In recent years, Ireland, a country known for its storied pub culture and love for a pint of stout, has seen a surprising shift in drinking habits: an increasing popularity in non-alcoholic beer. Once an afterthought at the end of a drink’s menu, these alcohol-free alternatives have started making a significant splash in Ireland's beer market, shaking the foundations of traditional Irish drinking culture.
This surge in popularity of non-alcoholic beer is a part of a larger global trend as consumers around the world seek healthier lifestyles and strive for a balanced approach to alcohol consumption. Some are choosing non-alcoholic beer for the health benefits, while others see it as a way to maintain social engagement without experiencing the not so favourable effects of alcohol.
Consumers have been increasingly appreciative of having the choice to enjoy a beer with friends or family while confidently knowing they can make the journey home safely. So much so that figures compiled by Drinks Ireland show that non-alcoholic beer sales in Ireland have more than tripled between 2017 and 2021, from 1.79 million to 5.55 million litres and the market share for non-alcoholic beer soared by 275% during this time, from 0.4% to 1.5%.
Another significant factor contributing to the rise of non-alcoholic beer in Ireland has been the advent of improved brewing techniques. These new methods have made it possible to produce non-alcoholic beers that retain a comparable taste and body to their alcoholic counterparts, debunking the common perception that non-alcoholic beers can lack that distinctive taste.
While these innovations and new brewing techniques may only seem like recent advancements, Guinness have been producing high-quality non-alcoholic beer for some time now.
1. BULLDOG NATURAL MALT DRINK, JAMAICA 1975:
Launched in Jamaica in 1975, Bulldog was the first non-alcoholic product from Guinness. Competing for a share of the growing market for malta drinks in the Caribbean, Bulldog was billed as the energy-giving, refreshing alternative to soft drinks for everyone from athletes and lorry drivers to doctors. As the press release put it: “In other words, Bulldog is great for anyone who has to keep going.”
2. HANA NON-ALCOHOLIC BEER, SAUDI ARABIA 1978
Non-alcoholic beers grew in popularity overseas from the 1960s, with substantial sales in the Middle East, Malaysia, and Mauritius. The number one non-alcoholic beer in the Middle East in the 1970s was ‘Moussy’. In 1976, Guinness declined a proposal from Moussy’s Swiss owners, Sibra, to brew Moussy under licence in Malaysia. Instead, Guinness decided to develop a product of its own to compete in the non-alcoholic market. The resulting product was ‘Hana’, the first true non-alcoholic ‘beer’ from Guinness.
3. GUINNESS LIGHT, IRELAND 1979
Spurred on by the growth of ‘Lite’ beers in the US market, 1979 saw the launch of Guinness Light in Ireland. With all the look of Guinness and an ABV at launch of around 2.8% it was -as one might expect - simply a lighter version of the traditional pint of the black stuff.
4. KALIBER ALCOHOL FREE LAGER 1983
In the UK, the success of Barbican – a non-alcoholic lager launched by Bass in 1979 – led to renewed interest by Guinness in the emerging no/low alcohol market. The first non-alcoholic beer from Guinness in the home markets of Ireland and GB came with the launch of Kaliber Alcohol Free Lager, the first alcohol-free beer to be produced in Ireland.
5. MALTA GUINNESS 1984
Guinness struck gold with the launch of Malta Guinness in Cameroon in 1984. As a non-alcoholic beverage, Malta was marketed as a drink for all the family; a snack in a bottle for busy fathers, a pick-me-up for hardworking housewives, a vitamin-enriched treat for active children. Pricing was also in its favour at two-thirds the cost of other brewers’imported maltas.
6. SMITHWICK’S ALCOHOL FREE BITTER, GB 1988
By 1988, Kaliber boasted an almost 30% share of the low and no alcohol lager category in GB. The introduction of Smithwick’s Alcohol Free Bitter in September 1988 provided a way in for Guinness to the no and low alcohol bitter category.
7. MAXIMALT, GHANA 1997
The malt drink market in Ghana tripled in size during the 1990s, with Malta Guinness holding an 86% share by 1996. Targeting teenage audiences specifically, Guinness Ghana launched Maximalt in early 1997. Two new flavours were added to the range later in ‘97.
8. GUINNESS MID-STRENGTH, IRE & GB 2006
Coming in at 2.8%ABV, Guinness Mid-Strength (GMS) was the first low-alcohol innovation to reach the IRE & GB market from Guinness in many years. The rationale behind GMS was influenced by shifting global market trends for moderate alcohol choices, notably in Australia, Sweden, and France.
9. GUINNESS ZERO, INDONESIA 2015
With a population of 260 million, abstinence rates in the region of 80%, and a growing no and low alcohol market, Indonesia offered clear opportunities for Diageo in the NAB category. Launched in Indonesia in 2015, Guinness Zero (GZ) sought to bring the familiar character of Guinness to consumers in non-alcoholic form.
10. OGB PURE BREW, IRELAND
Pure Brew Non-Alcoholic Lager was launched across a number of On Trade outlets in Dublin in January 2018 in order to take advantage of the cultural relevance of ‘Dry January’. Coming under the banner of the Guinness Open Gate Brewery, Pure Brew is a fully brewed non-alcoholic lager. Using trained yeast to convert only a tiny amount of sugar to alcohol during the fermentation process.
11. GUINNESS 0.0 2020
Need we say more! Bearing all the Guinness hallmarks of innovation, experimentation, and bravery in brewing, Guinness 0.0 marks a major new chapter in the history of Guinness. Sample this innovation of brewing after your tour of the Guinness Storehouse.
While traditional pub culture in Ireland is far from disappearing, the rise of non-alcoholic beer is subtly reshaping it. Pubs and bars have started stocking a wider range of non-alcoholic options, and consumers are responding positively. This shift is fostering a more inclusive atmosphere where both drinkers and non-drinkers can enjoy a social outing equally.
Looking ahead, it seems clear that non-alcoholic beer is not a passing fad in Ireland, but rather a long-term shift in drinking habits. As consumers continue to value healthier lifestyle choices, and as breweries continue to innovate and improve their non-alcoholic offerings, the popularity of non-alcoholic beer in Ireland is poised to continue its upward trajectory.
This rise of non-alcoholic beer in Ireland represents an evolution of drinking culture, where the focus is on enjoyment and social interaction, without the necessity of alcohol. It's an exciting trend that makes the beer scene more diverse and inclusive, and it will be fascinating to watch how it develops in the coming years.