The best low alcohol beers
Lighter beers that don’t sacrifice flavour are perfect for a virtual pint with mates
The Kernel Table Beer, London, (from £2.50 (33cl), the Kernel Brewery, Vinoteca, Caps and Taps, Clapton Craft) A new situation, at least for me: the Zoom/Skype/Google Hangout pint. Whether or not the novelty of this particular lockdown activity has worn off by the time you read this (and time is up to funny tricks at the moment), the beers I’m choosing this week are all ideal for gentle diversion in the best and worst of times in real or virtual pubs: low in alcohol, high in taste. First up is a beer that has been among my favourites for lunchtime drinking for some years now. Made in the Kernel’s railway arch brewery, a pioneering south London craft brewer, Table Beer (so much nicer as a phrase than ‘session’) clocks in with an ABV of around 3% depending on the batch, and has a brisk citrus-and-mineral freshness coupled with refreshing bitterness and some surprisingly mouthfilling tropical fruit.
Small Beer Steam, London (from £2.25 (35cl), Small Beer Brew Co, the Whisky Exchange, Great Western Wines) The Kernel’s cult classic is by no means the only modern craft ale to hit a brewing bullseye where flavour and palate-weight comes without head-pounding alcoholic power. It’s not even the only one in Bermondsey. Looking back to the 18th century, when the production of very low-alcohol ‘small’ beers was widespread as a safer alternative to dirty drinking water for the whole family, Small Beer produces a set of sub-3% brews. The 2.5% ABV Session Pale has a lip-smacking citrus zestiness that works in a similar way to a dry white wine such as picpoul de pinet as both aperitif and with, say, tempura prawns. For those hankering after a maltier, darker classic pint of bitter, the 2.7% ABV Steam is a satisfying drink with the length and bitterness of a much stronger beer.
Harvey’s Old Ale Low Alcohol, East Sussex (from £1.50 (27.5cl), South Downs Cellars, Zeroholic) Beer is better than any other (generally) alcoholic drink at doing the no (or practically no) alcohol option. Irritating as the marketing may be, BrewDog’s Nanny State (from around £1.20 for a 33cl can), with its tomato plant and exotic fruit flavours, is a convincing impression of a fully loaded IPA with a mere 0.5% ABV. I’ve been impressed by the low-ABV efforts of two great traditional brewers. Harvey’s, in East Sussex, makes a 0.5% version of its Old Ale that manages to deliver those craved-for toasty and malty notes so abundantly on display in its full-strength sibling, and with good palate-weight. Southwold’s Adnams uses the same reverse-osmosis alcohol-reduction tech to create a biscuity, malty, mango-fruity 0.5% version of its excellent pale ale, Ghost Ship (£1.59, 50cl, Tesco).