Welcome to the Zero Zone
If you’re looking for adult alternatives to soft drink, juice or sparkling water. If you always thought zero alcohol beer tasted like malty water. If you believe zero alcohol wine was just grape juice by another name or that zero per cent cider was nothing more than hyped-up apple juice. Or if you wanted an alcohol-free cocktail that treated you like a grown up. Then you’re in the right place.
What is Zero ABV anyway?
By law in New Zealand, low alcohol means less than 1.15% ABV.
That might sound like a lot but the crazy thing in life is that lots of things contain alcohol without us knowing … including, right now, you!
Curious Alcohol Fact: The human body produces alcohol, 24/7. That’s right. The food you eat has sugar in it and through the process of digestion some of that sugar is turned into ethanol. It’s only a small amount, around 3-4g per day or the equivalent of ¼ of a standard drink.
Ripe fruit can produce alcohol. A very ripe banana, for instance, can be about 0.4% alcohol by volume.
Vanilla Extract is a classic “I bet you didn’t know that” product. It contains at least 35 per cent alcohol (in America, by law it must contain that amount at a minimum!). It’s just when you use vanilla extract, it’s usually in baking and the alcohol burns off … but if you’re sweetening your cream with vanilla, it’s going to have some alcohol in it, though admittedly very little.
Kombucha is another one. This on-trend drink is a fermented product. When these are sold as soft drinks, by law they have to be under that 1.15 per cent ABV – which if you drink a 330ml means you’ll consume a third of a standard drink.
Breath freshener strips are another source of small amounts of alcohol.
Alcohol is part of life – whether we like it or not. But increasingly we’re all becoming aware that a little less alcohol in our lives is a good thing.
A few years ago, to make these kinds of choices – well, we didn’t have that many choices. If you were the designated driver it could mean a long and slightly lonely night drinking water or an overly sugared juice or soft drink.
And when the zero per cent products came on the market, it’s fair to say some of them tasted less than amazing.
The good news is that changing consumer trends and technology are moving in step – as demand for zero alcohol products increases so does the creativity of manufacturers.
In terms of choice it’s a great time to be alive. We’ll look at some of the huge range of products you can enjoy with zero fear but first come over the laboratory, we have a science lesson.
Check out our range of non-alcoholic beverages in the Zero Zone in store and online.
How do they do it?
We won’t get too techy here, promise, but the past decade has seen huge advances in the science for reducing alcohol in beverages.
The Spinning Cone Column (SCC) is an Australian invention originally created to remove sulphur from wine. But like all good technologies, people soon found better and more widespread uses for it, like taking alcohol out of wine and cider. It’s used a bit in beer but the wine industry has really leapt on it.
SCC takes place in a vacuum which allows low temperature distillation in two stages. First the full alcohol wine is poured into the column and the spinning motion creates a thin film of liquid. At around 30°C the system captures the delicate aromatics of the wine and stores them. The liquid is passed through for a second time and alcohol is removed at a slightly higher temperature. The two captured batches of liquid are blended back together and voila, a zero alcohol beverage.
Research shows that not only does the technology retain flavour but in some cases enhances itm because it is no longer diluted by ethanol. In red wine for example, the Spinning Cone Column increases the concentration of resveratrol – the antioxidant found in grape skins.
Interesting techie fact: California wine-makers first used SCC technology to reduce the alcohol in their famed Zinfandel wines. In perfect weather these grapes produce lots of sugar, leading to super-high ABV and the vintners felt it disrupted the balance of the wine so they used SCC to take away around 2 per cent of alcohol and bring the wine back into balance.
As an aside, those fastidious Europeans were less enamored with this new technology and reduced alcohol wines made by this method were banned in the European Union for a number of years. Many critics will argue that wine without alcohol is not actually wine but the French go further and say wine has to be 8 per cent ABV. Luckily we’re all a little more free-thinking in this part of the world.
The beauty of the spinning cone column is that the wine only reaches temperatures around 35-45°C and only for around 25 seconds so it’s not effected by the heat
Spinning cone columns are also used in making coffee and flavour essences.
Non-alcoholic beer, what happens there?
Beer has yet to fully embrace the SCC methods and tends to use three common alcohol removal methods: vacuum distillation, reverse osmosis, and arrested fermentation.
During vacuum distillation, beer is heated so the alcohol evaporates out. The vacuum means the beer has to be warmed to around 33°C instead of 80°C which helps preserve aromatics and flavour. But still, warm beer? No-one likes it – even the thought of it.
Reverse osmosis operates like a kidney dialysis machine: beer is pushed through a filter with microscopic pores where alcohol molecules and water are separated. Water is then added back in.
With arrested fermentation, brewers can remove yeasts or stop them from becoming active, which stops the yeast making alcohol. This is usually done by rapidly cooling down the beer to make the yeast go to sleep.
One of the reasons the world has been slow to make really good zero alcohol beer is because these technologies are quite expensive, so remain the domain of the big global brands.
But even with all their money, they’ve struggled – historically – to remove the alcohol without altering the taste. Even a low heat can strip away flavour in the distillation model. Ditto super-filtration. And the arrested fermentation method means the beer doesn’t get to develop full flavours in the first place.
The one thing that drove big breweries to work harder in this area, was the rise of craft beer and its focus on flavour.
What’s a good zero per cent beer to try?
Every year, the New World Beer & Cider Awards finds the best beers and ciders in the country. This year there were two zero per cent ABV beers in the Top 100. This is a remarkable achievement as these zero alcohol beers are judged alongside normal beers. To stand out in that crowd means the brewers who make them are doing an exceptional job.
Related: See the Top 30 Beers & Ciders of 2020
Bavaria 0.0 Wit
Bavaria 0.0 Wit not only made the Top 100 this year but also made the prestigious Top 30 in 2020 – that’s how good it is. The judges said it was beer that “blew their minds”.
“...blew their minds”
Wit is a Belgian-style wheat beer traditionally made with orange zest and coriander and relying on interesting yeast character to provide complexity and depth. With zero alcohol most of those great flavours are still there. Ditto the mouthfeel – nothing is lacking here thanks to the extra body that wheat brings. You get bubblegum and botanicals on the nose, a creamy body and a clean finish. It’s brewed with Acai extract which adds guava flavour. We guarantee you’ll love this whether you’re after zero ABV or not.
Related article: Get to know the different types of beer
Bavaria also do 0% IPA and it’s a real gem. The Spinoff website rated it the best non-alcoholic beer on the market when they did a taste test last year: “I don’t think you could get a zero-alcohol beer tasting much better,” they said.
Heineken 0.0 was the other one that came through in the New World Beer & Cider Awards Top 100. It tastes remarkably like the real Heineken which is huge kudos to the brewing team. As our judges noted: “Great balanced example for a 0% lager, good hop character and super clean.”..
“Great balanced example for a 0% lager, good hop character and super clean.”
Heineken closely guard their “twice-brewed” technology but they make the point that there’s more to it than just stripping out the alcohol from normal Heineken, that, they say: “would have been easy but it wouldn’t deliver the same taste Heineken is known for”. Many a drinks writer has tried to prise information out of them and it’s believed their approach includes blending back flavour compounds.
DB managing director Peter Simons says the traditional Kiwi approach to beer is definitely changing. “Currently, Kiwis are deeply conditioned to linking beer with alcohol, as this is how it has been in the past. However, this is changing alongside the normalisation of zero alcohol beer and we are starting to see a separation of the two. For example, people might first decide they would like a beer, then think about whether or not they want alcohol in it, and then move on to consider flavour profile. Ultimately, this could mean we start to see alcohol-free beer in more surprising places as the notion that beer has to contain alcohol is dispelled.”
Mac’s Stunt Double
The other beer that really deserves a mention Mac’s Stunt Double.
Mac’s use the arrested fermentation process where the fermentation is stopped after 24 hours which restricts the amount of alcohol that can be produced, giving us a final beer with less than 0.5% alcohol.
Mac’s Stunt Double is Lion’s first alcohol-free beer and the first production run last summer sold out much faster than anticipated so it’s great to have it back instore again.
I’m a big fan of the Stunt Double. It tastes like beer, is distinctly malty and has a lingering hop bitterness that chimes in at just the right time and enough body and mouthfeel to satisfy your beer needs. And in keeping with the demand for better-for-you beers, it has only 69 calories per 330ml and 14.5g of carbohydrate, most of which will be unfermented malt sugars.
Why put alcohol in just to take it out?
Fermentation is an amazing thing, it not only converts sugars into alcohol but adds an array of flavours and compounds that enhance the experience. So producing an alcoholic beverage first and then removing the alcohol creates an entirely different product than just, for example, crushing grapes or apples into juice.
Zeffer 0% Alcohol Crisp Apple Cider
Jody Scott, head cider-maker at Zeffer, says making his 0 per cent cider is the hardest thing he’s done, both technically and from a perspective of sales. Would people buy it?
“We wondered whether people would assume that a cider with the alcohol removed was simply a sparkling apple juice and this is not the case at all,” he said.
“It tastes just like a crisp apple cider and of course we’ve made it in the same way we would any of our ciders using our signature cidermaking style of using local apples and crafting from freshly crushed juice, not concentrate.”
As Scott notes, once the cider has been fermented it’s quite dry and low in sugar, making it super-refreshing.
“We haven’t compromised on taste and this is a great option for those looking to moderate their alcohol consumption or avoid alcohol all together.”
What about a wine that won’t make me whine?
Taking 5 per cent alcohol out of beer is one thing – and a judicious use of grains such as oats and wheat, yeast character as well as hop notes can go a long to covering the missing alcohol in beer.
But there are fewer places to hide with non-alcoholic wine. You’re taking out 12 or 13 per cent alcohol, which is quite a lot of the wine’s character, and you can’t go filling it up with other “adjuncts” as you can with beer.
- Top 50 best New Zealand wines for under $25
- Best New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs of 2020
- Best New Zealand red wines of 2020
Perhaps that’s why wine has taken longer to get zero percenters to market – it’s very hard.
The first to market in New Zealand was a 0 per cent Sauvignon Blanc from Giesen. The wine was driven by the same factors at play in the lives of many Kiwis – winemaker Nikolai St George was trying to cut back his consumption as he got ready for a fitness challenge.
Related article: Popular wine varietals and grape varieties
"For the likes of someone like me, I still need to have something in my hand and not feel like I'm missing out," he said. "So that sort of started the process, and then 12 months later we were able to make a zero per cent wine. A lot of that was because new technology had been brought into New Zealand about six months ago."
New Zealand wine critic and Master of Wine Bob Campbell blind taste-tested the wine against two other no-alcohol Sauvignon Blanc wines and declared it “a giant leap forward for 0% alcohol Sauvignon Blanc.” He noted flavours of passionfruit and red capsicum, a pleasing sweet/sour tension, and the dryness typically associated with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
“...a giant leap forward for 0% alcohol Sauvignon Blanc.”
Not only is the wine light, fresh, and crisp, with a dry finish suited to this distinctive New Zealand varietal, but it’s also low in calories. At 10.6 calories per 125ml serve, a glass of Giesen 0% has 85% less calories per serve than a traditional 12.5% ABV Sauvignon Blanc.
The wine was produced from using the Spinning Cone Column technology and Duncan Shouler, Giesen Group Chief Winemaker, said it was an instant success. “There were plenty of people who couldn’t imagine a niche for this wine,” he says. “But for every person asking why, we had another person who shared their story - people who had health issues and couldn’t drink but still wanted to feel included was a huge part of this.
“Over the last year or so we’ve seen a huge shift in stigma as alcohol removed options become more socially acceptable.”
It was a similar story Edenvale Beverages, where they noticed that more and more people were conscious about their health and wellness with the Aussie winemaker now having 15 varieties of zero per cent wines. But that had to marry with sophistication and flavour.
“People are living busier, more active lives and while one of the reasons for choosing non-alcoholic beverages includes not wanting a hangover to keep them from making the most out of their days, they also want an option that is better for them,” Edenvale said.
McGuigan is another Aussie giant with a range of zero ABVs and their offering, says marketing director Scott Burton, is about offering choice for people who want to moderate their alcohol intake. “It’s about consumer choice – we are focused on putting the consumer at the heart of our business – so the move into the zero alcohol category was a natural fit for the McGuigan brand. We see zero alcohol as an important consumer offering as the behaviour continues to change and evolve.”
Non-alcoholic wine recommendations from the judges
Non-alcoholic spirits and cocktails
But wait, there’s more choice than ever
The idea of treating non-alcohol drinkers as real people with discerning palates is evident in the new range of zero alcohol spirits, cocktails, or RTD-type products from brands such as Seedlip, AF and Finery.
If you thought taking alcohol out of wine was hard, trying taking it out of a spirit!
British company Seedlip is an industry leader in this area and because they use a range of botanicals in their drinks it takes up to 36 distillations to get the capture and concentrate all those great flavours. That equates to 36 distillations before the distillates are blended, filtered and bottled.
Australian company Lyre’s is – first of all – a great name. It’s taken from the Australian Lyrebird, described as the world’s greatest mimic. In keeping with that, Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits mimic the taste and appearance you'll find in your favourite alcoholic classics.
There are now some great New Zealand companies delivering in this area as well.
Finery, founded by Jane Allan, started with a range of canned vodka soda cocktails, with flavours such as vanilla and elderberry; grapefruit, cucumber and mint; green tea, honey and mint; and lemon myrtle, lime and black tea.
While these are lower alcohol options at 5 per cent, Allan really wanted to lead the Kiwi charge on zero alcohol options. It took a while to figure out how to do it without using artificial flavours and added sugar but she now has the same range of flavours that are “zero everything” – no alcohol, no sugar, no preservatives and no gluten.
The trickiest part with a non-alcohol version was finding a way to replace the warmth of alcohol. After some trial and error that came via a capsicum extract that brings a delicate heat.
Allan says the heat brings a “placebo” effect and the feeling you’re really drinking alcohol.
“You’re drinking a product that looks the same, feels the same, and gives you slight heat at the back of your throat. We needed to think outside the box to make something a bit special without crossing over into artificial flavours.”
With her young sons in mind, Allan is driven by changing the drinking behaviour of Kiwis.
“I would like to consider Finery as being responsible for helping re-shape our nation’s approach to drinking. We want to be a voice for that zero per cent movement. The over-arching thing is that New Zealand needs it, we need to learn to drink in moderation. We want to be at forefront of that.”
She believes that movement is well under way in Aotearoa, with an increasing number of young people deciding against drinking alcohol.
Why put alcohol in to start with?
That was the question that bugged Lisa King.
The woman behind the charity Eat My Lunch, loved to drink gin & tonic but when she decided to give up alcohol she was desperate to find something that tasted the same but without alcohol.
King stopped drinking at the start of 2020 and like so many others couldn’t find “anything good” to replace her fave G&T.
The non-alcohol market, she said, was “so poorly catered for”.
“At events if you’re drinking water, juice or a soft drink – you can’t hide from yourself that you’re having a kid’s drink.”
She wanted a drink she’d be “confident and happy to hold – that allows you to be part of that social occasion and not feel left out.”
From there AF was born.
AF – which you might think means one thing – actually stands for Alcohol Free.
The unique quality of AF is that it’s made without alcohol from the get-go but yet it gives you the feeling of drinking alcohol.
As King notes, she couldn’t see the point of putting something in just to take it out later. So she figured there must be a way with modern flavour technology to replicate the alcohol vibe.
“It didn’t make sense to put something in there that you didn’t want.”
She’d worked with food companies in the past and was familiar with the world of flavours and felt sure she could create something that tasted like gin and tonic.
The trick was to recreate the depth and warmth that alcohol brings without bunging the drink full of sugar, which fattens the mouthfeel and the waistline.
They have created a bespoke, trade-marked heat extract called Afterglow.
“You can literally feel it rising up your face,” King says. “It gives you the sensation of having an alcoholic drink rather than flavoured sparkling water.”
AF started with a classic G&T and now has a cucumber G&T, pink grapefruit G&T, Cuba Libre and Dark & Stormy.
With some sharp branding, King says AF is about making not-drinking “normal, fun, sexy, aspirational”.
She says Kiwis “don’t need alcohol to have fun – it’s so ingrained in our culture”.
One of her other drivers is not to focus on tee-totallers but encourage people to moderate their drinking without giving it up altogether.
“I didn’t want to talk to people who’d already decided to stop drinking. I want to talk to people who chose not to drink every other day.”
Luxurious non-alcoholic cocktails
What else is there for me to try?
Maybe the idea of non-alcoholic beer, wine or cocktails is just not you but still, you want something more than fizzy water or juice.
There are plenty of choices in this expanding market including the good-for-your-gut “living” fermented drinks such as kombucha and kefir which are low on sugar but full of probiotics.
Both of these drinks are fermented products made with Scoby which stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”. The fact these are fermented drinks makes them dry and refreshing and brings a complexity of flavour.
Redeem, from Hawke’s Bay, has makes three kefir sodas: raspberry hibiscus, ginger and mandarin yuzu. They are all low sugar and full of probiotics.
Alchemy & Tonic
Alchemy & Tonic is a range of flavour-packed mixers in good-looking cans that can easily be consumed as a stand-alone drink rather than mixing it with a spirit.
Where do I find this stuff?
Throughout New World stores you’ll start to find Zero Zone’s popping up with zero alcohol products grouped together.
Under New Zealand law, supermarkets have to operate what’s known as a Single Alcohol Area where all the alcohol products are displayed. But stores can choose to display beer, wine and mead marketed as “Zero” and containing less 0.5% ABV or less either inside or outside of the Single Alcohol Area.
However other products such as the alcohol-free spirits and premixed cocktails such as AF, Finery, Seedlip, Ecology, Lyres and others cannot be displayed in the Single Alcohol Area, as they’re not subject to the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.
Confused? Look for the Zero Zone signage and products highlighted as ‘Low Alcohol’ on our shelves. You can also shop online for our Zero Zone low alcohol drinks.