The product name “non alcoholic beer” may sound as odd as the label “hot ice”, if there ever was one.

However, bottled beverages labelled thus, including “non alcoholic wine”, have found a vibrant market among teenagers below the legal drinking age in Kerala, according to Excise enforcers.

With the Christmas and New Year partying season round the corner, the oddly labelled beverages, which claim to reproduce the taste and fizz of beer and wine without the intrinsic inebriating effects of the original brews, have come to occupy the pride of place on shelves and refrigerators at confectionaries, supermarkets and shopping malls.

Excise enforcers, who chemically sampled some of the products, found that contrary to the claim of manufacturers, the beverages had alcohol content.

“The products are not alcohol-free. Neither can they be categorised as beer or wine.

“The range of beverages branded and retailed as non-alcoholic beer or wine are actually drinks with a low amount of alcohol. They can be aptly described as entry level alcoholic beverages”, a senior enforcer said.

He said the manufacturers of such bottled beverages offered a high commission to retailers to promote their products.

The Excise Department said it was set to crack down on the sale of such “dubiously” branded bottled drinks this festival season.

However, Excise enforcers said liquor laws insisted that they could take samples for chemical examination only from licensed premises (bars, toddy shops or government owned liquor retail outlets).

In the case of unlicensed shops that retail products with alcohol content, Excise enforcers have to first book the shop owner to legally facilitate the seizure of the suspect products if they were to be sent for chemical examination through a court of law.

Hence, as a first step, it has directed its plainclothes squads to purchase such bottles from randomly selected shops and send them for chemical examination prior to booking the shop owners on the charge of violating the Abkari Law, an offence that entailed arrest and judicial remand.

If so, the ‘Near-Beer’ drinkers, a senior enforcer’s phraseology for urban teenagers hooked to low alcohol drinks, would soon find a spell of dry days ahead of them.

Excise enforcers have found that ‘non alcoholic beer’ has alcohol content, writes G. Anand