There is a growing market for non-alcoholic drinks in Ireland - and the industry is meeting the challenge in exciting ways. FOOD AND WINE contributor Oisin Davis shares some of his favourite alcohol-free tipples.
Ask anybody within the Irish drinks and hospitality sector what the biggest surprise product hit of the last few years has been and I guarantee you that they'll respond with, Heineken 00. It spread quicker than the flames of the great Dublin whiskey fire and is showing no signs of going out either. Many of my bar owner mates tell me that it's actually their biggest selling bottled beer.
You might be reading this now in either a state of horror or massive bemusement. Surely there's no place in Ireland where a non-alcohol brew could reign supreme in the bottle wars? Deal with it folks. People around the world are drinking less and are increasingly going for the low or no alcohol options, even here in the land of The Pintman.
As a rather dedicated drinker myself, I wouldn't normally be such an expert on all things non-alcoholic but last year, I somehow got involved in establishing, The Virgin Mary Bar on Capel Street, Dublin - Europe's first booze-free watering hole. Once we began researching the whole area, we found some rather crazy statistics, such as the one from Alcohol Action Ireland that says 25 per cent of Irish adults don't actually drink. Other studies were showing that younger generations were drinking a lot less because they're more in tune with their mental and physical health. Throw in other factors such as punters not wanting to look tipsy on their social media feeds and you can start seeing why products such as Heineken 00 and non-alcoholic spirit, Seedlip are selling so well and why there might even be a demand for a tiny alcohol-free bar in the north inner city of Dublin.
It was obviously just a matter of time before Irish producers knuckled down and started getting their alcohol free vibes on. In the last few months, there's been some very interesting releases so I felt compelled to share them with you all. Seek them out in quality off licences and bars for when you're on a liver re-charge or if you're no longer imbibing.
I'm not gonna lie. As far as I'm concerned, the Wicklow Wolf crew haven't put a foot wrong with any of their beers. They've all been turbo tasty and distributed exceptionally well. But having sampled many a watered-down, malty cordial disguising itself as a boozeless beer, I had a feeling of dread when I went to open its Moonlight, Non Alcoholic Hoppy Ale. Thankfully my love for Wicklow Wolf is still very much intact. This is a bold IPA with a multitude of hops, including my current fave, citra. The addition of lactose gives it a creamy mouthfeel, which is a smart move as often the lack of alcohol can throw off the texture for a beer such as this. Unlike its Dutch competitors with Heineken 00 though, Moonlight is at 0.5% abv. According to EU law, this still means that it's alcohol-free but enough for some people to be wary of.
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"Times change and so do we! Sometimes by principle or circumstance, it’s better not to consume alcohol." It looks like Stonewell Cider gets it. This is how it introduced its Stonewell 0% product on the site and by doing so, it’s recognising that even the most ardent of Irish session-heads knows they need to chill from time to time. And if you opted for it, you certainly wouldn't be missing anything on the taste department. It's got a gorgeous balance of malic acid and sweetness. A reverse osmosis process removes the alcohol after fermentation but still leaves that all-important cider texture.
For more and more people now, their health is so important to them that they seek out vitamin and energy supplements to maintain certain levels of fitness. Protein chocolate bars, energy shakes and now from Brewmaster in Louth, Isotonic Beer - a lager made with malted wheat and barley, hallertau hops and enriched with additional minerals and folic acid. The best bit is though, it tastes great! A lovely balance of bitter and natural sweetness. No mean feat when you consider that most healthy things don't. You can literally replace nutrients and electrolytes into your body while drinking a very quaffable brew.
While other companies may have only recently started looking at producing non-alcohol products, my old friends in Highbank Orchards in Kilkenny were the first to do so in Ireland. In 2009, they released "Driver's Cider" made exclusively with their own 100% organic apples. It's gluten free, has no added sugars or sulphites and is not even fermented as it contains a variety of apple called "Blusher" that naturally tastes of cider. Kai Cafe in Galway are big fans, try one there if you're in the hood!
Author: Oisin Davis
Oisin Davis works on a global level as an Irish drinks evangelist and producer. He is the founder of nationwide drinks festivals that celebrate Irish spirits in the best bars and restaurant in the 32 counties and to top it off he is co-owner of Poacher's Premium Beverages, Ireland's only all-natural mixer company. F&W is delighted that Oisin has joined our contributing team with his column "Great Irish Drinks."