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The continuing popularity of these alcohol free, low alcohol and reduced alcohol drinks among UK consumers is being widely reported, and you can’t fail to notice the increase in the number of products available.

It is a joy to report on a positive story of the public moderating their drinking and taking the ‘Don’t Drink and Drive’ message seriously.

The Licensing Act clarifies in section 191 that alcohol does not include drinks with a strength not exceeding 0.5% at the time of the sale or supply in question.

Many of the low alcohol drinks available meet this threshold, although not all. Low alcohol drinks can contain up to 1.2 ABV, so it is imperative to read the label to establish whether licensing laws cover the sale.

Many licensed premises are permitted to admit those under 18, and if this is the case, there is nothing to prohibit under 18’s from buying and drinking these low/alcohol free alternatives, providing the drinks do not meet the 0.5% threshold. It might be the start of a more responsible approach to drinking and perhaps lead to fewer young people feeling the need to brandish fake or borrowed IDs.

So long as bar staff are confident, they are not selling alcohol to under 18’s, there should not be a problem.

For clarification, please note:

Alcohol free

Many, although not all, producers follow government guidance that says alcohol free drinks can be up to 0.05% ABV. (Sometimes these types of drinks might be described as ‘zero alcohol’, or ‘0.0’). In practice, you might see alcohol free drinks that are up to 0.5% ABV for sale.

Low alcohol

Guidance says low alcohol drinks can be up to 1.2% ABV, and an indication of its maximum ABV should be included on the label.

Reduced alcohol

There isn’t an agreed legal definition in the UK of how much alcohol a ‘reduced alcohol’ drink can have – so this means they can be a lot stronger than ‘alcohol free’ or ‘low alcohol’ drinks. Food Standards Agency best practice guidance says ‘reduced alcohol’ should mean at least 30% less alcohol than the equivalent standard drink.

In practice, the strength of ‘reduced-alcohol’ drinks is typically around halfway between ‘alcohol free’ and standard strength – a ‘light’ white, rose, or red wine might have around 5.5% ABV. If you swap a standard alcoholic drink for a reduced alcohol one, you will still be cutting your units – but not by as much as if you choose ‘low alcohol’ or ‘alcohol free’.

Please note that this information is for general guidance only and should not substitute professional legal advice. If you have specific concerns, we recommend consulting one of our legal experts.


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