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Why Alcohol-free beer doesn't deliver on its promise

February 9, 2022

You've probably seen it around, but what is it and is it a good idea for you?

 

It feels like alcohol light and alcohol-free beers are popping up all over the place these days. But it turns out that alcohol free beer is nothing new, first breaking into the German market over 50 years ago and now accounting for over 6% of the total beer production in Germany according to the German Association of Brewers [1]. In America, alcohol-free beers reached their heyday during the prohibition, contributing to the nation’s taste for light, mild flavoured lagers.

Now the younger generation are increasingly consuming less alcohol. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that in 2007, 13.1% of 18-24 year old Australians abstained from alcohol. In 2019, that increased to 21% [2]. With this same trend occurring all over the world, it looks like alcohol-free drinks are here to stay.

Is it actually Alcohol free?

Surprisingly not. Non-alcoholic beer can be a misleading term. Regulations allow a beverage to contain up to 0.5% alcohol by volume and still be classified as non-alcoholic [3]. 

Can you drink zero-alcohol beer and use an interlock device?

No. Any sort of alcohol-free beer is a bad idea for interlocks users. Even a 0.5% alcohol drink can be picked up by your interlock device, especially if your body has not had time to metabolise the traces of alcohol.

 

How is it made?

Most non-alcoholic beer is made with almost the exact same process and ingredients as regular beer. The alcohol content is commonly reduced by either removing the alcohol after the brewing process or by limiting the amount of fermentation that occurs. The exact process used is what affects the end flavour of the beverage. Although in the past alcohol was simply boiled to evaporate away the alcohol, new advanced techniques have been developed to retain a very similar flavour to the original beer.

 

The process involved in making alcohol free beer is very similar to that of regular beer.

Is it good if you're looking to quit or reduce your alcohol intake?

Although being able to have a beer along with your mates even after quitting alcohol may seem like an attractive option, it can also be a stumbling block for sobriety. Patricia Hepworth of FARE (Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education) recommends that those recovering from an addiction should stay away from alcohol free beer, as it often tastes the same as standard alcoholic beer, providing sensory cues that make the drinker want the real thing [4]. 

Shanna Whan, founder of Sober in the Country and 2022 Australian Local Hero of the year, speaks of her own experience:

“In no time at all after cracking the lid on that ''beery'' tasting bottle of cold goodness I was overcome with an insatiable urge to get my hands on the real thing because, well, an alcoholic like me was NOT ever drinking for the taste." [5]

 

Is it healthier?

That will depend on what specific drink you're consuming, although in general a non-alcoholic beer is healthier that its alcoholic equivalent (due to avoiding the long and short term harm associated with alcohol). Hepworth from FARE agrees that “when it's a substitute for alcoholic beer, is undoubtedly a good thing; it's much healthier for someone who would have otherwise drunk beer." [4]

On average non-alcoholic beer contains less calories than the alcoholic version, however at times the difference may not be as significant as you might think depending on the sugar content of the variety [6]. If you’re looking for a drink that won’t break your diet, this might not be it. 

References

  1. https://www.esmmagazine.com/drinks/popularity-of-alcohol-free-beers-continue-to-grow-in-germany-dbb-says-129412 
  2. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia/contents/priority-populations/young-people#alcohol-consumption
  3. https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/labelling/Pages/Labelling-of-alcoholic-beverages.aspx
  4. https://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/drinks/alcohol/articles/non-alcoholic-beer-review
  5. https://www.soberinthecountry.org/post/the-darker-side-of-the-rapidly-growing-af-beer-wine-spirits-trend-we-need-to-talk-about
  6. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/non-alcoholic-beer#bottom-line