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Whether VAT is charged on cold drinks depends on the type of drink and where it is being consumed.

All cold drinks purchased for consumption in a restaurant, café, bar, pub or similar are subject to VAT at the standard rate (currently 20%).

Drinks purchased from shops, takeaways, and stalls/vans selling drinks to take away are, on the whole, subject to VAT at the standard rate - but there are some exceptions.

Cold drinks on which VAT is charged

VAT at 20% is charged on the following regardless of whether they are consumed on or off the premises from which they were purchased:

  • Alcoholic drinks, for example, beers, ciders, wine, spirits and liqueurs. Also standard rated are semi-set alcoholic jellies designed to be swallowed as cocktails and alcoholic ‘slushies’.
  • Alcohol free beer and wines.
  • Carbonated drinks including cola and lemonade, and mixers such as tonic water and soda.
  • Mineral water including flavoured water.
  • Fruit cordials and squashes, and barley water drinks.
  • Fruit juices and vegetable juices including juice concentrates and fruit/vegetable smoothies.

Zero rated cold drinks

Although VAT is charged on the majority of cold drinks, there are some cold drinks which are zero rated when consumed off the premises where purchased. The following are zero rated:

  • Milk and flavoured milk drinks including milk shakes.
  • Teas and coffees purchased to be consumed cold such as iced teas and coffees.

Cold drinks which are not beverages

HMRC identify a number of drinks which do not fall within the definition of a beverage. The VAT treatment of these drinks is specifically referred to in HMRC guidance. For example, sports energy and nutrition drinks have been subject to VAT since October 2012.

The following, however, can all be zero rated:

  • Plain soya or rice milk which is unflavoured and unsweetened.
  • Coconut milk.
  • Meal replacement drinks for slimmers or invalids.
  • Unfermented fruit juice specifically for sacramental purposes.
  • Unfermented communion wine (but fermented communion wine is standard rated)
  • Angostura bitters.

VAT and home brewing

Any products that are canned, bottled, packaged or prepared for use in home wine or beer making are standard rated. Examples are:

  • kits for home brewing.
  • kits for wine making.
  • retail packs of hopped malt extract, malted barley, roasted barley, hops.
  • special wine and brewers’ yeasts.
  • grape concentrates.

Also subject to VAT is any product held out for sale specifically for home wine making or brewing such as fruit, fruit juices and concentrates, barley glucose and malt extract.


Lynne Gill

My area of expertise is land and property transactions but I have extensive knowledge of both domestic and international VAT and I love complex VAT queries. I have an Honours degree in Business Studies and a VAT legal and technical qualification from the Institute of Indirect Taxation.

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