A better breed of low alcohol beers

Australian drinking culture has come a long way in recent decades (yes, really). We're all drinking less, with ABS figures showing alcohol consumption had reached a 50-year low. For the last few years, XXXX Gold - a mid-strength beer - has been the country's top-selling beer by volume.

The myriad lower alcohol brews coming onto the market further prove that for most of us, moderation is in fashion, says Richard Oppy from Carlton & United Breweries (CUB).

Smash hits

CUB's most recent mid-strength launch, the 3.5 per cent ABV Great Northern Super Crisp Lager, surpassed all the brewer's expectations.

"We've just sold over two million cases over the last 12 months and smashed our business case - that's almost four times what we were expecting in the first year," Oppy says.

Scroll through the gallery for 12 of the best light and mid-strength beers now available in Australia.

It is becoming more acceptable for people to choose a lower alcohol beer.

Ben Slocombe

CUB is not alone in recognising this changing dynamic. In recent months, Lion expanded the XXXX franchise to add a second mid-strength product, XXXX Gold Australian Pale Ale. Asahi Premium Beverages added Asahi Soukai and Coopers began brewing Carlsberg Mid, both 3.5 per cent ABV alternatives to each brand's flagship beer.

Ultra good choices

On February 1 this year, Lion went one further, bringing out Hahn Ultra, a 0.9 per cent ABV beer.

"It is becoming more acceptable for people to choose a lower alcohol beer – the long-term growth of the mid-strength category in this country is testament to that – and the launch of Hahn Ultra now offers them another great choice," says Lion's Ben Slocombe.

Even small craft brewers are in the act, with many releasing beers dubbed 'Session IPAs' - mid-strength expressions of the highly hopped India Pale Ale genre.


Move to moderation

Mid-strength is not uncool in 2016, and the winds of change can be traced back to the introduction of random breath testing in 34 years ago.

Today, drink-driving is no longer socially acceptable, quite apart from being illegal and dangerous. Yet early attempts at encouraging drinkers to opt for light beers largely failed, according to beer educator Matt Kirkegaard, who identifies two key reasons why.

"Their flavour never really hit the mark and the drinking culture wasn't really ready for low alcohol beers," he says.

No compromises

CUB's Richard Oppy believes macho attitudes towards lower alcohol beer have slowly waned. Moreover, brewing techniques have advanced significantly such that the quality of today's lower alcohol beers is vastly superior to some of the earlier examples.

"I don't think people are seeing lower alcohol beers as a compromise in liquid as they have in the past," he says.

"Part of the success of a brand like Great Northern is it just looks like, and acts like a contemporary easy-drinking beer. It just happens to be lower in alcohol, at 3.5 per cent."

Best of the brews

Kirkegaard says the success of mid-strength beers has redefined what we consider to be a regular beer, which in days past typically meant an ABV in the high four percentiles and beyond, costing the brewer more in alcohol excise tax.

"We have seen the strength of many new 'full strength' beers drop to the low fours and accepted, while providing an excise benefit for brewers at the same time."