What Is Alcohol Free?
When you are starting out on an alcohol free journey or just cutting back one of the biggest questions you may come across is what is alcohol free?
You would think it would be simple wouldn’t you as labels are meant to help rather than hinder.
I’m afraid what is alcohol free is a bit more complicated than that!
Here is my guide currently based on the UK findings and law of what my understanding is but as they stay in all those great finance advertisements, always check the label.
The label might be a bit confusing as are the terms but it’s a great starting point and sometimes I need to look past the big brand name on the wines and beers, oh and gins and even ginger beer.
I never said this journey was easy.
There is also the thing about fermentation which means even some of the food you eat may have a natural trace of alcohol, many things do but we will come to that later!
I’ll just put orange juice out there for now oh and bread rolls and just stick to drinks for the time being.
Oh an orange juice is a drink, well OK we have to start somewhere so let’s assume we are in a supermarket or bar and are looking for an alcohol alternative drink that’s a bit more inventive than a cola.
We deserve it right?
Is it No Alcohol or Just Low Alcohol
Now I have to say for many people this won’t matter as even in a low alcohol drink the amount is so little that you could not get drunk if you tried really hard.
However, what if it is my choice or a necessary one and you can’t or just don’t want to drink alcohol.
Now that’s a personal choice or maybe you are like me and for health reasons can’t touch a drop but still want to be socially active and have a choice of beverages down the pub?
That is not an impossible task is it. Well sometimes it feels like it is!
Now I should say at this point even if the thought of alcohol free could send you back to being a big and dangerous drinker, stay away from even thinking thoughts about it.
You will know deep down where you are on the scale.
And before anyone judges just remember the same goes for chocolate ! You can’t touch chocolate but once it’s in the fridge one cube is never enough!
We don’t people in glass houses on this blog or hand out labels as they are really not helpful !
So the big question is no alcohol or low alcohol.
In the UK right now the popularity of alcohol free drinks is massive and its growing so much that there are lots of people (and I would include me in this) where you buy what you think is an alcohol free wine or beer but it isn’t.
So is it alcohol free then?
Maybe maybe not!
So could go into any supermarket in the UK or anywhere in the world right now and you will be dominated by alcohol free choices.
Unfortunately that is not the case. I recently asked in my local supermarket where the alcohol free wine was and it was a shelf with three choices two of which were low alcohol and one alcohol free.
In fact in another one shop only this morning the bottle said 0.5 abv and the shelf said 0.1% abv. We will come onto the importance of ABV shortly.
So I hate to say it but your can’t spend hours going through all the choices as there is not that many very often!
In the last shop I went into this morning they had two choices and one was out of stock!
But here is the thing, even with just three choices it can take about 10 minutes to really go through the labels and cross-check as I really can’t drink alcohol.
However, you need to take into account the online depth of choice and not just the ones you might find in your local bar, which is zero very often!
There are now many choices than ever and not just in the UK either.
I recently had a message from someone in Mexico who just had one alcohol free choice and that was it! It really varies country to country and so do the laws governing the selling of them.
For online deliveries in the UK, I still have to bring out my passport so that face cream I use is definitely working!
But as someone recently said to me : “Do to these descriptions matter?”
Well yes they really matter to me and they should to you as well. Some people ask if these descriptions are important and the simple answer is yes.
Certainly in the UK there are legal reasons why these descriptions are there and so they might be confusing but we must engage with them to really know what we are consuming.
Remember allergies can have a massive life and death effect on people and although not often talked about it in the same way so can alcohol.
Drinking and driving comes to mind before we even talk about our healthy liver function !
So is legal speak helpful? Well yes and no!
The Rules Are Inconsistent when it comes to Alcohol Free
In the UK drink makers have very consistent if confusing rules to follow. However, when you get to other countries the rules are a bit different so you could end up not really knowing if it’s alcohol free or just low alcohol.
Now I love to drink beers, wines, gins that have no alcohol from all around the world so it’s important I know!
Some producers follow the law in their local country and why would they not! So alcohol free in some places is said to be anything where the overall alcohol content is up to or less than 0.5%.
Before we go any further it will be helpful to know that on the drink menu or bottle you should be able to see a figure called abv. This is alcohol by volume so you are looking for the percentage of alcohol even a trace of it in that drink.
The guidelines don’t always but they should help you decipher this.
OK Sherlock Holmes where next?
What are the UK Alcohol Free Labeling Rules?
So let us break it down so I can understand it, let alone my liver!
Now let’s say you have several options lined up in front of you and you cannot decide which one is for you.
By the way if alcohol level is irrelevant to you then taste might be the overriding factor while reducing your overall alcohol intake.
That’s totally fine.
I get that totally.
If you want a low alcohol drink then you are looking for the ABV figure which is alcohol by volume. Remember this tells you the range of alcohol content in your drink as a percentage.
So a low alcohol beer for example would be a drink that states it has an ABV of above 0.5% but most importantly it cannot go over 1.2% alcohol by volume.
Now say if you are after a drink of wine and it says it has been “De-alcoholised” this means it has been made in the same way as normal wine but then the alcohol is taken out. The alcohol by volume here cannot be higher than 0.5%.
Although I have seen drinks that say dealcoholized that have 0.0 % on them which kind of adds to the confusion.
Any beer or wine that states it is actually Alcohol-Free must not have an abv more than 0.05% which is a trace because of the legal requirement of fermented drinks.
Confusing I know I was!
This will all be clarified under the licensing laws in the UK so anything sold within the alcohol family will count even if it has no alcohol in it.
It’s the reason I sometimes have to give ID now even though I could buy a beer in my local pub when I was 17!
Go figure that one out!
Yes it’s actually harder for me to get alcohol free than alcohol. You are sometimes judged more as well.
You seriously could not make it up!
Just to clarify orange juice and some bread rolls have more natural alcohol in them than low alcohol beer.
Anything that involves fruit, fermentation or yeast might have a trace as it is part of the natural production process.
In fact some beers like Bavaria have no alcohol produced at all as part of the process so my preference is always to go with 0.0% as part of my health and I keep a close eye on the “trace element”.
Although alcohol is actually hard to avoid 100% as part of its natural environment, the amounts are undetectable really.
In fact, I do think alcohol free beer is safer than orange juice in many respects. Especially when you take into account the sugar load.
We were not designed to drink cartons of orange juice with little or no fibre.
Controversial I know!
Remember alcohol is everywhere!
Now it would be remiss of me to give a quick reminder that alcohol is everywhere. It’s a bit like if you are giving up wheat.
Start looking and it really does seem to be in everything!
One little caution about food and in particular desserts.
Its pays to double check what alcohol is in food, especially where it may not have been “burned off” for example.
I learned this the hard way with my Mum’s sherry trifle but she forgot to tell me she had slipped and put nearly half a bottle in.
It really went to my head and I decided quite rightly not to drive!
From steak sauce to prawn cocktails there may be some kind of alcohol in your food. Sometimes it can be a trace but sometimes it can be significant.
There was even a ruling in the UK on profiteroles that often have alcohol in them and it wasn’t properly labeled as such.
Understandably many chefs chuck in alcohol into desserts to add to the flavor. And I get it, but if you are alcohol sensitive or avoiding it all together it could be a worry for you.
Never be afraid to ask and check food for alcohol.
And no I am not knocking it, I am just asking restaurants to alcohol transparent!
If it was nuts for example people would be outraged. Whereas with alcohol people just think you used to have a problem.
With alcohol if you drink it or not judgment is everywhere.
So what is alcohol free?
Well I hope that has helped you understand the difference between dealcoholised, low alcohol and alcohol free and even within all three there are variations.
The alcohol by volume figure is key so remember to look for that ABV number?
I would love to hear your views on what is alcohol free? Is it something you even knew existed and if you did was it confusing. Leave your comment below and I always respond!