If you’ve ever bought alcohol in a pub, club, restaurant or supermarket, the chances are that you’ve been ID’d at least once in your lifetime.

Most adults will know that if they are over 18, but are fortunate to look under 25, then they are likely going to need some form of ID as proof. If you don’t meet this criteria – or you fancy a healthier alternative – then you might want to consider purchasing non-alcoholic drinks instead.

However, it is still likely that you are going to be asked for ID.

Let us investigate this further.

What are the laws regarding alcohol purchases?

In the UK, people (or adults) must be 18 or over to purchase any alcoholic drink.

For a drink to be considered ‘alcoholic’, it must have an ABV of 0.5% or higher. Any beverage that is 0.5% or less, is considered dealcoholised and therefore, does not require an age restriction.

Therefore, it is totally legal for anybody aged under 18 to buy a drinks classed as non-alcoholic, such as Heineken 0.0 for example.

However, in reality, it is not quite so simple.

In this article, we explain why it is not so easy to purchase non-alcoholic drinks as a person under 18, or an adult who has the advantage of looking under 25!

Here’s why purchasing non-alcoholic drinks is complex

Any premise that is proven guilty of selling alcoholic drinks to underage persons risk facing fines, loss of their alcohol license, or even personal fines or imprisonment for the most extreme cases.

Therefore, premises are very cautious when it comes to selling – or even promoting – alcohol, which leads to the two main factors that often require ID for non-alcoholic products – even though the law doesn’t require it!

Promotion of alcohol to underage persons

Although alcohol companies are spending lots of time and resources developing, marketing and selling non-alcoholic beer alternatives, they strictly target the 18 and over market, importantly not providing an alternative to underage drinkers.

But importantly, non-alcoholic versions of the alcoholic kind are very similar in appearance.

This is most likely a strategic decision, that helps adults choose the ‘healthier’ alternative, without any of the negative social connotations that drinking non-alcoholic alternatives may bring.

For example, take the appearance of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of Becks Lager – they appear very similar in appearance.

Beck's Blue vs Beck's Bottle Appearance
Beck’s Blue vs Beck’s Bottle Appearance

It also means that alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of the same drinks are present in the same section of supermarket stores. There is the theory that by making both of these products similar in appearance, it could indirectly promote the alcoholic versions of the same drinks.

As such, large supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Co-op, have actively put a policy in place that means they require age-verification of both products.

For example, Co-Op explicitly states on their website that they restrict sales of non-alcoholic drinks to people aged 18 and over:

coop age restricted products screenshot
Coop Age Restricted Products Screenshot

Enforcing Legislation

Although selling non-alcoholic beers in a pub is totally legal, there are additional implications associated with policing this.

For example, a bartender may ID a 17 year old and serve them with a non-alcoholic beer. However, a pint of non-alcoholic beer looks identical to an alcoholic beer, which makes it very hard to determine what they are actually sat down drinking

Should an underage drinker ‘switch’ his drink with an acquaintance, how would a pub be able to police this without continually monitoring, or even tasting the drink for themselves?!

Therefore, it is more than likely that pubs will actually avoid the hassle to police this and downright refuse.

This is the policy taken by JD Wetherspoons, in which a company spokesperson said:

We do not allow non-alcoholic beer/lager to be served to under-18s despite it being legal to do so.

The reason for this is that it is operationally very difficult, once the product has been served, for staff supervising the floor to distinguish it in the glass from an alcoholic product that under-18s are not permitted to consume.

Quote taken from https://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/

Remember your ID

If you are planning a night out to enjoy some non-alcoholic beers, it’s probably best that you remember to take your ID to avoid the embarrassment of being refused a non-alcoholic drink.

Even better, why not enjoy some non-alcoholic beers at home, and take a pick from a wide range of different options from the comfort of your own home – with no ID required!

Do You Have to Be 21 to Buy Non Alcoholic Beer?

The laws surrounding the purchase of non-alcoholic beer can vary depending on the location. In many places, such as certain U.S. states, you do not have to be 21 to buy non-alcoholic beer, as it contains less than 0.5% alcohol by volume. However, other places may restrict the sale of non-alcoholic beer to those under the legal drinking age due to its association with alcoholic beverages. It’s recommended to check the specific regulations in your local area to be certain.

Can Minors Drink Non-Alcoholic Beer?

The answer largely depends on local laws and regulations. In some areas, non-alcoholic beer, which typically contains less than 0.5% alcohol, is not classified as an alcoholic beverage, and therefore, minors can legally consume it. However, in other jurisdictions, any product that contains any amount of alcohol may be restricted to those of legal drinking age.

Do You Need an ID to Buy Bitters?

Bitters, while used primarily as a flavouring agent in cocktails, do contain a high alcohol content. In many regions, they are classified as a type of liquor. Therefore, you are generally required to show an ID proving you are of legal drinking age to purchase bitters. However, laws can vary by location and even by the type of bitters. For example, in the U.S., Angostura bitters can be sold without ID because they are deemed non-potable due to their strong flavour. Always check local laws to ensure compliance.

Why is Non-Alcoholic Beer Age Restricted?

Even though non-alcoholic beer typically contains less than 0.5% alcohol by volume, it may still be age-restricted in certain jurisdictions due to its association with alcoholic beverages. The intent is often to discourage underage drinking or the perception of it. Further, there is a concern that non-alcoholic beer could potentially serve as a “gateway” to alcoholic drinks.

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