Not all “alcohol-free” beverages contain zero alcohol, in SA alcoholic beverage are defined as one that contains more than 0.5% alcohol by volume. Picture: Pexels

Being the designated driver does not mean forgoing that beer or glass of wine any more thanks to the increasing availability of alcohol-free drinks. Some of the beers available today include Castle Free, Heineken 0.0, Bavaria Non-Alcoholic and Erdinger Alcohol-Free. 

There is also a wide selection of different alcohol-free wines available, from sparkling wines to red and white, both sweet and dry varieties.

There is even a selection of non-alcoholic spirits, mostly gins, and the range is constantly growing. However, it is important to understand that not all “alcohol-free” beverages contain zero alcohol.

In South Africa the Liquor Products Act defines an alcoholic beverage as one that contains more than 0.5% alcohol by volume.

This means that while many of the alcohol-free beverages available really are free of alcohol, others are not.

For example, Savanna Non-Alcoholic Lemon claims to offer “the same crisp taste of Savanna Cider without the alcohol”, which is misleading, as they actually contain 0.3% alcohol. Castle Free, similarly, is not completely free of alcohol, containing 0.03%.

JC Le Roux Le Domaine Non-Alcoholic NV sparkling wine does not specify the exact alcohol content, stating only that it is “less than 0.5%”. Many alcohol-free wines also contain trace amounts of alcohol as they have been ‘de-alcoholised’ - comparable to decaffeinated coffee which still contains traces of caffeine.

The percentage of alcohol in these drinks is very low, which means that even if you drink them to excess, you are unlikely to blow a positive result on a breathalyser.

As an example, an average person would have to drink 20 Savanna Non-Alcoholic Lemon beverages within an hour to be classified as over the legal limit.

However, they still contain alcohol, and for recovering alcoholics this could be dangerous.

For many recovering alcoholics, alcohol-free beverages are a big danger zone.

Alcoholism is more than a physical addiction; it is also mental addiction and force of habit plays a significant role. The similar smell, the taste, even the shape of the bottle or glass could all be triggers.

For some alcoholics, just the act of holding a wine glass could prove to be problematic, even if the glass contained fruit juice.

While an increased choice of beverages and a move towards more mindful drinking habits are becoming popular, alcohol-free beverages are not necessarily what they appear to be. Many contain small amounts of alcohol, and it is important to be aware of this. For people in recovery, it is best to stay well away, as these beverages are dangerous territory.

* Rhys Evans is managing director of ALCO-Safe.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus