Not Quite Alcohol-Free: A Mystery

The picture below is of a “beer” I drank at a friend’s house this past weekend.  It actually tasted pretty good; but why 0.5 percent alcohol, which surely added to the cost of production, but couldn’t, I think, have added to the taste? Including the minuscule amount of alcohol would certainly exclude teetotalers from consumption; and to get any kind of buzz a real beer drinker would need to drink at least several gallons.

My only explanations are: 1) Having a little bit of alcohol somehow deludes beer-lovers into thinking they are getting something approximating the real thing; or 2) Some tax deal made it cost-decreasing to include a bit of alcohol, although I can’t see how.  Any others?

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Z. S.

It has to do with the fermentation process. Low alcohol/no alcohol beers have a small amount of alcohol in them; there's other flavors contributed by yeast so not fermenting the beer would make it taste different.

Even root beer has a small amount of alcohol in it; I believe in the U.S. as long as it has less than 0.5% or so you don't have to label it as alcoholic. It probably would cost more to remove that small fraction of alcohol from the product than to just leave it in and label it as 0.5% alcohol.

Sanjay

The question is perplexing to me; the thing is fermented and made to taste yeasty, and the yeast are going to make alcohol in the process of making something that tastes like beer. Presumably near beers have the alcohol _taken out_ not put in.

Z.S.

Probably not. You can use certain strains of yeast that die off at low alcohol or you can refrigerate the batches to force the yeast to go dormant. Or you can filter it. They probably do one of these things before packaging so the alcohol stops at 0.5%.

Kara

"Small beer" has been around for centuries. When you read in history books of people drinking beer in the mornings and throughout the day (instead of potentially dangerous water from the rivers or lakes), something like this would be what they were drinking. As to why they're bottled and sold now? I can only guess, but I suspect that you can sell small bear or "near bear" as I've heard it called to minors or in areas where there are still blue laws.

uthor

I'm betting whatever process is used to make the beer results in alcohol being produced and it would be too costly to get it to 0%. The 0.5% is probably higher than what is actually in there, but they're erring on the side of caution. Don't want to say you're alcohol free and find out there's a tiny bit in there.

uthor

Seems like the process includes fermenting, then removing the alcohol.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low-alcohol_beer

Rob

You've got to brew it like beer if you want it to taste like beer. The brewing process inevitably creates alcohol so the alcohol is removed from low or non-alcoholic beer through heating it. Removing alcohol is an expense and affects quality. Since 0.5% is low enough for it to avoid being treated as an a alcoholic beverage in most states they stop there.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_free_beer#Brewing_process

Derek

I looked this up recently as a friend was drinking "near beer" and I was curious about how it was made. I think the key line in Wikipedia is this: "In 1919 Congress approved the Volstead Act, which limited the alcohol content of any beverage to less than 0.5%." This has since become the standard for de-alcoholized beer. It is as far as they need to take the process for it to be salable as such, although there may be other reasons (as you note) such as taste or being classed as a beer. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De-alcoholized_beer)

Ben

I believe it has to do with production.

If it is made like similar beers in Germany, the beer brewed "normally" and the alcohol filtered out in a second step.

Since it is almost impossible to remove all the alcohol a certain amount remains and is listed on the label.

Andy

Safe to share with the kids, maybe?
Or okay to serve to Muslim and Mormon guests?

Ahmed El Safty

The attraction of the ability to drink and drive?

Andy O.

From Wikipedia -- low-alcohol beer enjoys selling opportunities due to favorable legal status in many countries.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low-alcohol_beer

Lindsay Haddy

It's made just like real beer to get the taste, then the alcohol is removed. It must just be impossible to remove 100%.

Vincent

I have been active in craft brew for some time and I have found people that consume low alcohol beer tend to have health issues causing them to only be able to safely drink small amounts. In fact there are people in my brew club who brew no alcohol beer. They actually go through the entire process of making it then boil the alcohol off.

Pat McGee

1) Many chemicals that won't dissolve in water will dissolve in alcohol. 2) Many of those chemicals have interesting tastes.

Which leads to one of the biggest reasons why we have alcoholic beverages: they taste different and often better.

Martin Smith

Because it is cheaper to make low alcoholic beers, vs zero alcohol beer?

Jeff B

NA Beers can have up to 0.5% ABV in them and sold without age or other alcohol restrictions. I don't know about this specific beer. But NA beers are often fermented beers to a low ABV that is still higher than 0.5% where exactly I don't know but I'd estimate in the 2.5-3.5% ABV range. Then once the beer is fermented it undergoes a vacuum distillation process to remove most of the alcohol but leaves most of the beer character.

Bart

All natural alcoholic beverages are made by fermentation of some type of fruit or grain. Fermentation of sugar forms ethanol. For non-alcoholic drinks the alcohol is taken out. Highly concentrated beverages (spirits, e.g. Whiskey, Vodka, Gin) are distilled so that the ethanol boils out of the fermentation mixture. Some of the chemicals present in the grain also distill wish the alcohol, giving the spirit its characteristic flavor. There are a few beverages where alcohol is added back in (like port) but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Average.Random.Joe

Why drink 2% or 1% milk when there is fat-free or full-fat options? Why drink a 10 calorie soda when there are 0 calorie or regular options? My guess is that the taste is closer to the real thing but with less impact of the negative side effects, whether those are legal or health related. This would be for the low alcohol. The 0% would be the fat-free, sugar free options.

Geoff Worden

In the world of wine, there are non-alcohol wines, essentially just grape juice (which taste very little like real wine) and there are de-alcoholized versions which are much closer to the real thing. They use reverse osmosis (http://www.arielvineyards.com/our_process.html) they remove most of the alcohol. I would imagine the same basic thing happens with beer. Otherwise it won't taste "right." Having a trace amount remaining won't get you tipsy but it eliminates people who don't drink alcohol because of religion or personal morality.