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For reasons ranging from improving physical health, mental health, productivity, and sleep, to simply not wanting to imbibe, people are drinking more non-alcoholic beverages than ever before.
Both the popularity and the quality of non-alcoholic beer have seen dramatic jumps in the past few years—gone are the days of watery and bland buzz-free beer, with dozens of companies crafting tasty and flavorful IPAs, lagers, sours, and more, all with an ABV less than 0.5%.
With projections of the non-alcoholic beer market estimated to jump from $9.5 billion to $29 billion by 2026, one thing is clear: non-alcoholic beer is here to stay.
But a few things aren’t so clear, like how non-alcoholic beer is made and if non-alcoholic beer is healthy.
In this article, we’ll sort through the science of booze-free brewing for you, answering all your questions about how to remove the alcohol from beer, the different ways to make non-alcoholic beer, and the top health benefits of drinking non-alcoholic beer.
Unsurprisingly, the main difference between non-alcoholic and alcoholic beers is the alcohol content.
While the ABV (alcohol by volume) of non-alcoholic beers can vary slightly, federal law requires that they all must have less than 0.5% ABV.
Some non-alcoholic beers—which can be labeled “alcohol-free beer”—have 0.0% ABV, while others push up to the limit as closely as they can.
Conversely, the ABV of alcoholic beers can vary widely, typically ranging from 2% to 12% ABV—but it can go much higher than that, as seen with the beer Snake Venom from the Scottish brewery Brewmeister, which clocks in at an astonishing 67.5% ABV (yes, you read that right).
Other than ABV, there aren’t many differences between the two, as recent non-alcoholic brews are almost identical in taste and aroma.
One brand paving the way for delicious non-alcoholic beers is Athletic Brewing Company, which boasts dozens of unique flavors in every beer style under the sun.
Brewers typically make non-alcoholic beers in one of two overarching methods.
One way is by interfering with the brewing process to prevent the formation of alcohol during fermentation.
The other method is to remove alcohol from an alcoholic beer, which can be done in several ways.
But in the beginning, the process of making non-alcoholic beer looks just like the regular stuff.
To make beer, the process in its most basic form involves mashing malt into wort—the bittersweet mixture obtained by mashing the malt and boiling in the hops—and then fermenting with yeast.
Also known as arrested or limited fermentation, controlled fermentation is probably the most common way to produce a non-alcoholic beer.
As alcohol is produced during fermentation when yeast breaks down sugars into alcohol, halting this process can keep a beer below 0.5% ABV.
This process begins by fermenting beer as you would an alcoholic beer but stops the fermentation before it reaches its complete, alcohol-filled end.
Controlled fermentation is performed by ensuring the wort doesn’t exceed temperatures of 60°F, which means 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 strains can alter the amount of alcohol produced, as some strains cannot ferment maltose, 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.
Removing the alcohol from beer can be done in several different ways, including:
Lastly, non-alcoholic beer can be made 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%.
Then, the brewers will keep diluting until the beer reaches 0.5% ABV or lower.
Non-alcoholic beer can be good for health if you’re replacing alcoholic beer.
However, compared to something like water, non-alcoholic beer will still add some calories and carbohydrates to your day.
The calorie and carbohydrate content of non-alcoholic beer can vary but generally are much lower than that of regular beer.
For example, Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing IPA contains 214 calories, 20.6g of carbohydrates, and 2.2g of protein per 12 ounces.
Conversely, Athletic Brewing’s non-alcoholic Run Wild IPA (their most popular brew, FYI) contains 65 calories, 16g of carbs, and no protein.
Other non-alcoholic beers, like the Athletic Lite, will only set you back 25 calories and 5g of carbs per 12-oz can.
A less-direct way that non-alcoholic beer can benefit health is because alcohol often leads to overeating—both because it impairs judgment, making you more likely to go for a pizza than a protein shake, and because alcohol blocks satiety hormones, leading to increased appetite.
Non-alcoholic beer is a tasty way to satisfy alcohol cravings and cut down or eliminate alcohol intake entirely, which has numerous health benefits.
When you drink non-alcoholic beer, your brain still associates the flavor and aroma with regular beer, leading to dopamine production—the neurotransmitter most involved in pleasure and reward-seeking behavior that makes you feel good when you drink alcohol.
This neuro-trickery means you get some of the positive “feel-good” effects of alcohol without the “feel-bad” negative consequences that often accompany drinking.
As chronic or heavy alcohol use is strongly associated with adverse health outcomes, including cancer, heart disease, obesity, liver failure, and dementia, cutting back on drinking can markedly improve your health.
In addition to reducing calorie intake (if you’re replacing alcoholic beer with the booze-free version), non-alcoholic beer has several health benefits, including:
Some of these benefits are only relevant when compared to drinking alcoholic beer; we don’t have much research on these health outcomes when compared to drinking water.
However, non-alcoholic beer does have nutritional benefits in its own right, including being comprised mainly of water (about 90%), plus vitamins, minerals, and some bioactive compounds like polyphenols and the organic acid called isohumulone.
Most non-alcoholic beers are made with the same four natural ingredients that have been used throughout all of beer brewing’s long history—water, yeast, grain, and hops.
Some varieties also have lactose, a sugar derived from milk, or compounds added to alter the flavor.
If you drink enough non-alcoholic beer and have a low tolerance to alcohol, it’s possible that you could feel drunk.
It’s nearly impossible for an adult to get drunk off of non-alcoholic beer, as your body will process the low amounts of alcohol almost as quickly as you’re drinking it.
However, most people will not feel the effects of non-alcoholic beer.
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.
No, non-alcoholic beer will likely not hurt your liver—especially not compared to how alcoholic beer will.
But, if you heavily and chronically consume non-alcoholic beverages with an ABV of 0.5%, it’s possible that your liver could be impacted, especially if you already have poor liver health.
This is somewhat of a grey area, as 0.5% ABV is generally considered safe for pregnant women, but many doctors and organizations advise against consuming any and all alcohol while pregnant.
To be on the safe side, avoiding non-alcoholic beer—unless it’s 0.0% ABV—would be best to support the developing baby.
Because most non-alcoholic beers contain trace amounts of alcohol, it’s possible that it could trigger a breathalyzer or a car’s Ignition Interlock device, which have lower thresholds than the breathalyzers police use.
While it would be rare that one or two non-alcoholic beers would cause you to set off a breathalyzer, you should refrain from drinking them if you’re concerned about the possibility of failing a breathalyzer test.
But, if you’re going by a blood alcohol test, you would likely pass the test with flying colors.
This was studied in 2012, where adults who drank 1.5 liters of 0.4% ABV beer within an hour never had their blood alcohol content go above 0.0056%—this is markedly lower than both the legal driving limit and the point at which most people feel the effects of alcohol.
It’s generally not recommended that people with alcohol abuse disorder drink non-alcoholic beer.
This is because the trace amounts of alcohol, as well as the taste and aroma, can trigger cravings for alcohol, possibly resulting in a relapse.
People drink non-alcoholic beverages for many different reasons, including wanting to cut back on alcohol for physical health, mental health, personal reasons, or not liking how alcohol makes them feel.
Non-alcoholic beer provides an excellent option for people who don’t want to drink alcohol but still enjoy the taste of beer.
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Energy drinks and sugary snacks may be louder, sweeter, and faster-acting than natural sources of sugar, but rarely are those benefits conferred without some form of reckoning down the road.
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