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Low-alcohol ciders: adult soft drink…or just fancy apple juice?

Apple on trees in orchard in fall season

Cider drinkers now have more choice than ever before, including a decent number of low-alcohol or alcohol-free ciders.

The big question for cider-makers aiming for the bottom end of ABV range is: can they make a drink that tastes like a decent cider, rather than…well, just apple juice? We decided to find out.

Here they are, in no particular order…so, take you pick!

We’ve noted their alcoholic strength – they range from 0% to 1% – and how many calories they have. If you need more information on alcohol and calories, you can get it here.

Stowford Press

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per bottle: 89 (27 per 100ml)

Score: 5 out of 5

StowfordHenry Weston and his descendants have been making cider at Much Marcle in Herefordshire since 1880. They’re clearly experts in apples, and these days they create 30 different types of cider on their farm, and export to 40 countries.

Stowford Press LA was launched back in 1994, making Westons low-alcohol pioneers. Possibly because the term “LA” does sound a bit 1990s (anyone for a Tennet’s LA?), the brand was revamped in 2010 as Stowford 0.5%.

The first thing to say about it is that it’s a good cider. It tastes of cider apples. It’s got depth and complexity, and it steers a good middle course between being too sweet (like a lot of commercial ciders) and being mouth-puckeringly sour (like one or two farmyard scrumpies).

At 0.5%, this is not a totally alcohol-free drink, but for anyone who’s looking to cut back (rather than abstain) it’s an excellent choice. No one’s going to mistake it for a traditional 7% or 8% cider, but most of us would never guess it was so low in alcohol.

The smart yellow-and-black packaging closely matches its 4.5% equivalent, avoiding the trap of making a low-alcohol drink look like some poor relation of the “real thing”.

It’s free from artificial colours, flavours and sweeteners, and gluten too. It’s also suitable for vegetarians and vegans and is certified kosher. Oh, and it’s matured in oak vats, which might explain the lovely colour.

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Morrison’s Low Alcohol Cider

ABV: 1%

Calories per bottle: TBC

Score: 2 out of 5

As far as we can see, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose are the only big grocery stores who’ve ventured into market with their own low-alcohol ciders. So, credit where credit is due.

They next question is: would you want to drink them? In this case, possibly not.

Like most low-alcohol ciders, this one is a mix of cider and apple juice, but they also chucked in some extra sugar. The result is a drink that’s a bit too sweet, as well as being a bit too gassy. It’s refreshing enough when chilled, but we can’t say it’s great cider, sorry.

As with a number of the alcohol-free beers (hello, San Miguel and Sainsbury’s) this cider is also let down by its packaging. When you’ve made a decision to lay off the booze for a bit, it would be nice to have more alcohol-free options that at least look like a treat.

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Sainsbury’s Low Alcohol Cider

ABV: 0.9%

Calories per bottle: 150 (30 per 100ml)

Score: 2 out of 5

Sainsburys

Like Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s deserve some credit for being one of only a few supermarkets to offer customers a low-alcohol cider. Since this one is produced for them by Westons, we had high hopes for it.

Sadly, it seems that Westons keep their best cider to sell under their own label, and this one they’ve made for Sainsbury’s is unlikely to knock Stowford Press 0.5% off the top spot.

Like Morrison’s Low Alcohol Cider, this one has added sugar, which was probably a mistake. Maturation in oak vats doesn’t seem to have done a great deal for the colour or the flavour either.

As with so many of the less-appealing alcohol free beers, this cider feels like Hobson’s choice – you’d have if you had to do but you wouldn’t search it out.

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Kopparberg Alcohol-Free Mixed Fruit

ABV: 0%

Calories per bottle: 190 (38 per 100ml)

Score: 4 out of 5

Kopparberg FruitStrongbow may still dominate at the pumps, but when it comes to bottles and cans of cider, Kopparberg is king. These Swedish ciders are consistently in the top two or three of the sales charts across pubs and off-licences.

It’s all the more remarkable considering that they’re relative newcomers. It was in 1994, that brothers Peter and Dan-Anders Bronsman got started on their mission to make Swedish cider great again. And they’ve only been exporting to the UK since 2006.

As their makers are the first to admit, Kopparberg ciders are sweet. Very sweet. They don’t look much like cider either. They’re either very pale – almost clear – or various shades of red from the addition of other fruits. Either way, they’re about as far from traditional cider as you can get without actually not being made from apples. If you’re a cider connoisseur (or cider snob, depending on how you look at it), you probably won’t like them very much.

That said, there clearly is a huge demand for sweet, easy-drinking ciders, as the phenomenal rise of Strongbow Dark Fruit shows. If you’re part of this growing trend, then 0% Kopparberg Mixed Fruit may be just the drink for you. Having compared it with its 4% equivalent, we really can’t tell the difference.

So, if you like fruity cider and also like keeping a clear head, go for it! You have nothing to lose but your hangover!

We give it 4 out of 5 for being a great alcohol-free version of what it is.

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Kopparberg Alcohol Free Pear Cider

ABV: 0.9%

Calories per bottle: 210 (42 per 100ml)

Score: 4 out of 5

Koppaberg PearPear cider or “perry”, sits in an interesting place in the world of booze. On the one hand, there’s old-fashioned farmyard perry, produced from very particular pears and a bit of a minority pursuit. Then you’ve got brands like Lambrini and Country Manor that are basically strong pear cider, sold and marketed as wines.

Finally, we’ve got the drinks that actually get called “pear cider”. Of these, Kopparberg is the best-selling worldwide, ahead of major players like Bulmer’s and Mangner’s.

According to the people at Kopparberg, the juices of plump pears are mixed with naturally soft water to make something fruity with the “punch of a strong pear taste”.

As with other Kopparberg ciders, this one is never going to get the votes of cider purists, but should go down well with drinkers who’ve enjoyed the sweeter, easier-drinking ciders that have come onto the market since around 2000.

Just like with Kopparberg Mixed Fruit, we tried the Kopparberg full-strength and alcohol-free pear ciders side-by-side and we couldn’t tell them apart. So, if you’re one the people who helped make Kopparberg’s 4.5% ABV Pear Cider the world’s best-selling pear cider, you’re sorted for alcohol-free drinks.  

Once again, we give it 4 out of 5 for being a great alcohol-free version of a popular drink.

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