Is alcohol-free beer as good as the real thing?

28 June 2023, 09:13 AM
  • Find out how alcohol-free beer is produced and why it has gained popularity in recent years to cash in on the rising trend
Is alcohol-free beer as good as the real thing?

Besides many preconceptions, alcohol-free beer has become a tangible drinking trend here in the UK for some years. 

In fact, by 2024, the global non-alcoholic beer market is poised to surpass $25B, according to Global Market Insights, with 8% annual growth. Contrastingly, traditional beer sales are only expected to climb by 1.8%.

What is alcohol-free beer?

Alcohol-free beer is beer with little or no alcohol content and aims to reproduce the taste of traditional beer while eliminating the inebriating effects of standard alcoholic brews. 

In the UK, there are currently no laws on the alcoholic content of low and no-alcohol beers, simply guidelines. ‘Alcohol-free’ is applied to any beverage that is up to 0.05% abv (alcohol by volume). “So even those cans that say 0% are probably up to 0.05% abv,” advises Laura Willoughby, co-founder of Club Soda.

Meanwhile, ‘dealcoholised’ beer applies to anything up to 0.5% abv, and it’s not uncommon to see both ‘alcohol-free’ and ‘0.5%’ on a product. “0.5% is considered alcohol free nearly the rest of the world over,” notes Laura. Finally, ‘low alcohol’ is used for drinks with no more than 1.2% abv.

How is alcohol-free beer made?

Beer is made by ‘mashing’ malted barley (sometimes with other grains) with hot water to extract the sugars and create a wort. 

The wort is then boiled with hops and fermented, where yeast eats the sugars, transforming them into alcohol and other by-products such as carbon dioxide and compounds that add flavour.

Almost all non-alcoholic beers start life in the same way, but there are a few differences, usually in the latter stages of the brewing process.

Of the four most common ways to make alcohol-free beer, dealcoholisation is the most widely used. That’s the process of removing alcohol from beer, and as a result, turning it alcohol-free. The alcohol is removed in one of three ways: steam distillation, reverse osmosis or water vapour or gas stripping.

Is alcohol-free beer healthy?

The increased popularity of low and no alcoholic beverages is partly due to the perceived health benefits, and beer is no exception. 

Alcohol moderation is becoming increasingly popular alongside the growing quality of non-alcoholic beverages. Many moderators are choosing lower alcohol products due to health concerns (22%).

According to Lucky Saint, physical and mental health remains top of the agenda following the pandemic, directly correlating with sales of low and no-alcohol beer rising 58% in the UK in 2020.

Indeed, B2B online marketplace ShelfNow recorded a 450% increase in sales of low and no alcohol products thanks to the health and wellness trends. 

“Around the world, we have seen how the impact of Covid-19 has led to many adults prioritising healthier lifestyle habits, including drinking in moderation,” said Philip Linardos, co-founder and CEO of ShelfNow.

In fact, non-alcoholic beer is surprisingly full of vitamins and minerals, including folic acid, potassium, iron and zinc. Researchers have found it could potentially help reduce your risk of heart disease and even reduce your risk of getting ill due to its strong antioxidant, antipathogenic, and anti-inflammatory properties.

How to stock alcohol-free beer

Almost nine million UK adults planned to take part in Dry January 2023, and with 70% of those who took part still drinking less six months later, stocking alcohol-free drinks can be a year-round sales booster for retailers.

While stocking low and no can feel like a challenge, there are plenty of high-quality options for fine food and drink retailers to champion.

Luke Boase, founder of Lucky Saint, told Speciality Food that stocking premium alcohol-free options is important for independent retailers 365 days a year. “Taste trumps everything. If you’re doing Dry January, or if you’re just cutting down on alcohol in general, you still deserve a great tasting drink,” he said. “So, when we look for an alcohol-free option, we’re going to go with the one which gives us the best experience. 

“Retailers who focus on quality alcohol-free drinks are going to do better than those who see it as a gimmick for Dry January. Especially with the move towards a ‘sober curious’ lifestyle that so many people are making.”

Here are some of our favourite quality alcohol-free beers to stock:

- Lucky Saint Unfiltered Lager 0.5%
- Days Pale Ale 0.0%
- Big Drop Pine Trail Pale Ale 0.5%
- Jump Ship Flying Colours 0.5%
- Freestar Prime Time Alcohol-Free Lager 0.5%
- Fungtn Lion’s Mane IPA 0.5%
- Nirvana Bavarian Helles Lager 0.5%

more like this
close stay up-to-date with our free newsletter | expert intel | tailored industry news | new-to-know trend analysis | sign up | speciality food daily briefing