If you’ve been to the supermarket or convenience store, you’ll probably notice that the alcohol section is becoming more diverse. We’re not talking about alcohol from around the world – we’re talking about alcoholic drinks that don’t actually contain alcohol.
While non-alcoholic beers has been around a very long time – Americans have been producing them since the Prohibition in 1919 – the trend has seen a resurgence worldwide, and it’s not just limited to beer. With more and more young people shunning alcohol, it’s probably not surprising to see this trend towards mindful drinking. Non-alcohol booze also offers a degree of social camouflage for those who don’t or can’t handle alcohol. The best part about alcohol-free booze? No hangover and much lower calories.
Thanks to its growing popularity, it’s not difficult to find alcohol-free booze in Singapore, whether it’s online or in physical stores.
What is alcohol-free alcohol?
Most consider anything under 0.5% ABV as non-alcoholic, which is a similar level to ripe fruits. Even drinks like orange juice or kombucha have trace amounts of alcohol. Of course, there’s also 0.0% alcohol, which contains no alcohol at all.
You may be familiar with spirits like gin, vodka, whisky, rum – those typically contain ABVs of around 40%. Drinking them neat will give you a ‘burning’ sensation on your palate. You can now get spirits without the alcohol; however, the taste will be different from the original since there’s no alcohol to give you that ‘zing’ to the mouthfeel. These alcohol-free spirits are often made to be mixed into cocktails, which gives drinkers a less sweet version of traditional mocktails which are often made with lots of syrups.
The most popular spirit to be made alcohol-free is gin; to be classified as ‘gin’ it needs to contain juniper. Alcohol-free gin is made by distilling, same as regular gin. There are many boutique brands producing alcohol-free gin (ie. Seedlip, Caleno, Pentire, etc), and now you can also get them from major producers of gin: Gordon’s Alcohol Free and Tanqueray Alcohol Free, both popular brands for making gin & tonic, containing no more than 0.015% ABV.
There’s an alcohol-free version of almost any spirit you can think of. There’s tequila (like Ritual Zero Proof Tequila Alternative), bourbon (like Spiritless Kentucky 74), whisky (like Drink Monday, Lyre’s), vodka (like ArKay Alcohol Free Vodka), and rum (like Fluère Spiced Cane) – all made to taste as close to the original spirits as possible. Lyre’s makes a range of alcohol-free versions of a range of tipples like absinthe, rum, whisky, triple sec, and more.
There’s also alcohol-free mixers that mimic the flavours of aperitifs like Campari (like Ghia, Lyre’s) and even bitters (like Sexy AF Amar-Oh), giving you plenty of options to make your cocktails. Recently, Singapore-made Melati became Asia’s first non-alcoholic aperitif, inspired by traditional Asian remedies.
However, despite being alcohol-free (hence aren’t subject to high taxes), the prices are pretty steep – Seedlip is $67 while Gorden’s Gin (alcoholic) is $42 on Redmart; a 500ml bottle of Melati is $68.
There’s also a growing trend of alcohol-free and low-alcohol (below 10% ABV; wines are usually around 11-14% ABV) wines, both red and white, as well as champagne and rosé. Non-alcohol wine is not simply grape juice – they’re actually fermented like wine before going through the de-alcoholisation process to remove the alcohol. This means they retain the flavours of the original wine, with only about 0.5% ABV.
While most of the alcohol-free wines are from lesser-known wineries, there’s a growing number of large winemakers adding alcohol-free versions to their offerings, like Torres (Natureo de-Alcoholised Muscat) and Sutter Home (Fre Brut Non-alcoholic Champagne Wine). Even Marks & Spencer has a range of alcohol-free wines: sauvignon blanc, merlot, and rosé.
Alcohol-free beer, the original trendsetter
Beer is already low in alcohol, compared to all other alcoholic drinks you’ll typically find at a bar, at an average of about 5% ABV (unless marketed as ‘strong’, XIPA, or Belgian).
While Europe and Japan have been producing non-alcohol beer for a while now, we’re seeing more mainstream beer producers getting in on the action. We have alcohol-free Heineken and Carlsberg in Singapore, as well as Budweiser in the US. For a list of popular non-alcohol beers, see here. In addition to alcohol-free pilsners and lagers, there are alcohol-free wheat beers, dark beers (porters and stouts), and other beer varieties you can think of like IPA, Pale Ales, and even sours.
Generally, non-alcohol beers are made in one of two ways: the first stops fermentation before it happens, and the second removes it through evaporation. The craft beer industry is now getting in on producing a variety of low- and non-alcohol beers with a lot more variety than your average lagers.
There’s also a rise in low-alcohol beers, which have ABVs around 1-4%, which are sometimes called ‘near beers’. In Japan, ‘near beers’ are different: they’re called happoshu, and have the same amount of alcohol but with less malt than regular beer. Normal beers in Japan have 67% malt, while happoshu have less than that.
Japan also has ‘beer-taste’ drinks like Suntory All Free, which is basically a beverage flavoured like beer so they’re completely alcohol-free (and calorie-free). Japan also has Hoppy, a malt drink that’s about 0.8% ABV, traditionally drunk with shochu (a distilled alcohol of 20% ABV) – similar to your soju bombs.
If you’re used to drinking regular beer, the taste of these alcohol-free versions may be slightly different. Some – like Hoppy or alcohol-free weissbier – can be described as tasting like ‘wheat juice’, while others may have a sour tang.
Cocktail bars with non-alcoholic cocktails?
While alcohol-free options aren’t widespread in Singapore, there are places where you can actually sample an alcohol-free cocktail that isn’t just a mocktail flavoured with all kinds of sickly sweet syrups. Some bars stock alcohol-free spirits – like gin or tequila – so it’s not difficult to get alcohol-free cocktails (just don’t expect a lower price).
Then there are places with alcohol-free (not mocktail) cocktails. The Great Mischief – Singapore’s first Halal cocktail bar – only carries non-alcoholic drinks, and focuses on Catalonian bites. Origin Bar distills their own alcohol inspired by the flavours of Singapore, including a 0% ABV option. Gibson is another bar with a big alcohol-free menu, including using Campari and vermouth that have been boiled down to remove the alcohol.
These alcohol-free options give you more choices for your next night out!