ABV), except ‘alcohol-free’ is more commonly used for beverages that usually contain alcohol, such as beer, cider and wine. 

Less commonly, you might hear the term ‘de-alcoholised’, but some manufacturers tend to keep away from this term as it can insinuate the beverage has had the alcohol removed from it, rather than being brewed or produced to contain less in the first place. 

Again, in other European countries and the US, the term can mean something different – usually an allowance of up 0.5% alcohol content (or more), so take extra care when reading labels.

wine bottle on its side

Low alcohol

Between 0.5% and 1.2% ABV 

Low alcohol tends to include beers, ciders and other similar style drinks and they can contain up to 1.2% alcohol, with a minimum of 0.5%. 

0.5% ABV is still a very small amount of alcohol, says an article by Booze Free. “To put it another way, for every 200ml of drink, there is only 1ml of alcohol. So, in an average bottle of 330ml alcohol-free beer, there could be as much as 1.65ml of pure alcohol, with 3 bottles containing up to a teaspoon of alcohol. That would still only equate to half a ‘unit’ (a unit being 10ml). 

“Compare that to a single 35ml measure of vodka (which at 40%) would contain 14ml of alcohol (the same as over 8 bottles of alcohol-free beer).” 

Reduced alcohol

Above 1.2% ABV 

A term we hear less often, ‘reduced alcohol’ refers to beverages which are typically higher strength but have had some alcohol removed to leave a minimum of 1.2% ABV. As well as ciders and beers, some wines can also be found within this category too, and prove popular with people looking to cut back on their alcohol intake. 

What to drink if you are teetotal

In short, UK teetotalers will want to avoid ‘reduced alcohol’ and ‘low alcohol’ beverages, instead opting for either ‘non-alcoholic’ or ‘alcohol-free’ drinks as these contain the least amount of alcohol (up to 0.05%). 

Consuming a product that contains 0.5% alcohol is okay too, and tends to be the cut off point for many teetotalers. “I choose not to drink anything with more alcohol than 0.5%,” says sober writer Kira in an article by The Soberists. “If it has less than 0.5%, it cannot have an effect on you just like a ripe banana doesn’t (which can contain more than 0.5% percent depending on ripeness).” 

If in doubt, check the label, especially if you are in a foreign country. Some products, whether in the UK or not, will label themselves as 0.0% when actually they could contain up to 0.05% alcohol. 

What to drink if you’re cutting back on alcohol 

If you’re not teetotal but looking to reduce your alcohol intake, ‘low alcohol’ and ‘reduced alcohol’ beverages are the more popular choice. You’ll still be able to feel some of the effects of alcohol, but it will be less damaging to your health over time. It will also help prevent those pesky hangovers and can mean you consume fewer calories if you’re swapping like-for-like. 

“The health benefits of switching to low alcohol or non-alcoholic drinks are clear”, says the Drink Aware website. “In the short term, you’re more likely to get a better night’s sleep; feel fresher in the morning and have a more productive day at work as a result. What’s more, some lighter products are lower in calories, so your waistline will thank you too.” 

At Kolibri, our aim has always been to support those who are teetotal or looking to cut back on alcohol. Browse our range of non-alcoholic drinks and our CBD cocktails today. 

About the author: 

Kamila is a bestselling author of  “Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation”, and passionate trend-spotter for the UK Eating Out market with thousands of followers on her widely popular blog kamilasitwell.co.uk

With a decade of hands-on experience collaborating with hospitality influencers and insight experts and background in setting strategies for leading brands, Kamila has become the industry champion for truly bespoke and guest-centric experiences. 

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