• The Cabinet

The Cabinet Designer Barman: How does this AF beer taste so good?

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

Following on from my last blog, I wanted to discuss Alcohol Free beer in a little more depth. The truth is there is a lot of misconceptions and disinformation out there so let’s try and clear things up...

How can it contain Alcohol and be Alcohol free?

Lots of things contain alcohol. Bananas, burger buns, orange juice? Think of a natural product containing sugar and it will have some level of alcohol in it. Lick your skin it will probably have some trace of alcohol.

This is because natural yeast from the air and surroundings (wild yeast) has metabolized sugars and created ethanol as a by-product. It happens everywhere as part of the natural process of decay. To be considered an alcohol-free product in the UK the ABV (alcohol by volume) needs to be less than 0.5%.

Can I get drunk off of 0.5% beer?

I’m going to say NO. Unless you are allergic to ethanol (it does happen) it will be nigh on impossible to feel any effects of 0.5% beers. I won’t put the complicated mathematical equation on here, but you would need to drink approximately 25-30 bottles of 0.5% beer within an hour to feel the equivalent of a full-strength pint. I think you can imagine what would happen if you drank than much liquid within an hour. You wouldn’t be drunk, but you would probably be sick.

Who can’t drink it?

This seems like a silly question, but it really isn’t. Maybe you don’t drink for health reasons or maybe it’s religious reason, but AF isn’t for everyone.

Below when I talk about production methods this will make more sense, but most AF beers can’t be considered Halal. If there is any trace of alcohol in the product (either before de-alcoholising or after) it cannot be considered Halal even if you can’t get drunk.

Also, I do not recommend an AF alternative for someone struggling with alcohol dependence. In this situation the ABV is negligible in comparison to the process of consuming, which may act like a trigger.

Beer contains grain and therefore gluten. Yes, lots of AF beers use less grain and therefore are closer to the safe levels for celiacs but it’s not a given. Always good to check the labels.

Some AF beers also use animal products, larger producers still use Isinglass (fish) to clarify their beers where others may use lactose (milk) as an unfermentable stabilizing sugar.

Only 0.00% beer is alcohol free!

The person in the marketing department that came up with 0.00% in that big Dutch beer producers should pat themselves on the back.

The level of alcohol allowed in an “alcohol free” beer actually varies from country to country. In Australia it’s anything below 2.9% while in America there isn’t a “No” category only a “low” category (below 4%). In mainland Europe the threshold is 0.5% ABV and in the UK there is currently no guidelines directly dictating the ABV levels of a “alcohol free” beer.

Up until about two years ago there were guidelines for “alcohol free” beers but these rules applied only to the labels. The labelling guidelines in the UK stated that beers of more than 0.05% could “not” be called alcohol free. In addition, these labelling guidelines only applied to products produced in the UK, so for example 0.5% German beer could be sold in U.K. as alcohol free but British beer at 0.3% couldn’t.

These guidelines lapsed a few years ago and haven’t been re-instated opening the doors for the UK producers. In fact, the world’s first specialist brewer of naturally alcohol-free beer is British and has won world’s best 4 times since its launch in 2016. (Big Drop Brewing)

How is it made?

There are a few different methods of production, but I will try and keep it simple.

0% - Make an alcohol-free replica - using flavours from natural or added ingredients producers make a facsimile of an alcoholic product trying to reproduce the flavours as close as possible without any alcohol brewed at all. (This normally tastes quite sweet as none of the natural sugars have been fermented)

0.00% Remove the alcohol with science - using large expensive machines a process called “reverse osmosis” uses large quantities of water to draw alcohol out of already brewed full strength beer. (This is only really a option for the large beer producers because the relative machines cost and large production run needed)

0.5% Remove the alcohol with chemicals or heat - similar to above the alcohol is removed using chemicals or heat (boiling the beer) that breaks down the ethanol bonds in a fermented beer. (As you can imagine this can leave a taste within the beer)

0.5% Naturally Brew a low strength beer - using skills and techniques brewers produce a beer where gravity (sugar levels) are low and the ABV doesn’t rise above 0.5%. (Due to the lower sugar levels sometimes, un-fermentable sugars are added to stabilise the ABV)

So what’s the best??

Obviously, I have a favourite but realistically it’s all personal preference. The large producers make excellent 0.00% replicas of their best-selling beers. Let’s be honest if your favourite beer is Peroni, your favourite non-alcoholic beer will also be Peroni.

I however really enjoy the naturally brewed alternatives. The beer producers are showing their skills off by making these beers with the same care as others who make 10% beers! Either way there is something for every beer drinker out there!