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What is Alcohol Free Beer, & How is it Made?

Demand for alcohol free, or low ABV beer has never been higher, but you might find yourself asking; what actually is alcohol free beer? To some, taking the alcohol out of beer is like taking the chocolate chips out of cookies, or the rain out of English summertime (trust me, that one isn’t going to happen), however here at WBB we want to answer the question once and for all; what is No/ Low beer, and why should you care about it?

After all, public interest in Alcohol Free Beer has grown exponentially since Google began tracking search terms a couple of decades ago.

See our chart, which documents a steep increase in searches over the past 15 years, correlating with the huge growth in the popularity of the annual Dry January event (which saw a whopping 6.5 million people taking part in 2021).

With heightened awareness, and more and more excellent breweries creating alcohol free beers that you’d mistake for their fully-fledged brews, it’s time to discover what all the hype is about.

*Data source: Google Trends up to March 2021

What is alcohol free beer, and why should you care about it?

Now, different countries define “alcohol free” in different ways, however it is generally accepted that 0.5% ABV or below should be considered Low/ No alcohol. If you take it literally, a beer with 0.5% alcohol volume does contain alcohol, however in the EU and the UK, the breakdown is as follows:

  • <0.5% ABV = Alcohol free beer
  • <1.2% ABV = Low-alcohol beer
  • >1.2% ABV = Alcoholic beer

But why does it matter? There are many reasons you might be looking to cut down your alcohol intake. Some take part in international events, such as Dry January, and others generally want to cut down their weekly units intake.

Here are a few other reasons why you should choose alcohol-free beer:
  • You’re a designated driver, but want to enjoy a beer with your pals
  • You’re trying to keep your intake below 14 units per week
  • You’re spending a while in the pub, and want to take it a little slower in-between alcoholic beers
  • You don’t drink alcohol in general, but like the taste of beer
  • You want to avoid that pesky hangover

The list goes on! Just remember, it’s OK to go alcohol free.

You can pick up some Solo if you’re ready to go alcohol free now. 

 

How can beer be ‘alcohol free’, if it has alcohol in it?

But… you may find yourself asking, how can a beer be classed as ‘alcohol free’ if it contains alcohol? Well, this is actually much simpler than it seems. Although 0.5% beer does contain alcohol, it is in such low quantities that consuming a pint of this beer is equivalent to drinking a soft-drink. Your body is able to process all the alcohol content before you ever feel the effects of being drunk.

To put this into perspective, the University of Kaiserslautern tested five different Orange Juice brands for their alcohol content, and the highest ABV came through as 0.73%. That’s right; if you’ve ever turned down a pint of 0.5% beer for having alcoholic volume, you also should consider swapping your favourite breakfast beverage too. Don’t even get us started on giving this to your children, you should be ashamed of yourself! We’re kidding, of course, but it’s perhaps worth avoiding some orange juice brands with very young kids.  

In fact, one gent put this theory to the test, and attempted to drink as much 0.5% beer as possible in a one hour time-frame, to see whether his blood alcohol levels would rise. Even after 28 cans, the highest his blood alcohol reached for a fleeting moment was 0.02%, before returning to 0% shortly after. As of March 2021, the legal limit is 0.08% BAC in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 0.05% in Scotland, so even after an unrealistic volume of consumption in a short time, this did not come close to reaching the driving limit in the UK.

Note: we would never suggest drinking 28 beers of any format in a row, the above test was completed by a trained professional.

 

What are the benefits of No/ Low alcohol beers?

There are a few excellent reasons to switch your bevvy brew, for an alcohol free alternative, like the following:

  • Low alcohol beers usually have lower calories than alcoholic ones
  • It’s OK to go on a night out and not get drunk, you can still have a great time, and won’t have a hangover. Although, if you still buy a dodgy kebab at the end of your night out, you’re more likely to realise how bad they actually are
  • You’re more likely to remember all the great things that happened on your evening out
  • They won’t affect your ability to drive, or make decisions
  • There are some great alcohol free beers out there, that taste like the fully fledged thing (like Solo!)
  • Lower alcohol consumption is generally better for your health
  • You still look ‘cool’, holding a hearty pint in your hand

Want a more scientific answer? We’ve posed this question to our Head Brewer, Will Twomey, who said:

Beer is a fantastic isotonic beverage and supplies the body with sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate and magnesium. These are all electrolytes that the body requires, especially after exercise when they will be depleted. Hops are also a natural anti-oxidant plus have other benefits such as being soporific (calming and sleep inducing). Reduced alcohol also means that a low ABV beer is a great alternative to high sugar soft drinks for post workout hydration. 

Well, there you go – beer is good for you in many ways, and these benefits are balanced nicely when you remove the alcohol content from it.

How is No/ Low alcohol beer made?

Now you may be wondering, how do Brewers create beer that doesn’t have alcohol in it? Do they remove the alcohol, or is there a way of brewing without generating alcohol in the process?

Well, we’ve posed these questions to our Head Brewer, Will Twomey, who said:

There are various methods of producing alcohol free beer:

  1. Ultra-filtration pushes out the water and alcohol from the beer and then water is added back to bring the concentration back to the required ABV
  2. Another method uses evaporation of the finished product to drive off the alcohol which has a lower boiling point than water.
  3. The final method (which we use at WBB) is to produce a beer that is low in fermentable sugar. We also select a yeast that doesn’t ferment maltotriose (3 glucose molecules) which accounts for around 15% of the total fermentable sugars. Designing the malt bill is different from a regular beer as we need to add enough malt so that the recipe will work on our brewkit, but not produce too much fermentable extract. The grist is mostly comprised of functional malts that add colour, flavour and texture, but are low in sugars that would cause the ABV to be too high.

So there we have it; there are a number of ways that brewers are able to lower the ABV of their beers. You’re able to A. brew a beer as usual, then manually extract the alcohol content via a number of methods. And B. you’re also able to crunch the chemistry, and design beers that are brewed with a low-ABV in mind from the off, so no post-processing is required.

Our Solo Pale Ale and Peach Pale are brewed in the latter process – they’re proper beer, which happens to be alcohol free.

 

What are the best alcohol free beers?

There are many brilliant options for alcohol-free beer, including the following:

  1. Solo Alcohol Free Pale Ale
  2. Solo Alcohol Free Pilsner
  3. Solo Alcohol Free Peach Pale Ale
  4. Big Drop Pine Trail
  5. Lervig No Worries

 

* Please note, there are a few occasions in which we wouldn’t recommend you drink beers with some alcohol content in, for example whilst you’re pregnant. Please consider any medications, or other reasons to avoid alcohol before you try it, and make a decision based on your personal circumstances.

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