The best lower-alcohol beers: taste tested
In 2024, says beer expert Mark Dredge, big flavour doesn’t have to mean high strength. You might not be doing Dry January, but if you are looking to lower your alcohol intake in the New Year, here are three of Mark’s favourite low ABV (alcohol by volume) beers to choose from. He also gives us an insight into the changing strength of British beers through the years – and explains why you might see more low-alcohol beers on the shelves and behind the bar in 2024.
If you could time-travel back to the mid-1800s, step inside a pub and order a pint of the most popular beer, you’d likely be handed something dark and strong – probably 6% alcohol by volume (ABV) or more. That was the normal strength of mild ale, the most common beer at that time, and it’s quite different from the pale 4% ABV beers you’re most likely to find today.
Our preferences for beer change generation by generation, with many influences having an impact. It could be changes in our working lives (when there were more manual jobs, those stronger ales combined sustenance with refreshment, and we drank them all day long, while today the lunchtime pint is a thing of the past and we get enough calories from our diet). It could be changes in laws or social pressures (tax changes, ingredient restrictions during war, crackdowns on drink driving, health consciousness). It might be new brewing processes and ingredients (efficiencies in breweries led to lighter, brighter beers; we became lager drinkers; modern hops give us beer with more intense fruity aromas).
Today British beer is well known for being thirst-quenching, often fruity in aroma and with a depth of flavour, all while being around 4% ABV. Now new trends are giving us beers with even more hop aroma and even less alcohol, which seems to be the coming thing for 2024: lots of new and flavoursome beers under 3.4% ABV.
Why 3.4 is the magic number
Look on beer shelves and at the taps and you might see a lot more beers at 3.4% ABV. In August 2023, law changes created a new tax bracket for beers between 1.2% and 3.4%, incentivising moderation and lower-alcohol beer – and, we hope, bringing cheaper pints. Expect to see more lower-alcohol beers in 2024.
Three of the best lower-alcohol beers
Gipsy Hill Bandit, England 3.4%
Brewed in south London, this gluten-free pale ale has citrus and light tropical aromas, a bitter-sweet balance and a great texture for the low alcohol content. £2.75 for 440ml, available from Waitrose
Cloudwater Happy, England 3.4%
An ideal name for a beer that’ll bring a smile to your face. Manchester-brewed, it’s a hazy yellow pale ale with a soft texture and juicy tropical aromas. Great with coconutty curries or noodle soups. £3.25 for 440ml, available from Cloudwater Brew Co.
Small Beer Session Pale, England 2.5%
London’s Small Beer is dedicated to brewing low-ABV beer in sustainable ways (it’s a B Corp). This pale ale is bright and crisp with a zesty citrus aroma. Try with a creamy veg-based risotto. £2.20 for 350ml, available from Waitrose
Discover all Mark’s tried-and-tested beer recommendations.
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