Carlsberg has become the latest multinational brewer to reduce the abv of one of its beers in response to changes to UK alcohol duty.

The alcoholic strength of Carlsberg’s flagship, namesake Danish Pilsner is to come down from 3.8% abv to 3.4% later this year, the company’s UK joint venture Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Co. (CMBC) has confirmed.

The change will see the beer drop into a lower duty bracket set to be introduced on 1 August, saving the brewer £11.74 ($15.18) for every litre of pure alcohol in the Carlsberg it produces in the UK.

Presently any beer above 2.8% abv pays a standard duty rate, calculated based on the strength of the product. However, from August, beers of 3.4% or under will pay a lower rate of £9.27 per litre of alcohol in the product, as opposed to £21.01 for beers between 3.5-8.5%.

CMBC said side-by-side taste testing had shown consumers liked the 3.4% version just as much as the original 3.8% beer. The change will only impact Carlsberg Danish Pilsner in the UK.

A spokesperson for CMBC said: “We did extensive consumer research, and we are confident our new brew delivers everything beer drinkers have come to expect from our well-balanced Danish Pilsner – crisp and refreshing, with distinct hop aroma – just crafted to contain a little less alcohol.

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By GlobalData

“In line with the government’s alcohol duty reforms, and as policymakers intended, reducing the abv of Carlsberg Danish Pilsner enables us to invest in innovation and in our portfolio of much-loved lagers and ales – while supporting public health by removing circa 56m units of alcohol from the UK market annually.

The Danish brewer will also make further duty savings on any Carlsberg Danish Pilsner sold on tap in the UK, due to the introduction of new “Draught Relief” rates. From August, beers of less than 3.5% abv sold on draught will be taxed at £8.42 per litre of alcohol in the product, while beers of between 3.5-8.5% will be taxed at £19.08 per litre of alcohol contained.

Carlsberg last updated its flagship beer in 2019, adopting the moniker of Danish Pilsner in a bid to change perceptions of the brand.  

The beer joins a list of products including Heineken’s Foster’s, Greene King’s Old Speckled Hen and Shepherd Neame’s Bishops Finger in being reformulated this year. UK brewers are seeking to offset planned increases in duty from August when rates will rise in line with inflation for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

The tactics have been dubbed ‘drinkflation’ because of similarities with the concept of ‘shrinkflation’, in which food packaging sizes shrink while prices remain the same or rise.

Brewers like Heineken, however, have preferred to emphasize the health benefits of abv reduction, rather than allude to any duty savings they are likely to make.

CMBC has looked to consolidate its brewing operations since it was formed through the merger of Carlsberg UK and Marston’s Brewing Company in 2020.

In the last twelve months, the business has announced the closure of the Jennings Brewery in Cockermouth, north-east England and struck a deal to sell its Eagle Brewery to S.A. Damm.

The venture sold its London Fields microbrewery to UK pub and bar operator Grace Land Group and revealed it is seeking a buyer for its Ringwood Brewery and the Ringwood ale brands.