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?



Alfredo Faubel

Alcohol causes not only people to do strange things... Public entities with authority to tax also act in bizarre and sometimes absurd ways.
In the US in particular, over 20.000 regulations exist governing alcohol production, distribution, marketing, selling, etc. This is a patchwork resulting from the abolition of prohibition some 80 years ago, and the "multilevel" approach to regulation, where federal, state, and even county have a say (and a take). In some states in order for a beer distributor to carry a beverage it must actually have alcohol, so a token minimum is added, e.g. to a soda.
Ironically though, in the US beers are not required - yet - to show their alcohol content!

Now, the picture shows a Sainsbury label and a metric size bottle; so it is not marketed in the US, and British/European labeling rules are quite different.

The token 0.5% alcohol is either:
a) a marketing/positioning need, e.g. to position this as an adult beverage
b) an economic choice, as removing the last .5% of the alcohol costs more than the first 3%
c) a taste enhancer, believe it or not, alcohol does impart "taste" (nose) even in small amounts
d) a combination of all of the above

Enjoy it !!



To produce "alcohol-free" beer, first a normal beer is produced. Then, before carbonation, the alcohol is boiled off (or may be removed by vacuum, a process that isn't as harsh to the beer). Since you can't boil all the alcohol off, a slight bit will always remain. I believe it has to be 0.5% or below to meet the legal definition of "near beer". You are correct, producing a "near beer" adds to production cost but the cost is in removing the alcohol, not adding it.

John Peschken

Some people actually like the taste of beer, but ar enot that fond of getting drunk. I count myself in that group. We have a somewhat stronger version here in Minnesota that is 3.2% alcohol or less that can be sold in grocery stores.

In my opinion the 3.2% tastes considerably better than the 0% beers made by the same brewers. Maybe .5% does make a difference in taste.


As pointed out it's difficult and expensive to remove all alcohol from a fermented product although I would have thought that it's possible to get below 0.5% without a huge amount of trouble.

So perhaps its a compromise between cost and taste. On the grounds of taste, alcohol free beer is able to compete taste-wise on the front of the tongue but once it hits the back of tongue on its way down it becomes very apparent that something is missing. This will be down to a variety of things but a key component of that taste is the alcohol. Perhaps the small amount of alcohol helps improve this.


My husband worked in the Netherlands for the marines for a year. He liked the taste of some local low alcohol beer. One day he went into a corner store to buy some beer and the female cashier giggled. She said the low alcohol beer he was buying in particular was for pregnant women.

caleb b

On occassions, I've used NA beers to provide natural speed bumps to my own drunkeness. The issue i have is Drunk Caleb wants to start slamming beers to become Biligerent Caleb. So to keep that guy away, Drunk Caleb will throw in a few NA beers so he still gets the sensation of slamming beers, but doesn't morph into Biligerent Caleb -> who has now wakes up as Extremely Hung Over Caleb as i get older.

Darren Amos

or perhaps some people just want to look a little manly without ending up in hospital?!


I think the bigger question is why someone who encounters an apparent "mystery" would write a blog post about it without taking thirty seconds or so to see if there is an obvious answer on wikipedia:

Vaibhav Sagar

Maybe the cost of removing that last 0.5% is prohibitive?


Historically, beer (and wine, for that matter) has been much lower-strength than it is today. For example, traditional farmhouse Saisson was around 3% abv, but the modern brew is around 7%.

The historic purpose of alcohol is partly the buzz, but partly because it was safer than drinking water right out of a natural water source. The yeast out-competes any bacteria in the mix, and the alcohol and carbon dioxide probably helps too. There's a similar argument for coffee and tea: yes, there's a caffeine buzz, but also you boil the water.

As water supplies became safer, alcohol increased in strength, as it became more about the "buzz".

Ed S

In 2009 there was trouble in Maine when a British soda with 0.3% alcohol was consumed in a high school.

Then in 2010 there was trouble with alcohol in kombucha:

The alcohol is the result of uncompensated labor of the yeast. Since the yeast are making it for free, and it would cost money to remove it, why not keep it in?

Joe L

In some places, the alcohol content dictates where the product can be sold. As I understand, in Oklahoma, "near beer" is available cold in grocery or convenience stores, but beer at 3.2% alcohol or higher must be purchased at room temperature in liquor stores. In NY, liquor stores can't sell non-alcoholic beverages. The Jose Cuervo margarita mixer you buy there has a little bit of alcohol in it. To buy cherries you must buy them swimming in booze.

Thus, another potential reason for alcohol content is sourcing.


It used to be called small beer here in the UK many years ago and everyone drank it, including children.
Safer than drinking the water