Barworks' Lee Godwin on creating a strong no- and low-abv drinks list

Jane Ryan

14 November 2018

From its well-loved classic pubs, such as the Well & Bucket and The Exmouth Arms, to the American-themed chain The Diner and late night spots like Electricity Showrooms, Barworks is a London group with a strong list of venues and offerings. It’s also one of the best in town for low-abv beer options.

Barworks' Lee Godwin
Barworks' Lee Godwin

The low- and no-abv trend has been gathering momentum in 2018, which started with a staggering three million Brits pledging to embark the year booze free. However, as Lee Godwin, operations manager for Barworks, is quick to point out, the social aspect of pubs and bars isn’t going anywhere from British culture. It’s just what’s inside the glass that’s shifting.

A glance across the craft beer menu in any of the Barworks pubs – and some of its other venues (albeit not The Diner) – and you’ll notice an entire section dedicated to bottles of low-alcohol beer, dominated by Big Drop. For the record, low-abv is defined between 0.5 and 1.2% abv. Anything under is alcohol-free and anything over is, well, boozy.

‘It was in January that we started to stock Big Drop, which provides an excellent selection,’ Godwin tells Imbibe. ‘We wanted an adult drink that was full flavoured, still complex and not full of sugars.’

With a lager, pale ale and stout all sitting at 0.5%, the range has something for everyone, Godwin says. ‘We taste test everything, especially in the low-abv category, because we’re looking to avoid beers that have a loss in mouthfeel and are watery.

'Many brewers out there have been experimenting with different grains to combat this, such as oats or using lactose to bulk up the texture so we’re always looking out for ways around this.’

Big Drop, which launched in 2016 and is based in Ipswich, was quick to secure listings in high profile venues outside of the group too, including Hakkasan and Fortnum & Mason. As well as these British brewed beers, the list has a German contender too, also at 0.5%, called Erdinger Alkoholfrei, while The Exmouth Arms is stocking a Danish option under the name Mikkeller Drink’in The Sun.

However, it’s not just the 0.5% brews that have Barworks hooked – the group also stock Small Beer Lager at 2% and some Real Kombuchas at 0.35%.

‘The Small Beer Lager has really taken off and customers seem to be responding well to that 2% abv, showing that they’re being more conscious of how many units they’re drinking while still wanting a little bit
of booze,’ says Godwin.

He is hoping the list can propel the group forward with a more diverse crowd who are out to have a fun night, not necessarily focused around alcohol.

‘Whether it’s someone who has chosen sobriety as part of their lifestyle, or they’re being health-conscious, driving or just taking a break, we really wanted to have an option that was grown up, and it’s proving successful,’ he says.

‘I think it’s a category that will grow naturally, but we’re certainly not saying we’ll be ignoring higher abv stuff – that’s still what the bulk of our customers are asking for – but it’s about having something for everyone, and being able to offer someone an alternative.’

His plan is to look for more interesting and mindful low-alcohol options for all the sites under the Barworks umbrella.

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