Non-alcoholic beer has nowhere near the alcohol content of conventional beer, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely alcohol-free. As with many technically non-alcoholic drinks, there may be trace amounts of alcohol in that NA beer.
The lines with low-alcohol beer are even blurrier. With the rise of heavier, hoppier craft beers in recent years, some brewers market low-alcohol beer as low-point beer, or anything below about 4% alcohol by volume (ABV).
It can be a lot to navigate if you’re trying to cut back. Let’s get into the science and your options for non-alcoholic beer. We’ll also touch on the best non-alcoholic wines while we’re at it.
Is non-alcoholic beer actually alcohol-free?
Non-alcoholic beer is not always completely alcohol-free. In the United States, brewers can label beer as “non-alcoholic” even if it has small amounts of alcohol. The threshold for non-alcoholic beer, and non-alcoholic beverages more broadly, is 0.5% ABV.
That low percent alcohol is similar to what you’d find in some fruit juices, breads, and super ripe bananas. It’s not enough to get you drunk or result in a morning-after hangover, but it’s also not accurate to say that non-alcoholic beer is 100% free of alcohol.
What is the alcohol content of a non-alcoholic beer?
The alcohol content of a non-alcoholic beer, or “near beer,” can vary.
Is there alcohol in non-alcoholic beer? There may be alcohol in non-alcoholic beer. Officially, non-alcoholic beer can have up to 0.5% ABV.
Classics like O’Doul’s have up up 0.4% ABV per serving. Craft brewers like Athletic Brewing Co. label most of their cans as “less than 0.5% ABV,” so there’s some wiggle room for variables during fermentation.
For comparison’s sake, a standard beer typically has around 5% ABV. If you’re an IPA drinker, the average ABV is closer to 6-7%.
If you want a true zero-alcohol beer, you may be out of luck. Even big brands like Heineken 0.0, Budweiser Zero, and Guinness 0.0 that market their beer as alcohol-free may have trace amounts of alcohol that allow them to round down to that number.
It all comes down to how the beer is made.
How NA Beer Is Made
The brewing process for most non-alcoholic beer is similar to that of regular beer. The brewers start with the same basic ingredients — water, yeast, hops, and grain — and fermentation processes as conventional beer.
The exact type of fermentation to result in alcohol removed at the end differs by brewer. Controlled fermentation methods are the most popular. This means you cut fermentation off at some point to control for a lower percent ABV. Trace amounts of alcohol may remain.
Other brewers use dealcoholization methods to remove alcohol that is already in the brew. This can happen by heating the alcohol to its boiling point, adding water to dilute the finished product, or using vacuum distillation.
It’s similar to processes for dealcoholized wine. High-quality non-alcoholic wines start like conventional wines. The wine’s alcohol content is just removed by the end through reverse osmosis, vacuum distillation, or unique filtration processes created by the winemaker.
If it sounds complex, that’s because it is.
Why is non-alcoholic beer not as popular as regular beer? Non-alcoholic beer is not as popular as regular beer because there may be a perception that it doesn’t taste as good. It can also be harder to find, especially if you’re looking for non-alcoholic options to order at the bar.
That may be changing as brewers recognize the popular demand for high-quality NA beverages. The more competition there is for non-alcoholic options, the better those options become. Even the mocktails are getting more inventive and delicious.
This is true for non-alcoholic wines, too. Higher-quality brands taste much closer to real wine than some of the cheaper options. They’re healthier, too, since you’re not having that side of alcohol with your wine.
Is NA beer healthier than regular beer?
Non-alcoholic beer may be healthier than regular beer if it reduces your overall alcohol consumption. That’s why many reach for non-alcoholic beer as they adapt to a new alcohol-free lifestyle or habits driven by moderation.
They may be trying to cut back for existing health conditions or improve their mental health. Maybe they’re sober curious. Alcohol alternatives like non-alcoholic wine and beer can help people build healthier habits and reduce risk of alcohol-related health conditions.
Is alcohol-free beer healthy aside from being an alcohol alternative? There are some studies looking at the health benefits of polyphenols in non-alcoholic beer, but we’re really still in the “maybe” stage when we talk about these beers and your health.
Here’s the deal: It will always be better to drink less (or not at all) than drink more, no matter what you read about the health goodies in beverages like red wine. Non-alcoholic options are the better option if you want to drink.
Some people like that NA beer has fewer calories, so it may be their preferred beer substitute for weight loss. Just watch those carbs if that’s your goal. Even the non-alcoholic stuff is generally high in carbohydrates. (It’s not great for folks watching their gluten, either.)
What are the side effects of drinking non-alcoholic beer? While non-alcoholic beer has no known side effects on its own, it is generally not recommended for recovering alcoholics or anyone with a history of alcohol abuse.
Even if you find a zero-alcohol beer, just the smell or taste of beer can lead to cravings and a potential relapse. It’s just best not to risk it if you struggle with drinking alcohol. Instead, choose healthy alternatives that don’t resemble alcohol at all.
Can pregnant women drink non-alcoholic beer?
Non-alcoholic beer and wine is generally considered safe for pregnant women. That said, there is no official “safe” level of alcohol for women who are pregnant. There aren’t any studies to tell us where that threshold is, so if you’re worried about it, it’s probably best to avoid alcohol altogether.
Since measuring ABV in beer isn’t an exact science, there may also be more (or less) ethanol in that non-alcoholic beer than you think.
Most official health groups like the CDC advise women not to drink beverages that contain any amount of alcohol. For more clarity and any changes to your diet, talk to your doctor. They’ll know best what’s right for you and your baby.
Can kids drink non-alcoholic beer?
Kids and teens under 21 can drink non-alcoholic beer legally in some states. That’s because many states don’t have an age limit on the books for the purchase of non-alcoholic beer.
Some states and municipalities ask that stores use their judgement with non-alcoholic beer. The result? Most liquor stores won’t sell non-alcoholic beer to minors by choice anyway.
You’ll notice that some beer brands ask for your age when you buy non-alcoholic options online, too. That’s because they’re not marketing to kids. These are alcohol replacements for the over-21 demographic.
Generally, most health agencies won’t advise you to get your kids into non-alcoholic beer. This is a product that tastes like real beer, with trace amounts of alcohol. While we did say they could get those trace amounts in their favorite fruit juices, that feels more appropriate.
Best Non-Alcoholic Beers
If you want to taste-test the best non-alcoholic beers, we have a few favorites. These are craft brewers that specialize in getting you as close as possible to your favorite pale ales and lagers without the alcohol content.
- Athletic Brewing Co.
- Bravus Brewing
- Surreal Brewing
- Wellbeing Brewing
- Brooklyn Brewery Special Effects
For more on each of these options, check out our complete guide to non-alcoholic beer. We include more mainstream options for you in case these are difficult to find where you are.
The Best Way To Live Sober Curious
People have all kinds of reasons for reducing their alcohol intake. If you just don’t love the way it makes you feel but miss the taste of beer, non-alcoholic beer is a way to socialize with beer drinkers without the morning-after hangover.
If you’re looking for NA cocktail hour ideas, you have options there, too.
Surely offers the best non-alcoholic champagnes and still wines that get you as close as possible to conventional wines. That’s because we care about our process and your experience.