Why Are Some Non Alcoholic Beers 0.5% Alcohol And Others 0.0%?


The world of non alcoholic beers can be confusing. There is different labelling terminologies and laws in different countries, they are branded as beers but apparently don’t have alcohol and they come in different alcohol by volume concentrations. Why are some 0.5% ABV and others 0.0% ABV?

In general, the bigger brands are able to afford alcohol removal techniques that preserve flavour but remove alcohol down to 0.0%. They only become cost effective at scale. The smaller players use novel brewing techniques, special grains and yeasts which produces a beer at 0.5% ABV.

So what are these fancy alcohol removal procedures and what novel brewing techniques and ingredients do the smaller players use?

Why do some non alcoholic beers have 0.5% and others 0.0?

Does Non Alcoholic Beer Taste The S...
Does Non Alcoholic Beer Taste The Same

You would think it would be easy to just pick one alcohol level that is non alcoholic and everyone produces a beer at that strength. The reality is it just isn’t that easy. Lots of factors go into which strength of beer you will produce.

Option 1 – 0.0%

It is basically impossible to brew a beer with any type of fermentation and have 0.0% alcohol in the finished product. Therefore any beer that has 0.0% will have had alcohol removed or diluted down to that level.

You can do this cheaply but you get a terrible beer. If you dilute you just dilute flavour. If you just boil off the alcohol you also just boil off lots of aromatic compounds that make the beer what it is.

You can do this the expensive way and save a lot of the flavour but then you need to sell a lot of product to make it worth it.

Option 2 – 0.5%

As above, you will produce at least some alcohol during any brewing, the trick with with option is to limit it as much as you can to 0.5% or less and then not need to use any expensive equipment to remove more alcohol, keeping the price of the beer down.

We can look at both options in more detail below.

How are non alcoholic beers made

My full article on how non alcoholic beers are mad can be viewed here.

There are 2 very broad categories of how to make non alcoholic or alcohol free beer. You can either

  1. Remove the alcohol once the beer is brewed – called dealcoholisation
  2. Limit the amount of alcohol produced in the brewing – called limited fermentation

Dealcoholisation

Spinning cone column

This is the most efficient method but usually reserved for wine.. It is designed to remove and then regather volatile compounds (the delicate flavours in the wine or beer) in a vacuum using steam. It is much more gentle than other methods so more of the aromatic flavour molecules are retained.

Vacuum distillation

If you heat a beer to evaporate off the alcohol you need to get it to 173.1°F. That is quite a high temperature and you run the risk of damaging the delicate aromatic flavour molecules.

To avoid this high temperature you can heat the brew in a vacuum. You can then reduce the boiling point of alcohol to 93.2°F. This lower temperature enables you to retain more flavour

Reverse osmosis, cold filtration

Another way is reverse osmosis. Very high pressures replace heat. The beer is forced up against a find membrane that can filter the alcohol, aromatic compounds and water.

Distillation can then be used to separate the alcohol. Lastly, they bring back the remaining water with the aromatic components. As there is less water than the water/alcohol mix, they usually have to add more water to get it back in balance.

Boil off

This is more the back yard agricultural method, it is very crude. Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water so you heat the beer to that temperature and the alcohol is evaporated. However you boil off and ruin a lot of the flavour compounds in the process. It isn’t often used by any mass production type commercial beers.

Dilution

Dilution is an easy one to understand, just like boiling.

You can start with a 5% beer, and just keep adding water until the beer is down at 0.5%. It will need re carbonated to get the fizz back again tho.

No prizes for guessing the obvious draw back. You end up with a fizzy water type drink with very poor beer flavour as it has been diluted 10:1.

Limited fermentation

You can limit fermentation but reducing the amount of sugar available for the yeast to turn into alcohol. Using grains like rice or maize which naturally contain less sugar is a great way to achieve this.

You can also extract sugar directly from the wort before you ferment it.

Some brewers can use a process called arrested fermentation. Yeasts are inactivated or removed before they can start producing alcohol in any great volume. It is done by rapidly cooling down the fermenting beer to close to zero, putting the yeast to sleep.

The other way to reduce alcohol is to use a specialised yeast which produces little to no alcohol. These yeasts can still have a positive effect on the flavour of the beer but produce little alcohol.

Which breweries go for 0.0% and why?

In general, the bigger brands and bigger breweries go for 0.0% beers. Think Heineken 0.0, Budweiser Zero and Guinness 0.0. A lot of perhaps smaller companies or brands might also have a 0.0% beer but they will likely be owned by one of the mega brewing corporations like AB InBev, who have deep deep pockets.

Which methods do they use?

The big brewers that make 0.0% beers by in large use vacuum distillation, reserve osmosis or to a lesser degree, spinning cone columns.

Only the very cheap and nasty beers would would boil off or dilution.

PR and marketing

The big brands find it much easier to market and sell an alcohol free, 0.0% beer around the world. You can sell this more easily in jurisdictions that might traditionally oppose alcohol such as Muslim countries. 

It is much easier to make an argument that alcohol free 0.0% beers are halal than 0.5% ones. You can see my full discussion on it here.

As well as ease of sale and marketing, once one big brand goes 0.0 then the others all have to benchmark themselves against that so you end up with all the big players in the same space.

Cost

The cost of using the high end delacoholisation is expensive. It only becomes cost effective at scale or if your owners have deep pockets for a start up as if you are producing at lower quantities the the payback and ROI will take longer.

Flavour

The more expensive dealcoholisation techniques also preserve more of the delicate aromatic beer compounds. If you can afford to use them and are producing at scale they are usually the best way to produce a beer down to 0.0%.

That doesnt mean that the brewers won’t mirage the alcohol in the brewing process to have less alcohol to remove at the end. They may still use some of the limited fermentation of the craft brewers but to get to 0.0%, you have to use expensive dealcoholisation.

3 of the best 0.0% beers

Bitburger 0.0

Bitburger 0.0 is a German pilsner styled lager and currently my top ranking 0.0% lager.

For me, it tastes exactly like an alcohol beer. There is beautifully balanced hops and malt, great body and plenty of mouthfeel.

It has the added bonus of having the lowest sugar of all non alcoholic or alcohol free beers i have reviewed at 0g/100ml which is hugely impressive in its own right.

You can check out the live Amazon price by following my link here

You can try these at Wise Bartender as well, a brilliant non alcoholic retailer

For UK readers, Light Drinks has this and others, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 5% off

For Australian readers, Craft Zero has a range of products, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 10% off

Guinness 0.0

The Guinness 0.0 is a revelation. Im Irish and i now prefer this over the Guinness Draft can.

It is very low calorie but huge in flavour, it basically just tastes like Guinness.

It it overall one of my top ranking alcohol free beers and my top ranking stout, alcohol free or non alcoholic.

I think this is a must try if you like Guinness or stout.

For UK readers, Light Drinks has this and others, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 5% off

You can try these at Wise Bartender as well, a brilliant non alcoholic retailer

For Australian readers, Craft Zero has a range of products, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 10% off

Carlsberg 0.0

Of all the big supermarket, big brand lagers, this is my favourite.

Their pilsner versions are head and shoulders above their pure lager green label beers.

This one has stacks of flavour and hops, very low sugar and low calories and will keep you wanting more.

They tongue in cheek say “probably the best lager in the world”, but this isn’t a million miles away from being the best non alcoholic lager in the world.

You can check out the live Amazon price by following my link here

You can try these at Wise Bartender as well, a brilliant non alcoholic retailer

For UK readers, Light Drinks has this and others, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 5% off

For Australian readers, Craft Zero has a range of products, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 10% off

Which breweries go for 0.5% and why?

When you start to drink more and more of the non alcoholic beers you will notice it tends to be the smaller craft breweries and specialist non alcoholic beer brewers that go for 0.5% ABV.

Some of the best include

Athletic Brewing Co

Big Drop Brewing Co

Drop Bear

Which methods do they use?

These 0.5% brewers usually go for the limited fermentation techniques where by new breeds of grains and yeasts produce less sugar, sugar is removed before fermentation and fermentation is stopped before too much alcohol is produced.

The smaller breweries use…

  • low carbohydrate containing grains
  • special yeast strains which convert less sugar to alcohol
  • limited fermentation when the fermentation is stopped early

All these combine to make less sugar available to be turned into alcohol and less alcohol produced.

Cost

For brewing at lower volumes, this approach is by far the most cost effective. The brewing equipment is usually identical to an alcoholic beer but they can just buy in different grains and yeasts. There isn’t the need to buy expensive dealcoholisation machinery which keeps the costs down.

Flavour

As the beer is mostly brewed as normal, just with different ingredients to produce less yeast, they are able to contain much of, if not all the same flavour compounds that an alcoholic beer would have (expect the alcohol of course)

3 of the best 0.5% beers

Run Wild

This is a quite brilliant IPA but Athletic Brewing Co.

I found the balance of hops and malt was just spot on. There was enough body and mouthfeel and the flavours were in fine balance

There are not many, if any, better non alcoholic beers than this.

To check out the latest Amazon prices you can follow this link

You can try these at Wise Bartender as well, a brilliant non alcoholic retailer

For UK readers, Light Drinks has this and others, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 5% off

For Australian readers, Craft Zero has a range of products, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 10% off

Lucky Saint

This is an extremely low calorie beer but not low on flavour and punch.

I was very surprised by this as i expected it to be a weak supermarket beer.

Clean and crisp on the palate. Nothing offensive at any point from start to finish. Great effort

Lucky Saint is available in big supermarkets like Tesco

You can also buy it from Amazon by following this link

Clausthaler Unfiltered Dry Hopped

I have tried a few different Clausthaler beers as it is one of the oldest non alcoholic beer brands about.

I found their Original beer a bit bland but not this bad boy.

There is huge amounts of hops and the mouthfeel is great. It is a touch high in sugar but unlike the Original it has the body to carry it and doesn’t taste sweet.

You can check out the latest prices on Amazon by following this link

You can try these at Wise Bartender as well, a brilliant non alcoholic retailer

For UK readers, Light Drinks has this and others, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 5% off

For Australian readers, Craft Zero has a range of products, if you use code OPENINGTHEBOTTLE you get an additional 10% off

*Affiliate Disclosure – if you click on the links and buy from these providers, i might receive a small commission*

philmcclelland

Hi im Phil. Im the sole writer on this site. For more info look at my about page https://www.openingthebottle.com/about-us/

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