THE NUMBERS GAME: What’s the deal with 0.5%?

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past 18 months, you’ll have noticed that the “no and low” alcohol category has been steadily expanding. Millennials might be credited as being the ones that put their flag of abstinence in the ground, but it would seem that a desire to moderate is slowly creeping across generations. More and more people are becoming ‘sober curious’ and the market is responding.

As with all new categories, there’s a heap of new claims, terms and phrases being thrown around by those in and outside of the industry, which can create confusion when trying to navigate the growing options. One particularly confusing piece of the jigsaw is around ABV – what does it mean, why is it relevant and what is classed as “alcohol-free”?

The term ABV means “alcohol by volume” and is recorded as a percentage of the total volume of liquid in question. Wine is typically between 11-14% ABV depending on the colour and grape and Scotch Whisky must be at least 40% ABV to be classed as a Scotch.

Drinkers in Europe are ahead of the game and in countries such as Spain, alcohol-free beer has long been part of the social fabric, for those driving or for occasions in the first half of the week. Legislation there classes anything that is 0.5% ABV or below as “alcohol-free”. This is driven by the fact that it is impossible for that amount of alcohol to increase your BAC (blood alcohol content) to a point where you would feel the effects OR that would take you over the drink-driving limit. Even if you drank 10 pints of the stuff.

UK legislation is slightly behind the times with this one and only categorises products with 0.05% ABV or less as “alcohol-free”. Confusing right? We agree. Particularly because many foods that people consume every day contain 0.5% alcohol or more, including over-ripe bananas, rye bread and that orange juice that’s been in the fridge a day longer than it should. It’s reassuring then that groups such as Club Soda are lobbying the UK government to reassess this outdated legislation and bring it in-line with the rest of Europe and we’re behind them!

Hopefully that helps to debunk some of the questions around what constitutes “alcohol-free” but we’re always happy to chat. You can get in touch on


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