Alcohol-free brew have one for the road

November 28, 1993|By Karen Harrop | Karen Harrop,Contributing Writer

Even our drinks are beginning to look like the '90s. At this year's holiday parties, you're likely to see a variety of lighter, lower-calorie alternative beverages, such as non-alcoholic beers and wines, coffees and flavored waters next to the traditional spirits.

As consumer lifestyles evolve toward fitness and health, alcohol-alternative drinks continue to increase in variety and popularity.

The club soda of the past has expanded to include flavors such as raspberry, kiwi-lime and peach, while coffee drinks range from mocha hazelnut to cappuccino and espresso. Everywhere you look, sodas, coffees, beer and wine -- and even cocktails -- are taking on a decidedly healthier, lighter look.

Recent studies cited in wine industry publications show that 43 percent of American consumers do not drink alcoholic beverages, a reflection of the increased awareness of health issues, the needs of recovering alcoholics, the dangers of drinking and driving, and the issue of alcoholism in teen-agers.

The trend toward more temperate living has created a natural niche for non-alcohol beverages. Of these, non-alcohol beer, or brew, as it is referred to in the industry, represents the fastest-growing segment of the market, with an increase of nearly 60 percent from 1990 to 1992, according to an article in the industry publication Beverage Dynamics.

"A lot of people are trying not to drink [alcohol]," says Michael Hyatt, co-owner of Wells Discount Liquors. "In Baltimore, people still want crabs and beer, but not necessarily the effects of beer. Non-alcohol beers are a big item these days."

Of the numerous domestic and imported brands available, Anheuser-Busch's O'Doul's is the market leader, according to the April issue of Beverage Dynamics. Other popular non-alcoholic domestic brews in Baltimore include Miller Brewing's Sharp's, Coors Cutter and G. Heileman's Kingsbury. Leading imports include St. Pauli N.A., Clausthaler, Haake Beck and Kaliber.

"Non-alcohol brews are still a small percentage of the market, but aregrowing well," says James M. Gardner, president of Winner Distributing Company, which distributes O'Doul's. "Our employees are not allowed to drink during the day even though we sell [alcoholic beverages], and the O'Doul's is a very acceptable, pleasing substitute that is only 70 calories."

Store owners and distributers agree that no-alcohol wines are a poor substitute; most also say Sutter Home Fre Wines are the best of what's available, probably because their process avoids alcohol production. Most wines are made as usual, and then the alcohol is removed.

"It's much easier to make a non-alcohol beer than a wine because the alcohol is a much more important component of wine, which is 10 to 15 percent alcohol, than beer, which is 3 to 4 percent alcohol," says Stan Bliden, owner of Midway Liquors. "I don't think non-alcohol wine will ever be a big seller. People who drink wine tend to drink one or two glasses, so the alcohol isn't much of a problem, while beer drinkers tend to consume a lot."

Bob Schindler, co-owner of Pinehurst Gourmet and Spirit Shoppe, agrees. "Wines are not an issue. It's remote that I get a request for non-alcohol wines."

If you don't like the no-alcohol wines, Mr. Schindler recommends Martinelli Cider for a festive holiday drink. Or, try one of the many sparkling white grape juices.

Diane Feffer Neas, a food and beverage consultant in Baltimore, recommends mocktails for parties. Some of her favorites are frozen Bacardi breezers without the alcohol and mimosas made with sparkling white grape juice and orange juice. Or, she'll set up a Bloody Mary bar.

"I set out all the ingredients [for Bloody Marys], including the alcohol, and let people mix their own," says Ms. Neas. "People

can choose whether or not to add the alcohol."

Festive coffee

Over the past few years, coffee and coffee drinks also have emerged as significant alternatives to alcoholic beverages. Many the industry attribute this not only to the growing trend toward alcohol abstinence, but also to a greatly increased number of choices.

"Over about the last three years, people have started going out for coffee instead of a drink," says Tom Thompson, owner of the Coffee Mill in Hampden. "It's not just the people in their 40s or the recovering alcoholics, but teen-agers who would rather go out for coffee than to bars."

While caffeine was an issue of concern five or six years ago, this no longer holds true. Many coffees come in caffeinated or decaffeinated varieties, but, according to Mr. Thompson, people are less likely to worry about caffeine if they find a good-quality coffee that they really enjoy.

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