This month sees the introduction of the new drink drive limit. It has been reduced from 80mg to 50mg per 100mL of blood in Scotland, and just in time for the festivities. This is one legislative measure that is going to affect all your driving customers. Susan Young reports.

The lowering of the drink driving limit to 50mg has been on the agenda as long as I have been reporting about the licensed trade. Back in the days the ‘battling Bartons’ (two well-known Dundee publicans) would have it out at the Scottish Licensed Trade Association’s conference, and the trade would lament how it would ruin their business. However 20 years on so much has changed.

On December 5th December Kenny MacAskill’s new law will come in to force. It does bring us into line with some other European countries like Italy, France and Portugal, who have 50mg as a limit. But as Britain already “has one of the best road safety records in Europe and the world” according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, will this new limit really make an impact on road accidents?

European data in fact shows that a stricter BAC (Blood alcohol) level does not automatically reduce the number of road fatalities. For example, in 2008, 20% of fatal accidents were attributed to drink driving in Sweden and 17% in the UK despite the fact that Sweden enforced a stricter BAC limit than the EU average with 20mg while the UK had the lowest EU restriction with 80mg. However, most people would agree, that even one death is one death too many.

Most responsible people these days consider drink-driving a no-no, or should I say most people consider ‘over-the-limit’ drink-driving a no-no. And this is where the rub is. Most people I know will either not drink at all or drink very moderately and drive. When it comes to a night out however, lots of people drink, and really don’t consider the consequences the morning after. This is where I think the new legislation will have the most impact. I don’t think police will be out in their droves at night. I think they will be waiting at the corners of suburban areas in the mornings!

The easiest option of course is to stay put and not drink. The second is not to drive the next day, after a night out, and the third option would be to chose to drink a non-alcoholic or low-alcohol drink. For the trade obviously the second and third options are preferable. It also helps to have staff trained in the various lighter alcoholic options and what the alcohol content is of the brands they have to offer. But never mind your staff, having done a poll of licensees I know, very few of them realise how little they can drink before running the risk of losing their licence. The knock-on effect of being done for drink-driving is the fact that you get a criminal record, which impacts on your licence to sell alcohol and ultimately your business.

The new limit allows a maximum of three units immediately before driving (as opposed to 4.5 units at 80mg) for men, while women supping two units could be over the new limit! When drinking the night before driving men should consume no more than 6.5 units, women no more than 4. (This assumes that no alcohol is consumed after 11.30pm, and that driving does not take place before 8 am the following morning) These figures apply to people of average weight (around 12-13st for men, 9-10st for women). Bearing in mind a pint of 5% beer is almost three units while a 25ml measure of vodka counts as one unit.

Most folk don’t oppose the lowering of the limit, however most do think that a ban between 50mg and 80mg, is a step too far, and that it should be a fine to begin with and points.

These days there isn’t really any excuse for not offering your alcohol aware customers a choice. So what is out there for discerning customers who drive?

Loads! Apart from the rise in the variety of soft drinks there has also, partly due to the burgeoning craft market, a whole host of tastier options. According to European rules, alcohol-free beer has an upper limit of 0.5% alcohol and beer with a higher alcohol percentage up to 1.2% is called ‘low-alcohol’.

Double digit year-on-year growth for its low alcohol beer brands, coupled with the approved changes to the drink driving limit in Scotland have led Morgenrot to roll out its Krombacher Low Alcohol Pils and Alhambra SIN brands north of the border.

Morgenrot’s Sales Director Graham Archibald commented, “Gone are the days when low or no alcohol beers were insipid tasteless fizz and people didn’t have choice.  Brands such as Alhambra SIN and Krombacher low alcohol are the finest examples of low alcohol beers which can pack a punch when it comes to flavour.  This means they are becoming an enjoyable option for many consumers – not just the designated drivers – and a sales driver in a range of on-trade outlets.”

While it may be the change in the law that is precipitating a change in Scotland’s bars, on the continent consumers are already gaining a thirst for non-alcoholic (NAB) drinks. New research from Mintel looking at six key European consumer markets reveals that it is Spain with the biggest thirst to quench for NAB – as in 2013, 60% of Spanish beer-buyers purchased non-alcoholic beer, rising to 69% of consumers aged 45-54.

It’s not only the Spanish that are enjoying NAB’s, German consumers are too. Half of German consumers purchased non-alcoholic beer in 2013. Indeed, in Germany in 2013, non-alcoholic beer accounted for almost one in five beer launches, comparing to only one in 10 launches in 2012. Furthermore, the demand is strong throughout Europe as one in three Italian, a quarter of Polish and 18% of French consumers bought a NAB in 2013. In addition, despite having the notorious ‘lager lout’ status, one in seven British beer buyers purchased non-alcoholic beer in 2013, rising to a quarter of 18-34 year-olds among what is clearly a much more sensible generation.

Jonny Forsyth, Global Drinks Analyst at Mintel, comments, “Non alcoholic beer has huge long-term sales potential. This is an area of innovation which all major brewers should be focusing on – as consumers want reassurance of product quality, something trusted brands can provide.”

“The greatest influence on recent NAB sales is their improved taste. Whilst NABs were pushed heavily in the late-1990s and early 2000s, this failed to translate into global sales because the product was widely viewed as inferior. This meant people preferred to drink a soft drink if they were not drinking alcohol, rather than a poor imitation of beer. Yet, the modern varieties – especially in Germany – are much closer to the taste of full alcohol beer and make an ideal adult or premium ‘soft drink’ option. This taste improvement has largely been due to the refinement of the production process.”

Mintel’s research also shows the continued uptake of low-alcoholic beers, especially beer mixes/Radlers. Says Jonny Forsyth, “Despite the latest NAB beers imitating the focus on fruit flavoured innovation, the two are completely different products. Lower ABV beers provide a more “sessionable” option for beer drinkers who want to look after their health and stay in control. Yet, non-alcoholic beer is more akin to a soft drink, and its lack of any alcohol has traditionally been the major barrier to the vast majority of beer drinkers.”

Certainly I for one will be trying out a few of the non-alcoholic or low-alcohol options in my favourite bars.

Here is the our guide to what’s likely to entice your customers;

Bavaria Lemon Radler

Bavaria Radler Lemon is a low alcoholic beer based mixed drink with a lemon taste. At only 2% ABV and 35 calories per 100ml serving, Bavaria Radler Lemon is light and refreshing while still emerging with a perfectly dry, smooth balanced flavour.

Bitburger Drive

Bitburger Drive Alcohol-Free is fully fermented which means there’s no need for it to be pasteurised and apparently it’s drunk by the German National Football Team. ABV is 0.05% and it has 29 Kcal per 100ml.

Erdinger Alcohol-free

Erdinger Alcohol-Free wheat beer has a crisp, earthy aroma of hops. Erdinger is a premium alcohol-free beer which is free of chemical additives and brewed in strict accordance with the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 – using just water, malt, hops and yeast. A 500ml bottle of Erdinger contains 125 calories and comes in with an ABV of 0.4%

Low Alcohol Pils

Krombacher Low Alcohol Pils is made with the same ingredients and in the same tradition as the brewery’s renowned Pilsner but undergoes a specially developed process of alcohol reduction. Available in 33cl bottles.

Sagres Zero

Sagres Zero is the alcohol-free version of the popular Portuguese beer. Sagres Zero contains 0.3% ABV and has 22 calories per 100ml.

Alkoholfrei Hefeweissbier

This German beer has had its alcohol removed by what the brewer calls a “gentle process for removing alcohol.” It’s a non-alcoholic yeast premium wheat beer. It has 95kcal/0.5l and an ABV of 0.5%.

Clausthaler Non-Alcoholic Golden Amber

Clausthaler is a pioneer among non-alcoholic beers. The wide range of Clausthaler products (Classic, Extra Herb, Lemon, Amber) illustrates the brand’s commitment to the nonalcoholic market. Since its launch in 1979, Clausthaler has won more national and international awards than any other German beer (e.g. DLG, World Beer Award). Brewed and bottled in Germany, this premium alcohol-free lager contains no more than 0.5% ABV and 75 calories.

Foster’s Radler

Foster’s Radler was launched last year by Heineken. This low-alcohol Foster’s radler, which includes lemon juice, is a beer mixed with lemonade. Radler beers are really a form of shandy traditionally drunk by German cyclists while holidaying during the summer months on account of their refreshing characteristics and lower ABV. At 2.0% ABV and 42 kcal.

Alhambra SIN

Alhambra SIN from Spain has also been taking market share in 2014 with interest now coming from outside of the ethnic Spanish sector. The beer is made using all natural ingredients and secret brewing techniques that prevent the formation of alcohol but retain flavour. Alhambra SIN is available in a 33cl can and has an alcohol percentage of less than 0.5%.

Nanny State

This Brewdog brew is a full flavoured craft beer which comes in at 0.5% ABV. The company says it is, “Packed with loads of Centennial, Amarillo, Columbus, Cascade and Simcoe hops.” It has 15 kcal.