Alcohol-free isn’t alcohol-free, or is it?

Alcohol-Free is called all types of names, and it’s a very confusing market. So is alcohol-free really alcohol-free?

Well, yes and no.

So I feel for you.

It also changes depending on where you live.

So what means alcohol-free in the Uk might mean something different in other parts of Europe.

I mean alcohol-free, low alcohol, de-alcoholised, no and low or drinks for weirdos.

I have seen them all listed.

Someone said, “do you have a no and low lifestyle” even the other week, and I was like NO.

I prefer the term 0.0 as it does sum up where I am with an alcohol-free drink.

I have no option. I mean, I would like to live.

Your reason could be that, or you don’t want to go near alcohol. The reasons are numerous.

I was like, right, if I ever drink again, that is not good, so I’ll quit alcohol, but it is more challenging than you think if you check out alcohol-free drinks.

I was just a social wine drinker, so I was learning this for health grounds and not from an addiction point of view.

But then most be who drink over 14 units per week would say they are not addicted.

Read what one unit of alcohol is

It is a bit like giving up wheat; it’s in everything.

So, is it alcohol-free or not?

It’s like having a list of terms in an airline taking off going alcohol-free, as you need to keep cross-checking to make sure you have it right.

  • Low Alcohol
  • No Alcohol
  • No/Low
  • Alcohol-Free
  • Non-Alcoholic.

You’re confused, so am I!

But actually, it defines how the alcohol-free drinks market is set up.

If you after a non-alcoholic beer, is it the same as alcohol-free? 

I mean, the drinks industry loves the term no-low, but it’s probably the most unhelpful label if you are trying to avoid alcohol.

Or, of course, if you can’t touch it at all.

Non-Alcoholic Means What?

Many beers, wines and spirits in the new ranges are called non-alcoholic or alcohol-free.

So you think these drinks have no alcohol at all.

And you would be right to think these drinks have next to nothing in them.

There might be a trace of alcohol because of the production process and natural fermentation.

But this is a big but. 

Different nations have various guidelines, but typically they could be a trace of alcohol up 0.05%.

Which I am sure you would agree in maths percentage terms is zero.

But it is a trace.

However, there would be much more in many natural foodstuffs and more about that later!

Although in some countries in Europe, alcohol-free is up to 0.5%, and my colleagues in the United States say it’s the same there.

Non-Alcoholic Means What?

They often look in envy at the UK alcohol-free drinks labelling while we continue to scratch our heads.

Even bar staff in the UK mix them up all the time. I don’t know about you, but I am often offered a low alcohol beer and told it’s alcohol-free.

But to them, I guess vodka has an abv ( alcohol by volume) of 40% in some cases, so I suppose they are comparing like for like.

But if I order a meal and say I am allergic to peas, I don’t expect a few on the plate for good measure.

So 0.5 does have some alcohol, right?

Yes, it does in real terms. Of course, it is not enough to get drunk and again statically very low, but it is alcohol.

So the good news is that our alcohol-free drinks need to have 0.05% alcohol or less in the UK. Go to other countries in Europe, though, and beers up to 0.5 per cent could still be deemed “alcohol-free”.

This is why you cannot take the names of so-called alcohol-free drinks at face value in the age of travel.

It’s why I always double-check the abv credentials so alcohol by volume. 

It’s why I am passionate about 0.0% beer that produces no alcohol at all.

European countries can market their products with 0.5%  and still identify them as ‘alcohol-free’.

And of course, to many of you, that won’t matter, and that is fine.

But if it does, it’s a problem.

So what is de-alcoholised?

So the UK has some of the best alcohol-free branding and info in the world.

But of course, with more complex labelling.

Let’s check out the drinkaware website in the UK to get some clarity.

And even then, it’s a stretch.

Three categorisations apply to drinks produced in the UK:

  • Alcohol-free: no more than 0.05 per cent ABV
  • De-alcoholised: no more than 0.5 per cent ABV
  • Low alcohol: no more than 1.2 per cent ABV

Looks good right

Well, not so fast.


What is De-Alcoholised?

In terms of ‘de-alcoholised”, many drinks in this category have the alcohol taken out as such, but not all.

There are various methods, and this term does not encompass all of them.

Some drinks less than 0.5% control the amount of sugar that is turned into alcohol.

You can see why it gets confusing, but at least you know it has some alcohol in it, albeit some.

It is why it is essential that if you are looking for alcohol-free and, in some cases, totally alcohol-free, you need to seek out the 0.0 per cent drinks range of wines, beers, gins and other non-alcoholic spirits.

So low alcohol is what it says? So that is fine?


I suppose it depends on your interpretation of the law, right?

Going alcohol-free or reducing your alcohol intake is all about measures.

No pun intended, honest!

If I go into any alcohol-based shop and ask if they have any alcohol-free, I am generally shown the low-alcohol section.

And to be fair, they are very polite about it.

And I get it. I have had to educate myself about this stuff and fast.

What about you?

If I didn’t know better, it would be easy for me to pick up a can of no-alcohol beer when it was 0.5%.

Now people laugh this off, but of course, if you had an allergy to nuts, you might see it differently.

And, of course, I am not devoid of any personal responsibility.

Of course not.

Is This Low Alcohol?

You can get beers, wines and cider in this category of low alcohol.

Increasingly I see gin chucked in there as well.

Reduced alcohol drinks are those having approximately 1.2% alcohol or below.

Some brewers will adapt this for drinks if they want it to be in the de-alcoholised range.

Techniques are very sophisticated.

Wines and beer are especially good with their labels, and I have often seen them listed as low alcohol.

Again it is why abv – alcohol by volume is so important.

But the most significant sales growth is in the 0.5 range.

I mean, could you get drunk on that? It why it very popular.

What is the case for 0.5 % per cent beers?

And, to be fair, it’s a powerful one.

Many non-alcoholic beers, a glass of wine, spirits and even ciders on the alcohol aisle when you can find it are 0.5 per cent abv.

Don’t get me started on that!

But they do consist of a bit of alcohol, so up to 0.5% ABV (alcohol by volume).

Now I increasingly see 0.0 beers in some shops, but in some, they are almost non-existent.

This can be concerning if, like me, you do not intend to consume any alcohol even at 0.5%.

You will have your reasons, of course.

Is 0.5% alcohol-free?

It’s a big no, but in reality, some natural foods have more alcohol in them. So I guess it is a health issue or a moral one.

When I was in the hospital, no one told me to avoid ripe bananas. 

But I still would not touch 0.5%.

Banana And Alcohol

Not for any addiction issue, just on health grounds.

However, there are many reasons to have some alcohol so to dismiss 0.5 per cent beer out of hand is unfair.

I mean, it is a very low level.

There are some great beers with this alcohol level, and I know many people who have come off the booze and still happily consume these products.

More later on if you are addicted. It might be a different case regardless of if there is any alcohol or not.

This does not mean you should avoid 0.5% drinks if you reduce your alcohol intake, but you have to know your boundaries before starting.

Top Tip: make a list of reasons you are cutting back on alcohol or giving up totally.

Although giving up any alcohol may be a challenge with all the natural traces of it out there.

Knowing your reasons is critical.

Now I am not here to argue for 0.5 per cent ABV drinks, but I think if you are going alcohol-free or making a choice, it’s perfect to know.

It also helps with some of the trace arguments in total 0.0 per cent abv beers.

So what you might be surprised to learn is that lots of food contain similar if not more than 0.5 per cent abv.

The University in Sweden did lots of research on hidden alcohol and children.

I am not sure my parents were bothered; they just gave me a sherry or a glass of vino and told me to get on with it.

The figures vary of course but :

  • 0.4% alcohol in the edible section of ripe bananas
  • 1.28% alcohol in some sorts of hamburger rolls
  • Not to mention a glass of orange juice.

So there are lots of confusing messages out there, and yes, I eat bananas and burger rolls, given the alcohol content is so limited.

But I still don’t drink 0.5 per cent beer.

If you aim to stay clear of alcohol, wouldn’t it be odd to say no to yourself to have a 0.5% ABV beverage? Especially when you continue to eat foods that contain this quantity of alcohol and more?

But for some, it might be a health risk too far, so always check with your doctor.

Although when I have asked about alcohol intake, they have been clear they are talking about alcoholic drinks, not a trace of alcohol in foodstuff.

Could I get drunk on orange juice?

Not unless there is vodka in it is the answer.

Can I Get Drunk On Orange Juice?

But some food does have alcohol in it.

But whereas orange juice is unlikely to trigger drinking a return alcohol, a 0.5per beer is a risk for some people.

But 0.5 per cent is not a lot of alcohol.

I mean, an average beer would have, say, 5 per cent abv.

The amount of alcohol in 0.5% drinks is so tiny that it’s challenging to get anywhere near intoxicated on 0.5% drinks, no matter exactly how many you have.

Your body would chuck it back up, and it could not take all that fluid.

The issue with alcohol dependency is not the 0.5 per alcohol but is the same for any alcohol-free beverage, which if it triggers your desire to drink alcohol, don’t go near it, please don’t.

Would you mind seeking help?

But trigger could be

  • The taste
  • The smell
  • The glass
  • The labelling
  • The bar
  • The social evening
  • Memories of alcohol
  • You might get served alcohol by mistake.
  • So I get all those reasons, but it also should not mean that no one gets to drink alcohol-free.

Newcastle and Bristol University back this up, which is that more choice means we are less likely to drink alcohol.

Of course, those options have to be good, which was the primary problem years ago as the beer tastes like, well, you know what.

Luckily the industry has moved on.

So if it is a trigger, stay away, although I have never heard of a banana being a catalyst either.

But for me and my health, it’s alcohol-free all the way, but I except some food and some zero beer might have a trace.

When it comes to alcohol-free, the world is very different.

Many individuals who make the laws about what is and isn’t alcohol-free understand that 0.5% is a trivial quantity of alcohol in the big scheme.

But you could buy an 0.5% beer and think it had no alcohol.

So let’s take the situation right here in the UK, drinks 0.5% and under aren’t limited by alcohol licensing laws. So, in reality, anyone can buy one, and it is okay.

Of course, the person selling you that beer might not realise that.

But to confuse it more, the labelling comes under an entirely different regulation.

My friend in New Zealand pointed out that beers under 0.5% include the words “non-intoxicating.”

Across the EU, the law says that drinks under 1.2% ABV don’t need the percentage shown on the label on the back of the bottle!

Alcohol-Free Is different worldwide

In the US’s 0.5% is just a “trace” quantity of alcohol, and it can be called “non-alcoholic” but not “alcohol-free.”

Is it any wonder you might get confused?

Back in the UK, only drinks under 0.05 per cent ABV can be defined as “alcohol-free”, while the term “non-alcoholic” can’t be used with drinks typically associated with alcohol, such as beer and a glass of wine.

Although if it’s unfermented grape juice, which is never good, you could call it non-alcoholic red wine.

Is it any wonder why alcohol-free or de-alcoholised wine got a terrible reputation!

Drinks up to 0.5% can be classified as “de-alcoholised” if they have had the alcohol removed after fermentation.

But I could make a beer between 0.05% and 0.5% ABV and call it “low alcohol”.


I am not surprised.

It’s why in the Uk, the officially ABV guidelines are the best you are going to get.

In reality, it’s your call. After all, it’s your body

But try alcohol-free drinks out. I am a massive advocate.

But know your stuff.

Unless you care about the amount of alcohol in low and alcohol-free drinks, then you can probably go with the flow.

However, if you are after 0.0 per cent alcohol-free, then go for that and make no exceptions.

You might have to except some brands have a trace but then so do many foodstuffs.

Although I always get advice from a medical professional, I cannot find any evidence that says we should be avoiding food with trace alcohol in them.

No one in the hospital told me to avoid a banana or orange, for example.

But always check if there might be a trace.

So there is alcohol in 0.5% abv drinks or less in most cases.

But you won’t get drunk, but if it’s medical, be careful and double-check with your doctor.

I can navigation the 0.0 abv per cent beer well now, so it can be done.

What do you think about why alcohol-free is not alcohol-free? And in your head, is alcohol-free really alcohol-free?

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