I didn’t start drinking alcohol until my mid twenties, went through all my adolescent years and university without having ever tasted a drop. I know, looking back it would have possibly been a somewhat different experience. But hey… I came to the good stuff first, so silver linings and all that. Low or no alcohol options weren’t really a thing back in my uni days, so if you weren’t drinking the main options were coke, lemonade, or perhaps a cheeky J2O. My drinks of choice on an evening out would have been lemonade or maybe a lime and soda if I was feeling cheap (so rock and roll). I do remember buying some Becks Blue once to see what I was missing out on and bleurgh! it was awful. When I came to discover cider it was always about drinking something I enjoyed the taste of, never to just have a drink. So low and no alcohol options have always seemed a bit odd to me, given that I was fine on soft drinks or even water for many years. I find myself questioning whether they really are a decent replacement? Or worth the calories?
Reading Helen Jerome’s brilliant article last week, it’s clear I’m not alone in these thoughts; other cider makers share the same questions about point and purpose of this category. I found Tom’s comments on how really if it’s about the apples then you should be drinking apple juice as the no alcohol alternative to cider made a lot of sense. However whatever our thoughts, there’s no denying over the last few years, low and no alcohol options have seen serious growth. There’s always been the odd one or two beers and wines available in the shops, but have a look these days and there’s half an aisle’s worth. Cider on the other hand has been slow to the party…until now. Interestingly it’s mainly been on the “larger end of craft” or perhaps better put “the smaller end of mainstream”, rather than the really big players, but as I spent a while scouring the supermarket shelves and bottle shops for a big enough group for this article, I was actually quite surprised at the amount available. So whether you’re giving “dry January” a go or are looking for an occasional low or no alcohol alternative, I’ve got the rundown on a few of the options out there.
You’ll notice that there are a number of well-known craft makers missing from my list and sadly it’s because I just couldn’t find them to buy on their own and I didn’t want to order a case of 12. I’m thinking of Crafty Nectar “0.5” which won a well-deserved trophy at the 2021 International Cider Challenge. When I tasted it a year or two back I found it had plenty of apples and acidity with a zing of sherbet sweetness but not too sweet, very easy drinking. Or Hogans “High Sobriety” which at 1% is slightly stronger than most here but if my mind serves me well had a good amount of complexity to it. Lastly Celtic Marches “Holly GoLightly”, another 0.5% but unfortunately the last time I had it, I found it a little thin.
Now to the main event of what I could find; you’ll definitely be able to pick up one of these at the supermarket and there’s even a slim chance that you might find one of these in your local, although if they’ve got a low alcohol cider it’s likely to be Koppaberg’s Strawberry and Lime version which I deliberately avoided for a number of reasons.
Adnams – Wild Wave 0.5%
This is a strange one because it states 0.5% but when you look at the ingredients there isn’t actually any alcohol listed. It’s “water, apple juice from concentrate, apple juice not from concentrate, glucose-fructose syrup, acidity regulator (malic acid), preservatives (sodium metabisulphite, potassium sorbate), antioxidant (ascorbic acid)”. No mention of fermented juice or cider. So is it really a low alcohol cider?
How I served: As per Adnams suggestion of “serve at North Sea temperatures”, I dutifully looked that up and found the average temp of the North Sea is 17 degrees in the summer and 6 degrees in the winter. So I plumped for winter and got out of the fridge 20 mins before I poured.
On the nose: apple crumble, baked apples and caramel, hint of cinnamon, tarte tatin, apple turnover? Basically every apple-based dessert you can think of all wrapped into one, without the custard or cream.
In the mouth: initially there’s a fair amount of that added malic acid, which more dominates than regulates I’d say. Then you get a hint of those baked apples, along with sweet pastry and a smidge of spice. I’m stuck on apple turnovers with this and am now craving one. After that it just sort of falls flat and becomes a bit watery. There’s a hint of bitterness but it’s very dilute. It is refreshing and on a hot day this would be a lovely drink to quench your thirst if you didn’t want a sweet apple juice as the finish is reasonably dry. But it’s not really got anything to feel like a cider substitute, no body or depth to it. After it warms a little, you get a bit more out of it, but it also starts to taste a bit sweeter.
In a nutshell: a refreshing wild wave of apple flavoured water.
Friels – Low Alcohol (0.5%)
First off, ingredients are very similar to the Adnams “water, apple juice from concentrate, apple juice not from concentrate, glucose-fructose syrup, glucose syrup, acidity regulator (malic acid), preservatives (sodium metabisulphite, potassium sorbate)”. Again no mention of fermented juice or cider, but it’s 14.5g of sugar and 73 calories per 330ml can.
How I served: out of the fridge for 15 minutes.
Colour: pollen yellow
On the nose: baked apple, apple strudel, shortcrust pastry, tarte tatin and cinnamon and some apple crumble. It’s very similar to the Wild Wave with lots of apple desert aromas.
In the mouth: lots of similarities to the Adnams again, but with less acidity. It’s sweeter too and the finish is also watery and lacks any sort of body or complexity. No surprises that the ingredients are fairly identical in terms of apple juice from concentrate and not from concentrate and not a bit of added cider in sight. I’m really not sure where the minuscule alcohol is coming from. This is very much like a fizzy apple drink, but not as sweet.
In a nutshell: a repeat of the Adnams, with a drop more sweetness.
Stonewell – Non-Alcoholic Cider (0%)
No ingredients on this one, but it states that it’s made from traditional apple varieties with the alcohol subsequently removed. Juice only guarantee on the back stating no artificial colourings or flavourings. 25 calories per 100ml, so 82.5 calories in this 330ml bottle.
How I served: fridge cold
Colour: very pale straw
On the nose: it’s all green apples if you can find them, perhaps a hint of floral notes and a smidge of tropical pineapple. It’s like a faint fruity Haribo aroma.
In the mouth: crisp, fresh, light and a juicy burst of acidity, this is an absolute thirst quencher (as it says on the label). There’s not much depth or complexity, but I’m drinking it quicker than I can take notes. Being uber critical it is quite watery, actually it’s very watery, hence it’s just going down really easy. Hot day in a pub garden and I’m the driver, then I’d take this over lemonade or any other soft drink though I think. A bit drier than some of the others here too. No info on the label other than “25 calories per 100ml”.
In a nutshell: a refreshing and fizzy apple water
Westons – Stowford Press Low Alcohol (0.5%)
Ingredients: “Water, cider, apple juice, sugar, acidity regulator (malic acid), carbon dioxide”.
How I served: from the fridge
On the nose: green apples, a hint of lemon zest and not a huge amount else. Even when warmed up it starts to just smell sweeter and more juice like, but nothing more than that.
In the mouth: gentle fizz and acidity skirt the mouth, parting to a slightly juicy sweet apple flavour. It’s very simple and refreshing, but one dimensional despite “cider” being the second ingredient. There’s no complexity, not much tannin to speak off, just a light fruity drink. Very similar to the Stonewell, it’s light and crisp and if that’s what you’d like without the hangover then it’s job done.
In a nutshell: see Stonewell.
Sheppy’s – Low Alcohol Classic Cider (0.5%)
Made from a blend of “Somerset’s finest traditional and dessert apples” No artificial flavours or colours and suitable for vegans. Ingredients are listed as “water, apple juice, somerset cider, acidity regulator (malic acid), carbon dioxide, sodium metabisulphite”. 28 calories per 100ml, so 280 calories in the 500ml bottle. This was a last minute addition, after spotting in Tesco.
How I served: fridge temperature
Colour: very pale straw
On the nose: green apples, lemon rind, dried apple skins, all very delicate though.
In the mouth: weak apple juice, bit of acidity and a very subtle hint of bitterness but the finish is sweet and the mouthfeel is slightly viscous. It’s crisp (like biting into an apple) and refreshing (as in I’m no longer thirsty) and there is apple flavour there but I disagree that it has “all of the flavour” of their traditional cider. There is just no real depth to it, which is a shame considering there’s actual cider in it.
In a nutshell: It’s deja vu, lots of water but not much depth to the apple flavour.
Note: I really wanted to like this one given the evidence of actual cider in the ingredients and after David Sheppy’s comments to Helen, but sadly it’s just too thin. Perhaps that’s because you need to dilute a base cider that could be 6-7% abv with a lot of water to get 0.5%, but they haven’t bloated it with processed sugar, so kudos there.
Thatchers – Zero (0.0%)
Hat off to Thatchers for the info on their website, lots of transparency around nutritional content. Zero has 26 calories and 5.3g of sugar per 100ml, which brings the bottle in at a whopping 130 calories (not bad) but 26.5g of sugar or 6.6 teaspoons full…yikes. It’s described as dry and to be honest it’s hard to imagine that it is with that figure.
How I served: out of the fridge for 30 minutes
Colour: orangey gold
On the nose: caramelised apples, tangerine, green apple skins, boiled sweets, confectionary aromas intertwined with apple fruit.
In the mouth: it depends on Thatchers definition of “cider apples” but to me it’s definitely more the acidity and green apple flavours that I would associate with eating varieties. It’s got elements of that typical Thatchers base that you pick up in all their ciders from Gold to Old Rascal. It’s like a fresh caramel, slightly citrus, poached apple flavour. It’s got quite a bit of complexity to it, enough to make it interesting and refreshing at the same time. Which makes it stand from quite a few of the others here, which are more watery. To me the finish is abrupt but definitely sweet, not as sweet as I thought it would be, but its got a viscosity/syrup character to it.
In a nutshell: Despite the sugar this is probably the closest to the brands alcoholic options.
Galipette – Non-Alc 0%
Ingredients are listed as 99.5% Apple Juice (not from concentrate) and 0.5% CO2, so that is basically fizzy apple juice then. Full nutrition table too, highlights of which are 46 calories and 10g of sugar per 100ml. Which is double the Thatchers.
How I served: chilled
Colour: dark gold
On the nose: intense aromas of baked and stewed apple plus some winter spice. Very strudel-like. There’s also a sort of apple confectionary note to it, which I can’t really describe as I don’t know many apple flavoured sweets. It’s how I imagine an apple flavoured boiled sweet would smell.
In the mouth: crikey that is sweet! Candy apple followed by a sharp skewer of acidity but then back to full on sweet for the finish. I want to say it’s got Ice Cider-like qualities to it, and initially it’s what I thought of, but the finish is a bit cloying and sickly. There just isn’t enough of that acidity and the carbonation doesn’t lift it enough either. There is a bit of fruity and juicy element, but it’s hidden under intense sweetness.
In a nutshell: It’s like Appletiser on sugar steroids [Ed: Appletiser has 10.5g sugar per 100ml]
Kingstone Press – Low Alcohol Cider 0.5%
Identical ingredients to the Adnams and Friels apart from an extra helping of “glucose syrup”. No cider or alcohol on the ingredients list. 22 calories and 4.4g of sugar per 100ml.
How I served: chilled
Colour: as per the Galipette
On the nose: very very faint apple, really having to strain my nose to find it or anything else. It smells like the Stowford Press if you were stood 10ft away from the glass.
In the mouth: possibly the most watery of the lot. There’s acidity and a hint of apple flavour but it it doesn’t taste of much. It starts to improve in terms of depth of flavour as it warms up, the apple and a hint of bitterness starting to show through, but there is very odd chemical aftertaste on the finish.
In a nutshell: Not one I would ever care to try again.
If you made it this far through then thank you for sticking with me through this river of viscous apple-flavoured sugar water. Possibly one of the most one dimensional group of ciders I’ve ever reviewed, if you can call them ciders.; I’m still not sure if many count. Ultimately it comes down to four out of the lot for me: for the lowest calories, the Stonewell is a refreshing if a little weak option. For something as close to its alcoholic relatives, the Thatchers Zero is a close as you can get to a pint of Old Rascal or Gold without the booze if you’re a Thatchers fan. For a real enjoyable low alcohol cider then I’d have to recommend the Crafty Nectar or Hogans, both of which I haven’t got here and aren’t very widely available unless you order direct, so I’m not sure how helpful that is unless you want a case for a party. But both will give you a more enjoyable sober experience.
As a general comment, I’m still no closer to fully understanding the “Low or No” concept; on the one hand I get the desire to reduce alcohol intake, but then on the other I still want something that provides a comparable alternative, although none of the above really taste like cider so aren’t a proper replacement in my view. They also include a fair amount of sugar though, after all you need something to try and give it a bit of body, and if you read my article about sugar in cider last year, I feel it’s just replacing one unhealthy ingredient with another.
Interesting review – and well done for trying to source them and then wading through them! I’ve never been impressed by any although can see why the marketing people would see an opportunity.
We have gone the other way and do a low-acohol apple juice. It’s under 1.2% as that is the level at which it becomes liable for HMRC duty to be paid. Some people say they get a hint of cider. We simply ferment for a short while (all dessert varieties with a few culinary ones) and then stop the fermentation through pasteurisation.
Soon we will be launching a variant which will be called Somerset Breakfast Cider. The concept came from someone in northern France who explained that it is “a thing” over there.
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Thanks for reading Oliver and your Somerset breakfast cider sounds very interesting. I was aware of the concept in Northern France, they drink it from tea cups in some restaurants/bistros. Hope it goes down well over here. Cheers
I suppose that there are three options for low/no ‘cider’:
1. Apple juice with added glucose, gas, chemicals, whatever – so it’s not cider at all.
2. Make proper cider and take the alcohol out – how is this achieved? Does it involve some extra chemical process?
3. Quick fermentation stopped by pasteurisation, as Oliver describes above.
And then there are the ciderkins and lower-alcohol keeves of this world, which are more authentic.
One of my batches of apple juice achieved something like 3 when I obviously didn’t pasteurise it enough, with the result that there’s an effervescence and, no doubt, a small amount of alcohol. It’s proved to be quite popular, although I’m not sure how to take my niece’s compliment that it tastes ‘a bit like ‘Schloer’!
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Thanks for reading Paul, I’m also not sure how they remove the alcohol post fermentation, will have to read up on it. You’re naturally sparkling apple juice sounds delicious and I’m sure a million times better than ‘Schloer’.