Is Alcohol Free Cider Really Alcohol Free? And how to check

You can not have failed to notice the explosion in non alcoholic and alcohol free ciders, beers, wines and spirits. More and more shelf space is being given over to them at the supermarket and their sales are going through the roof. However, if you are new to the sector, you will likely have many questions. On i hear often is “Is alcohol free cider really alcohol free?”

Alcohol free cider looks, smells and tastes like cider so what is the catch. How much alcohol is really there?

Is alcohol free cider really alcohol free?

Alcohol free cider is virtually alcohol free but not completely. In the UK, USA and Australia, any cider displaying “alcohol free” on the label means the wine will have less than 0.05% alcohol by volume. To put this in context, orange juice will have around 0.5% alcohol by volume. This means it is impossible for alcohol free cider to get you drunk and you can drink it with any medical condition.

The Eu have different laws around what alcohol by volume can be called “alcohol free” meaning a label can mislead you into thinking there is a different amount of alcohol in a cider than there really is.

Alcohol free labelling and the law

The words that cider companies us on their bottles to describe the low amount of alcohol in their product is not by chance. There are specific laws around which words can be used for which concentration of alcohol.

The table below shows how some jurisdictions around the world define the lowest alcohol bracket – alcohol free.

JurisdictionMaximum ABV for “alcohol free”
Alcohol free meaning around the world

Alcohol free labelling in the USA

The FDA state “To ensure that consumers are not misled as to the alcohol content of the product, the statement of identity should be followed by the declaration, “contains less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume.” 

FDA considers use of the terms “dealcoholized” and “alcohol-removed” in the statement of identity of a reduced alcohol wine product to be misleading if the alcohol content exceeds 0.5 percent by volume (…) 

FDA does not consider the terms “non-alcoholic” and “alcohol-free” to be synonymous. The term “alcohol-free” may be used only when the product contains no detectable alcohol.”

The term “alcohol-free” may be used only when the product contains no detectable alcohol


Alcohol free labelling in the UK

The UK Government state that alcohol free can only be used when the the alcohol has been extracted and it contains no more than 0.05% ABV. The product should also include the ABV on the label or state it contains no alcohol.

Alcohol free labelling in the EU

The EU is made up of various member states and as such allows an ABV of up to x10 more than UK, USA and Australia, preferring to leave it us to its member states to further decide what alcohol free needs to be. As such an ABV of up to 0.5% is allowed in the EU of EU produced drinks.

There are not a lot of alcohol free ciders on the market compared to alcohol free beers but below is a beer that claims it is alcohol free but is really non alcoholic, with an ABV of 0.5%.

Brewdog Nanny State is apparently “alcohol free”
ABV is actually 0.5% not <0.05% 

To be doubly sure that the wine you have is truly alcohol free i would check for both the “alcohol free” label and for the 0.0% ABV on the bottle or product information online.

Other non alcohol descriptors on bottles

“Alcohol free” is not the only term you will see on a cider that means there is less than the usual amount of alcohol in it. What other terms might you see?

Description on labelMaximum ABV content
Low alcohol1.2%
Dealcoholised/Non alcoholic0.5%
Alcohol free0.05%
UK Law

Low alcohol – the nearly universally means there is an ABV below 1.2%. This is more prevalent in spirits than wines or beers. Ive not really found any low alcohol wines.

Dealcoholised – this again will almost invariably mean the drink in question has no more than 0.5% ABV

Non Alcoholic – This is a term that has a specific meaning but is often used as a common parlance catch all term for all types of low to alcohol free drinks. It will usually refer to a cider of below 0.5% alcohol by volume.

How much alcohol is in common foods?

The only time you see how much alcohol is in a drink or food is when it is in relation to alcoholic beverages or their non alcoholic equivalent. 

A standard alcoholic cider (according to the USDA) has 5% ABV whereas an alcohol free cider has not more than 0.05%. You can easily see one has far less than to other but it would also be easy to assume that 0.05% is still more than in everything else you eat and drink so still relatively high in alcohol.

The surprising truth is, many foods and drinks contain alcohol as a by product of fermentation and in similar if not higher concentrations to even non alcoholic cider!

Below is a selected list of just some fermented foods with surprising amounts of alcohol.

Food or DrinkAlcohol by volume content %
Rye bread0.18%
Ripe banana0.2-0.4%
Ripe pear0.04%
Orange juice0.5%
Vinegar 0.2%
Alcohol free cider<0.05%
ABV of various foods and drinks

When you do this comparison, you can see just how little alcohol 0.05% ABV represents. It is 10% of the alcohol in orange juice and even much less than most breads.

You can read more about the surprising hidden alcohol in your foods and drinks here

Can alcohol free cider get you drunk?

To get drunk, you need to drink x400 12fl oz cans of alcohol free cider in less than 2 hrs.

This equals 4800fl oz of alcohol free cider, 35 gallons of alcohol free cider or 142 litres of cider in 2hours. 

Another way to look at it is you will have to drink x10 12fl oz cans of alcohol free cider every 3mins, for 2 hours, to get drunk.

It is impossible to drink this amount of fluid in 2 hours so it is impossible to get drunk on alcohol free cider

Can you drink alcohol free cider and drive?

The legal limit for just being drunk is the same as you would need to get a DUI. Both are set at 0.08% blood alcohol concentration.

The figures above are the same as you would need to drink before you get a DUI with alcohol free cider. It is impossible to drink 400 12fl oz cans of cider in 1-2hrs so you can drink alcohol free cider and drive without risk of a DUI.

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