Alcohol-Free Beer: Everything you need to know
With the rise and rise of "health awareness", mainstream beer consumption is on the decline everywhere (especially Australia) according to the Q4 2019 report on the Australian food and drink market. This sets the perfect stage for alcohol-free beer, also known as 'zero beer' to step in. It has fewer calories, way less impact on our liver and matches the flavour of regular beer.
Alcohol-free beer actually quenches your thirst on a hot day without dehydrating you further and it won’t make you feel left out if you’re holding one at a party. The stereotypes that alcohol-free beer tastes terrible, or is strictly a choice for those that are designated drivers or pregnant, are dead and gone. More and more of us are embracing AF beer because it represents the best of both worlds: enjoyment and responsibility.
Best of all, you can have a few, drive home without the desire to stop for fast food, and crush a workout the next morning thanks to the health benefits found in near beer. More companies are coming to market with boozeless brews that speak to current flavour trends as well as addressing the sober curious and mindful drinking movements. For all these reasons, and a few more we will cover, non-alcoholic beer is on the upswing and I'm excited!
The History of Alcohol-Free Beer
From the moment it came on the scene in Medieval Europe non-alcoholic beer was the practical choice for the working class. Low-alcoholic brews (called small beer at the time) were picked as an alternative to nasty polluted water or expensive full-strength beer. Small beer had traces of wheat or bread suspended it in, which sounds gross now but was great for quenching thirst and providing a much-needed energy boost. The small amount of alcohol in it was also ideal since it killed any bacteria in the water used to brew it.
Non-alcoholic beer became mainstream in 1919 when U.S. Congress established prohibition, limiting the alcohol content in beer to 0.5% Alcohol By Volume (ABV). Big breweries like Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Schlitz, began brewing boozeless beer in order to stay in business since it only involved one extra step. Unfortunately, the stuff they were brewing was bland, pale and barely flavourful. Of course, when prohibition was repealed in 1933 they all went back to business as usual, but the unfortunate stereotype that alcohol-free beer tastes terrible lived on
What is Non-Alcoholic Beer?
Government guidelines for what is considered ‘nonalcoholic’ are different depending on where you are, but generally speaking, non-alcoholic beer is 0.5% or less Alcohol By Volume (ABV). For reference, commercially brewed kombucha, which is known and loved its health benefits, also boasts 0.5% ABV because of how it’s made.
How is Alcohol-Free Beer Brewed?
All alcohol, even the small percentage in drinks like kombucha, comes from a process called fermentation, which is when sugar breaks down into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
There are currently two methods of making non-alcoholic beers:
Control with the fermentation process to prevent alcohol from forming. This method is more common in the craft AF beer community as it doesn’t require extra equipment, and it can be done by using special yeast like the Schloss Eggenburg Pilsner, or by arresting the fermentation or stopping the fermentation altogether.
Remove the alcohol from a fully brewed, alcoholic beer, which is also known as dealcoholisation like Hieniken 0.0 Dealcoholisation is the removal of the alcohol via low heat, vacuum distillation, membrane filtration or reverse osmosis.
The flavour, body and smell of the finished product will depend on which method is used.
Is Non-Alcoholic Beer Healthy?
Several studies show that drinking alcohol-free beer can be beneficial to our health, by reducing alcohol consumption we improve all areas of our life including consuming fewer calories, being less dehydrated, having better energy for exercise, getting better sleep and the list goes on.
The placebo effect of drinking beer without alcohol
In a published 2018 study* on the Brain Responses to Anticipation and Consumption of Beer with and without Alcohol, they found that in regular beer drinkers the brain will still release dopamine even when drinking a NA beer.
The study concluded no differences in acute brain reward upon consumption of beer with and without alcohol, when presented in a context where regular alcoholic beer is expected
So basically, you still get a mood boost!
How AF Beer Can Benefit Athletic Performance
Athletes might want to consider swapping their sports drinks for alcohol-free, this is what gives German Olympians their edge. Alcohol-free beer rehydrates better than water because of isotonic properties that help with vitamin and mineral absorption, and it’s a great source of dietary silicon which is important for building bone mineral density.
In a randomised controlled trial (published in 2012)**, researchers asked male runners to drink alcohol-free beer three weeks before and two weeks after a marathon race. They found that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in NA-free beer can help reduce muscle inflammation after exercise along with other health benefits.
What is in AF Beer?
Non-alcoholic beer can contain a surprisingly long list of beneficial vitamins and minerals including B15 and folic acid, and is basically fat-free. Compared to regular beer, AF beer has fewer calories but can be slightly higher in carbs and sugar - which is not such a big price to pay for all the other benefits. In general AF beer should contain only natural ingredients with no added sugar.
If your beer comes from Germany, you can be confident it abides by the age-old German Purity Law which means it will contain only hops, water, yeast and grain!
Great tasting Non-Alcoholic Beers To Try right now
This brew passes the purity law (only hops, barley, wheat and yeast) making it a certified German beer! Erdinger is often used as a sports drink in Germany - no joke.
Heineken perfected their double brewing process to remove the alcohol from their beer to make this variation. All the same ingredients to give you that familiar taste you know and love.
This award-winning Russian non-alcoholic lager is brewed by removing the alcohol from their original beer. Great if you’re looking for a European beer with a slightly sweet finish.
Proudly Aboriginal owned and led, Sobah is Australia's first non-alcoholic craft beer company. Their brews are preservative and chemical-free and are infused with ingredients native to Australia, like lemon aspen and finger lime.
Alcohol-free beer offers benefits far beyond anything basic beer can compete with. Whether you are looking into an alcohol-free lifestyle, an average beer drinker or an athlete looking for an edge, it’s worthwhile to open your mind and give alcohol-free beer a go.
*Chemical Senses, Volume 44, Issue 1, January 2019, Pages 51–60. **Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Jan; 44(1):18-26.