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Although the question of how much alcohol is in non-alcoholic beer sounds obvious, it’s not quite as simple as you’d think.
Non-alcoholic beer can technically have up to 0.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), making it not so cut-and-dry for people who are pregnant, recovering from alcoholism, or avoiding alcohol for better health.
So why don’t companies make non-alcoholic beer completely booze-free? Let’s take a look.
How Much Alcohol is in Non-Alcoholic Beer?
While the ABV of non-alcoholic beers can vary, federal law requires that they all must have less than 0.5% ABV.
This is similar to the amount of alcohol found in commonly consumed foods that have undergone some degree of fermentation, including very ripe bananas or other ripe fruit, most types of bread, kombucha, yogurt, kefir, and orange, apple, and grape juice.
For example, research published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology found that ripe bananas contained 0.4% ABV, while an “American-style burger roll” was as high as 1.28% ABV.
Some non-alcoholic beers have 0.0% ABV, which allows them to label themselves as alcohol-free beer.
Conversely, other non-alcoholic beer brands push up to the 0.5% ABV limit as tightly as they can.
While some brands will state the exact ABV (like 0.3%, for example), other brands like the popular Athletic Brewing Company simply say that their beer is less than 0.5% ABV.
What Is Non-Alcoholic Beer?
Non-alcoholic beer is any beer that has had all or most of the alcohol removed, resulting in a beer with an ABV of 0.0-0.5%.
In the past, non-alcoholic beers have been known as bland and watery, but new innovators have significantly increased both the quality and market for non-alcoholic beers.
Nowadays, some non-alcoholic beers are almost identical in taste and aroma to regular beer.
Plus, the varieties are now endless—gone are the days of just one type of non-alcoholic beer, as companies like Athletic Brewing offer every style under the sun, including hazy, IPAs, lagers, golden ale, light, sour, and even seasonal flavors like Oktoberfest.
How to Remove Alcohol From Beer
Non-alcoholic beer is made by either interfering with the fermentation process to prevent the formation of alcohol or removing the alcohol after a beer has been fully brewed.
From the start, the process of making non-alcoholic beer is the same as creating regular beer, involving mashing malted barley or other grains into wort—the bittersweet mixture obtained by mashing the malt and boiling in the hops—and then fermenting with yeast that turns the sugars into alcohol.
Brewers can use several different methods to remove alcohol from beer—a process called dealcoholization—including:
- Boiling off the alcohol: They will add water or steam to heat the beer and boil it under pressure to release vaporized alcohol into a condenser. The alcohol is then collected and removed—however, this process is not a favorite as it often impacts the beer’s flavor.
- Vacuum distillation: This method is a step better than boiling, as a vacuum reduces the beer’s boiling point from 173°F to 93°F, allowing for flavor and aroma retention while still evaporating the alcohol out of the beer.
- Membrane filtration: Beer is run through a membrane that removes the water while allowing alcohol, color, and some aromatic compounds through. Then, the alcohol is distilled off, and brewers will add water back to the beer afterward.
- Reverse osmosis: Reverse osmosis is a slightly complicated process that passes the beer through a semipermeable membrane with high pressure, leading to a highly concentrated mix of beer on one side and alcohol and water on the other. Then, the brewers use special dealcoholizer equipment that separates water from the alcohol through distillation and channels the water back into the beer.
In addition to removing alcohol from beer, brewers can create non-alcoholic beer by simply diluting concentrated alcoholic beer with water.
For example, if a beer has an ABV of 5%, diluting it with 10% water will reduce the ABV to 4.5%.
Then, the brewers will keep diluting until the beer reaches 0.5% ABV or lower, which is when they will re-carbonate it to finish the non-alcoholic beer.
Lastly, non-alcoholic beer can be made by controlling or limiting fermentation, or using specialized yeast strains.
Also known as arrested or limited fermentation, controlled fermentation interrupts the process of yeast breaking down sugars into alcohol.
As complete fermentation can only occur under the right temperature and conditions, controlled fermentation ensures the wort doesn’t exceed temperatures of 60°F, meaning no alcohol will be produced by yeast.
Other ways to control fermentation include adjusting the acidity or pressure of the environment, which restricts yeast’s alcohol-inducing action on the starch.
Special Yeast Fermentation
Special yeast strains can alter the amount of alcohol produced, as some strains cannot ferment maltose—one of the main sugars in malted grains—or can only produce alcohol in low amounts, leading to a lower alcohol percentage.
However, if most of the sugars are not fermented by the yeast, this can also result in a high-calorie, high-carbohydrate non-alcoholic beer that tastes sweeter.
Plus, some of these special yeast strains produce higher amounts of lactic acid, which gives the beer a sour flavor—this works well in some beer varieties but is undesirable in others.
FAQs About Non-Alcoholic Beer
Can Non-Alcoholic Beer Intoxicate You?
No, it’s nearly impossible for an adult to get drunk from non-alcoholic beer—even if you knock back a six-pack or more.
Most people begin to feel the effects of drinking alcohol when their blood alcohol content (BAC) reaches 0.04%.
However, as your body will process the low amounts of alcohol in non-alcoholic beer almost as quickly as you’re drinking it, it’s virtually impossible for your BAC to reach 0.04% while drinking such low-alcohol beer.
This is similar to how you would not get drunk even if you consumed a whole bunch of ripe bananas.
This was seen in a German study, where 67 people drank over 50 ounces of 0.4% ABV beer within an hour.
Throughout the experiment, the maximum BAC reached was 0.0056%, which is seven times lower than the BAC level (0.04%) at which most people feel the effects of alcohol.
What Percentage is Non-Alcoholic Beer?
Non-alcoholic beer can range in alcohol percentage from 0.0-0.5% ABV.
Most non-alcoholic beers do not state the specific percentage but simply say their beers are less than 0.5 ABV, as mandated by federal law.
Why Do People Drink Non-Alcoholic Beer?
There are many reasons why people drink non-alcoholic beer, including:
– Physical health or fitness
– Mental health or better sleep
– Wanting to experience the taste of beer without the side effects
– Wanting to experience the social aspects of drinking without actually drinking
Why Does Non-Alcoholic Beer Contain Alcohol?
Alcohol-free beer does contain a small amount of alcohol (up to 0.05% ABV) because some alcohol naturally forms as part of the brewing process.
A few brands have made beers that are considered alcohol-free, like Heineken 0.0 or Budweiser Zero.
However, Heineken 0.0 still does contain a trace amount of alcohol, ranging from 0.01-0.03% ABV—which we guess is why they didn’t name it “Heineken 0.00.”
Is 0.5% Considered Alcohol-Free?
Technically, most non-alcoholic beers are not entirely alcohol-free, as they still contain 0.5% ABV or less.
However, there are many commonly consumed foods and drinks that also have similar low percentages of alcohol, like kombucha, very ripe fruit, some bread, and some yogurt or kefir.
However, if beer is labeled “alcohol-free,” like Budweiser Zero, that beer will have 0.0% ABV.
Is Non-Alcoholic Beer Healthier Than Regular Beer?
Yes, non-alcoholic beer is healthier than regular beer.
Alcohol contains empty calories—at seven calories per gram—which provide us with calories but no nutritional value.
However, keep in mind that most non-alcoholic beers still contain carbohydrates, with varieties like IPAs, hazy, or sour beers containing 15-25g of carbs per 12-oz can.
But overall, non-alcoholic beers are considered healthier than alcoholic versions, as they are better for sleep, post-exercise recovery, and liver, heart, and mental health.
Plus, non-alcoholic beer is indirectly better for health because drinking alcohol impairs judgment and blocks satiety hormones, which can often cause overeating and increased appetite (you know this is true if you’ve ever inhaled a pizza or Taco Bell after a night out).
- Non-alcoholic beer technically still has some alcohol in it (up to 0.5% ABV).
- However, this amount of alcohol by volume is also found in common fermented foods, like ripe bananas, fruit juice, and yogurt.
- It’s nearly impossible to get intoxicated from consuming non-alcoholic beer, as our bodies process the alcohol more quickly than we can drink it.
Gorgus E, Hittinger M, Schrenk D. Estimates of Ethanol Exposure in Children from Food not Labeled as Alcohol-Containing. J Anal Toxicol. 2016;40(7):537-542. doi:10.1093/jat/bkw046
Thierauf, A, Große Perdekamp M, Auwärter V. Maximale Blutalkoholkonzentration nach forciertem Konsum von alkoholfreiem Bier. Rechtsmedizin. 2012;22, 244–247. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00194-012-0835-8