Where is the ABV of real ales going?

Club Soda just organised the UK’s first-ever “Mindful Drinking Festival“, dedicated to the best non-alcoholic beers, wines, and adult soft drinks. The Festival was a roaring success with both drinks producers and consumers; part of a growing interest in and demand of lower alcohol drinks.

In the same week, CAMRA also held its annual Great British Beer Festival (GBBF). This time last year, we analysed the beers on offer at the festival by their ABV content, and noted the lack of lower alcohol options (there were only four beers under 3.5% ABV). Knowing that more and more low and no alcohol beers are appearing on the market all the time, we expected the results to “look a bit different next year”.

Well, we got one thing right. Things do look a little bit different this year, but not in the way we were expecting. The average ABV of the British beers at the festival has actually gone up slightly: from 4.37% in 2016 to 4.53% this year, an increase of 0.16% (we’ve excluded international beers from this comparison – their average ABV is even higher).

The graph below shows the distribution of GBBF beers by ABV category. There is just one lonely under-3% ale – Uprising Brewery’s All Day Pale Ale at 2.7% – and very few under 3.5%. What is most striking is the reduction in the share of beers in the 3.5% to 4.5% range, and the corresponding increase in beers between 5% and 7%.

GBBF beers by ABV 2016 2017

We asked CAMRA for a comment, and they said that the beer selection at GBBF varies from year to year, but they haven’t tracked the average ABV figures over time – so we can’t say whether this is a real trend of just random variation. CAMRA also stated that their “beer orderers however are careful to ensure that there is a wide range of beers at a wide range of ABVs”.

Considering the emergence of several new low and no alcohol beers on the market in the last year, and the general trend towards healthier, more mindful drinking habits, this finding was still a surprise to us. Is real ale the one corner of our society that isn’t keeping up with the trends seen everywhere else? Perhaps we will find out next year.

3 Responses to “Where is the ABV of real ales going?

  • Hopefully we have an ally in Lauren Archell, Communications Officer, CAMRA
    who recently replied to me

    “I’ve checked with the Festival Organisers and it is correct that there is no alcohol free or extremely low alcohol beer on sale at this year’s event.

    I can understand your frustration at this and will feed this back to the working party as a suggestion that this is something that is recommended for inclusion at the festival next year. “

  • Hi. Have you got this graph with trends over time- is was ale stronger a decade ago? And do you have a comparison lager graph to put against it? You could use a “basket of ales” measure a la inflation measurements?

  • Jussi Tolvi
    5 years ago

    Afraid not Rich, and CAMRA didn’t have any more data either… I am planning to attend again this year though. And you are right, there is a lot more that could be done with more granular data!