The term non-alcoholic beer can be misleading. Anyone who has taken a hard look at the label knows that “non-alcoholic” is relative. So does non-alcoholic beer have alcohol? How much is in your typical NA beer?
Being a savvy consumer means knowing the alcohol content of non-alcoholic beer. Alcohol by volume (ABV) is critical for managing alcohol intake or avoiding it entirely. Plus, we need to know if 9 non alcoholic beers will put us over the legal limit, right?
So here’s the skinny on the alcohol content of “alcohol free” beer.
What is Non-Alcoholic Beer?
Simply put, NA beer is beer with little or no alcohol. To be classified as non-alcoholic, a beer has to fall under a certain threshold. The most common standard is <0.5% ABV.
Brewers achieve a lower ABV by a variety of methods. Those include:
- Diluting full-strength beer with water.
- Removing alcohol by reverse osmosis (filtration).
- Removing alcohol by distillation (heat).
- Arrested fermentation (controlling yeast activity).
- Simulated fermentation (mimicking fermentation with enzymes and additives).
- Fermentation free (not adding yeast at all).
How Much Alcohol is in Non-Alcoholic Beer?
There are different standards for how much alcohol can be in non-alcoholic beer, varying by country and state. Here are some common definitions:
- Non-alcoholic beer: Under 0.5% ABV (most common type)
- Alcohol-free beer (USA): 0.0% ABV
- Alcohol-free beer (UK): Under 0.05% ABV
- Low-alcohol beer (USA): Less than 2.5% ABV (USA)
- Low-alcohol beer (UK): Less than 1.25% ABV (UK)
To compare, traditional full-strength beers sit between 3% and 9% alcohol by volume.
Why “non-alcoholic” beer contains alcohol
NA beer has alcohol because complete removal is hard to do while keeping the taste profile. Eventually, hop oils and malt flavors will also be lost. This results in a product that doesn’t closely resemble the real thing.
In conjunction with the government, manufacturers created a set of standards for how much alcohol is reasonable. The most common definition brewers strive to hit is <0.5% alcohol.
That said, there is also a standard for truly “alcohol free” beer, as mentioned above. In the USA, the standard is 0.0% (no alcohol). In the UK, it is <0.05 percent.
Low alcohol vs. non-alcoholic beer
The laws and definitions surrounding the labeling of alcoholic beverages can be confusing. Technically speaking, a drink can be labeled as “non-alcoholic” as long as it contains 0.5% alcohol or less by volume. This small amount is often considered negligible.
In the United States, Congress defines “low alcohol beer” as any beverage containing not more than 2.5% alcohol. However, in some states like Utah, the definition is stricter at just 0.5 percent, which in most places falls into the NA category.
As if that wasn’t confusing enough, there are no federal regulations dictating how much alcohol a “low alcohol” drink can have to be labeled as such. So I can slap a low alcohol label on a 9% ABV strong beer, no harm no foul. Labels are tricky.
Different Non-Alcoholic Beers and Their Alcohol Content
As the NA beer category has grown exponentially, so have the options for consumers. The following are a list of popular beers that fall under the 0.5% threshold (non-alcoholic standard):
- Athletic Brewing‘s Run Wild IPA
- Clausthaler Original
- Partake IPA
- Samuel Adams Just the Haze
- Stella 0.0
- Untitled Art Chocolate Milk Stout
There are also quite a few alcohol-free beers (<0.05% ABV) on the market. The following fall into that category:
- Any of the Hairless Dog beers (0.0%).
- Beck’s Blue (0.05%).
- Budweiser Zero (0.0%)
- Heineken 0.0 (0.03%)
- Bitburger Drive NA (0.0%)
Wanna explore the best NA breweries? See our roundup of 11 industry leaders.
How is non alcoholic beer made?
Non-alcoholic beer typically goes through the same brewing process as regular beer, using malts, hops, and barley. The alcohol is then removed through one of the following methods:
- Reverse osmosis filtration (semi-permeable membrane).
- Vacuum distillation (heating it off).
- Arrested fermentation with special yeasts or refrigeration.
In some cases, alcohol is never formed because there is no fermentation process (fermentation-free brewing).
Arrested fermentation is an umbrella term and is done in several ways. The most common, which involves cooling yeast before it can convert sugar into ethanol, is usually achieved through refrigeration.
There’s a problem, however. These methods can also remove the ingredients that give beer its taste and “feel.” That’s why non alcoholic brew masters have to be careful and innovative when performing their craft.
The guys at Athletic Brewing, commonly considered the gold standard in North America, say they have made close to 10 changes to the traditional brewing process. That’s the attention to detail needed to brew up something comparable to the real thing.
Does non-alcoholic beer have less alcohol than other foods and drinks?
Non-alcoholic beer has less alcohol than traditional beer. That much is clear. But unless it is truly alcohol-free, there is alcohol present. This is why you’ll hear people say that NA beer has less alcohol than common foods, like yogurt and orange juice.
This statement is occasionally true, but overhyped. Here’s a clean breakdown of alcohol in beer:
- There are 14 grams of alcohol in a serving. A 12 oz. regular beer at 5% ABV has this much.
- A 12 oz. NA beer at 0.5% alcohol has 1.4 grams of alcohol.
- It would take ten 0.5% NA beers to get a full serving of alcohol
What about common foods? A German study did an analysis of alcohol present in common foods. Here are some key findings:
- Burger rolls: 1.3g per 100g. (1.3% ABV) = 4.6g in 12 oz.
- Wheat and rye bread: 0.3g per 100g (0.3% ABV) = 1g in 12 oz.
- Bananas: 0.04g per 100g. (0.04% ABV) = 0.14g in 12 oz.
- Grape juice: 0.8g per liter (0.08% ABV) = 2.8g in 12 oz.
- Apple juice: 0.3g per liter (0.03% ABV) = 1.1g in 12 oz.
- Orange juice: 0.7g per liter (0.07% ABV) = 2.5g in 12 oz.
- Vinegar: 2.7g per liter (0.27% ABV) = 9.45g in 12 oz.
These numbers show that it’s rare for a household food to have a higher ABV than NA beer. Even vinegar, known for its acidity, only registers under 0.3% ABV. The only exception is burger rolls, which have a higher ABV at 1.3%.
But that’s just by volume. Consumption is another story. Even at the most amazing American barbecues, you rarely consume 12 ounces of burger rolls or vinegar. (If you do, it’s about to be a solo BBQ.) But you usually drink an entire 12 oz. beer. (If you don’t, shame.) We have to compare apples to apples.
Quick recap: technically some foods have higher ABVs than NA beer. But by consumption, it’s rare you’re going to get more than what you typically drink in a can of NA beer.
What are the benefits of non-alcoholic beer?
NA beer has several benefits. They include:
- Hydration and Post-Workout Recovery
- Better bone density.
- Improved cardiovascular health.
- Breast milk production.
- Limiting calories and carbohydrates.
- Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Weight control and management.
- Gut health and microbiome health.
- No hangovers.
- Being social without alcohol.
- Better sleep.
- Increased energy and vitality.
- Reduced stress and anxiety.
There are also fringe benefits of non-alcoholic beer that we reap simply by avoiding alcohol. When you drink alcohol, you do a bunch of high-risk behaviors: overeating, exercising bad judgment, and taking on health risks (including cancer), among others. Avoiding these behaviors is always good for us in the long run.
Are there any risks to drinking non alcoholic beer?
Non-alcoholic beer isn’t calorie and carb neutral. This means that in high amounts, it can cause weight gain like any other calorie-dense drink.
A couple of examples:
- Athletic Brewing’s Free Wave Hazy IPA has 70 calories and 16g of carbs.
- Athletic’s All Out Stout has 90 calories and 21g of carbs.
- Untitled Art’s Chocolate Milk Stout has 105 calories and 32g of carbs.
That said, NA beer is still a better weight-management choice. A Bud Light has 110 calories, for instance. A Michelob Ultra has 95 calories. A Comparable NA beer is Athletic Lite, which has 25 calories. Comparing style-for-style, NA alternatives are usually the better option.
NA beer also often contains wheat, gluten, and corn. For some people, these are irritants that cause bloating and inflammation. Takeaway: nothing is better than water.
Is non alcoholic beer okay for alcoholics?
Whether non-alcoholic brews are okay for recovering alcoholics depends on the individual and their recovery journey. For some, even the smell or taste of alcohol can trigger cravings and a relapse. Others may find that having a non-alcoholic option available allows them to socialize without drinking regular beers and compromising their sobriety.
Ultimately, it’s up to each person in recovery to make mindful decisions about what works for them in their alcoholism context.
Are non alcoholic beers okay for pregnant women?
Studies on the effects of alcohol free beer on pregnancies and birth defects are lacking. This being the case, drinking non alcoholic beer during pregnancy is a judgment call. It has been shown that even “light drinking” has “surprisingly limited” impacts on a healthy pregnancy.
But, to be fair, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says to stay away entirely. So even while the amounts of alcohol (less than .05%) are minimal, some may prefer to cut drinking alcohol altogether to play it safe.
Plus, labels lie sometimes and detectable levels of alcohol can vary.
Who drinks non-alcoholic beer?
The growth of NA beer has been especially driven by younger generations (Millennials and Gen-Z), health-conscious drinkers, and some within the sobriety community. Whether it’s okay for those in recovery is arguable. Many members think it’s a slippery slope that can lead to relapse.
Where Can You Buy Non-Alcoholic beer?
Just wanna dip a toe? ProofNoMore offers singles and 4-packs on most NA beers. This allows you to try a bigger variety and find what you like.
You can also learn about the best NA craft brewers and see what company’s line-up sounds appealing. If you follow our buying guide, you can’t go wrong.
Non-alcoholic beer is a great way to enjoy the taste of beer without worrying about getting drunk. It’s also a great option for people who are driving, pregnant, or just managing their alcohol intake.
That being said, “alcohol free beer” isn’t literal. Non alcoholic beers still contain some amount of alcohol, so it’s not exactly “non-alcoholic”.
Those looking for an alcohol replacement that is truly non-alcoholic should pay close attention to labels and get to know those brands.
Wanna save money and get the best NA beer out there? Check out our buying guide.