Wetherspoon and Stonegate pubs tap into St. Peter’s non-alcoholic beer

Pub chain giants JD Wetherspoon and Stonegate will begin pouring a range of non-alcoholic beers brewed by St. Peter’s in a bid to tap into a rise in teetotalism among younger drinkers.

Suffolk brewery St. Peter’s, which already makes cask ales and bottled beers for pubs and supermarkets, has spent three years and nearly £1m developing its alcohol-free beer in a bid to counteract falling alcohol sales.

Chief executive Steve Magnall says younger drinkers “have a completely different attitude to alcohol” which the leisure industry needs to respond to. “They drink less but still want a social pint at the end of the day,” he said.

The idea began in 2013 when St. Peter’s owner John Murphy, the branding guru behind HobNobs biscuits and the Mini Metro car, was diagnosed with cancer meaning he couldn’t drink the brewer’s range of organic ale, bitter, porter and stout.

It has now signed supply deals with Stonegate, which runs 660 pubs in the UK, and JD Wetherspoon, which owns nearly 1,000 outlets, that will begin trialling the draft and bottled beers from next month.

Tesco will stock the beer later this year, as as 1,300 Nisa stores, ahead of “Dry January”, an informal event when people give up alcohol for the month to either detox or raise money for charity.

Around 21pc of Britons are now teetotal, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which has crept up from 19pc five years ago, partly due to growing ethnic diversity but also a broader change in drinking habits.

Although binge drinking is a recognised problem among young people, they are also far less likely to drink alcohol as an age group – around half of 16 to 24 year-olds (48pc) will have had a drink in the past week, compared with two-thirds of 45-64 year-olds, ONS figures show.

Mr Magnall said that the drinks market is rapidly moving towards lower-calorie and soft drinks. “But blokes in particular want to stand there holding a pint in their hand, not an orange juice or a coke,” he said.

St. Peter’s’ “Without” range, which turns out around 200,000 bottles a month, is made using a tightly-guarded brewing process that Mr Magnall says is different from versions already on the market, such as Becks Blue, where the alcohol is stripped from the beer during the alkalisation process.

“This process makes the beer very thin,” he said. “But our drink feels like you’re drinking a beer, looks like a beer, and tastes like a beer.”

It currently makes up 10pc of the £4m-turnover brewery’s output, with all 16 of its brewers required to sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep the brewing process a secret.

At 0.009pc alcohol, according to the brewery’s latest test, Mr Magnall says there is more alcohol in a glass of orange juice than a bottle of Without.

St. Peter’s brewery, which also has a gluten-free beer range, posted £3.8m sales in the year to February 28 2015, according to the latest available results, and a £44,800 pre-tax loss.