Across most of Europe and around the world, drinks containing up to 0.5% ABV (alcohol-by-volume) are considered alcohol free. In some countries, such as Spain, drinks containing up to 1% alcohol can be labelled as alcohol-free.
There is no UK law to determine what drinks can be described as alcohol free.
We sell only drinks containing no more than 0.5% alcohol which fall within the ‘alcohol-free’ category in most countries in the western world.
This amount of alcohol is commonly found in food products such as artisan bread, fermented yogurt, overripe fruit and old-fashioned fermented drinks such as cola and dandelion and burdock which are sold as soft drinks with no indication of alcohol content.
Drinks may be described as alcohol-free, de-alcoholised and non-alcoholic.
Some of our drinks have 0.0% alcohol, some have 0.05% and some contain up to, but no more than, 0.5% alcohol, Some drinks, for example wines, may contain around 0.3%.
You can work out the units with this handy sum:
Strength (ABV) x Volume (ml) / 1000 = Number of units
So, as an example, a bottle of alcohol-free wine at around 0.2% ABV:
0.2% ABV x 750ml divided by 1000 = 0.15 units (ie, 15% of one unit).
Alcohol is measured in units. Men and women are advised to consume no more than 14 units of alcohol spread over a week. Consuming all 14 units in one session is binge drinking and is harmful. Anyone who drinks alcohol is advised to have two or three alcohol-free days in a week.
According to the previously mentioned formula you would have to drink around 45 glasses of wine within a very short space of time to even register one unit (a healthy liver clears one unit of alcohol per hour, and you only get drunk when the liver can’t keep up). Basically, it’s impossible to get drunk on our wines and beers
The UK reviewed how drinks are labelled according to their alcohol content in 2018.
In the end, the government decided against any regulations and instead have left it to the industry to follow ‘guidelines’.
This means there are no UK laws controlling how drinks are described according to their alcohol content and producers can choose how to label their drinks.
This has not helped make things any clearer for the consumer.
Guidelines suggest that drinks should be labelled using the following criteria:
- Non- alcoholic: contains no alcohol at all (0.0%)
- Alcohol-free: contains 0.05% alcohol or less
- De-alcoholised: contains 0.5% alcohol or less
- Low-alcohol: contains more than 0.5% but no more than 1.2%
In most of Europe the rules are simple – all drinks with up to 0.5 per cent alcohol are regarded as alcohol-free.
One of the problems with these descriptions is that people worry about whether what they are drinking is safe to consume when driving, on medication or during pregnancy.
None of the products sold at The Alcohol-Free Shop exceed 0.5% ABV which is such a tiny amount of alcohol that it is impossible to become intoxicated by it and it passes through a healthy body with no ill effects.
The description de-alcoholised is based on a method of production.
In the past, most alcohol-free beers were brewed exactly the same way as ordinary beers but the alcohol was removed after fermentation. These were so called de-alcoholised.
These days, many beers are brewed using the ‘halted fermentation’ technique which means fermentation is stopped before the alcohol content of the beer exceeds 0.5%. In some cases fermentation is stopped before the ABV exceeds 0.0%. In these cases, the term de-alcoholised makes no sense.
The outcome to all this is that you will find some beers and wines containing up to 0.5% ABV labelled alcohol-free, others labelled non-alcoholic and some labelled as low alcohol. Some labels will also include a totally needless pregnancy hazard warning symbol!
At The Alcohol-Free Shop, we sell only drinks containing up to 0.5% alcohol-by-volume which are safe for drivers and pregnant women.
Alcohol is removed from wine and beer during the production stage using one of a number of different processes including:
Steam Vacuum – This is the longest established method of removing alcohol from wine and beer. Under normal atmospheric conditions, alcohol vaporises at 78C. Heating wine or beer to boiling point to steam off the alcohol destroys the delicate flavours. The Steam Vacuum process was pioneered in 1904 by the Carl Jung winery in Germany. Through this patented process, vaporisation is carried out in a vacuum so the alcohol can be steamed at a cool temperature. This prevents the wine or beer being damaged by heat and therefore retains more of the characteristics and flavours of the original alcoholic drink.
Reverse Osmosis – A fine membrane is used to separate the elements of the drink – alcohol, flavour, aroma and water. Because the structure and size of the molecules that make up these elements are different, the holes in the membrane allow some elements to pass through, while others are captured in the filter. The drink is forced under pressure through the membrane and the alcohol is separated out. This is a process mainly used to de-alcoholise wine.
Centrifugal Force – is used in some de-alcoholised wines to ‘throw’ the alcohol away from the wine through filters. This has to be repeated many times to reduce the alcohol molecules.
Halted fermentation – This system is more commonly used in beers. The mash is mixed and left to brew. The process is halted at the point just before the product reaches an alcoholic content of more than 0.0%.
If you store the wine in the correct way it will give you a shelf-guarantee of three years. This guarantee can only be given because the wine has a screw cap and the sparkling wine a poly-cork. It is best kept in the fridge for up to 3 to 5 days after opening the bottle or we’d recommend our VacuVin Wine and Champagne Savers to keep the drinks fresher for much longer. See our wine accessories.
Alcohol does affect HOW we taste, but not WHAT we taste. Alcohol-free wine maintains its character of original wine (taste and bouquet). Its removal will produce a slightly different portrait of what we are consuming.
‘Full bodied’ for instance is believed to be what a wine tastes like, but this is entirely wrong. Alcohol provides the ‘body’ and so more alcohol means more body. Alcohol also provides a texture, so its removal can change the ‘feel’ of a wine.
Taste though is NOT affected by lowering or removing alcohol. The fruit flavours of the wine will be more noticeable. You will however miss the taste of the alcohol which is the main taste you experience with alcoholic wine. That’s why it is such a skill among wine experts to find the hidden tastes in alcoholic wine that are masked by the alcohol.
Removing alcohol does lose some of the depth of the wine. This is particularly so with red wine. It is far less noticeable with white wines which more successfully maintain the original textural qualities of the alcoholic wine.
Grape juice is made from crushed and pressed grapes. Wine is fermented grape juice. The base of alcohol-free wines is completely fermented wine (9-12% vol.) which is dealcoholised after complete fermentation. Alcohol-free wine went through the same maturing stages as the “normal” wine with the difference, that the alcohol has been extracted after reaching the maturity.
In short, yes! Alcohol-free products allow drivers to enjoy wine or beer at social events without risking losing their licences. Drinking and driving is a serious offence. Greater awareness of the consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol has ensured that such behaviour is regarded as socially-unacceptable by most people. Many professional drivers in Britain choose not to drink alcohol or limit their consumption to small amounts.