Low-alcohol beer

Low-alcohol beer is beer with little or no alcohol content and aims to reproduce the taste of beer while eliminating (or at least reducing) the inebriating effects of standard alcoholic brews. Most low-alcohol beers are lagers, but there are some low-alcohol ales. Low-alcohol beer is also known as light beer, non-alcoholic beer, small beer, small ale, or near-beer.

Examples of zero-alcohol beer in Iran. As per sharia law, purchasing and consuming alcoholic drinks is prohibited in the country.


Low-alcoholic brews such as small beer date back at least to medieval Europe, where they served as a less risky alternative to water (which often was polluted by feces and parasites) and were less expensive than the full strength brews used at festivals.

More recently, the temperance movements and the need to avoid alcohol while driving, operating machinery, taking certain medications, etc. led to the development of non-intoxicating beers.

In the United States, according to John Naleszkiewicz, non-alcoholic brews were promoted during Prohibition. In 1917, President Wilson proposed limiting the alcohol content of malt beverages to 2.75% to try to appease avid prohibitionists. In 1919, Congress approved the Volstead Act, which limited the alcohol content of all beverages to 0.5%. These very-low-alcohol beverages became known as tonics, and many breweries began brewing them in order to stay in business during Prohibition. Since removing the alcohol from the beer requires just one simple extra step, many breweries saw it as an easy change. In 1933, when Prohibition was repealed, breweries simply omitted this extra step.[1]

By the 1980s and 1990s, growing concerns about alcoholism led to the growing popularity of "light" beers. In the 2010s, breweries have focused on marketing low-alcohol beers to counter the popularity of homebrew. Declining consumption has also led to the introduction of mass-market non-alcoholic beverages, dubbed "near beer". Low-alcohol and alcohol-free bars and pubs have also been established to cater for drinkers of non-alcoholic beverages, such as Scottish brewer BrewDog's London bar, which opened in early 2020.[2]

In the UK, the introduction of a lower rate of beer duty for low-strength beer (of 2.8% ABV or less) in October 2011[3] spurred many small brewers to revive old styles of small beer and create higher-hopped craft beers at the lower alcohol level to be able to lower the cost of their beer to consumers.

At the start of the 21st century, alcohol-free beer has seen a rise in popularity in the Middle East (which now makes up a third of the market).[4] One reason for this is that Islamic scholars issued fatawa which permitted the consumption of beer as long as large quantities could be consumed without getting drunk.[5] In the United States by 2022 craft hop water IPAs (“H2OPS”) had become a market unto itself, with one Southern California brewer regarding it as not being beer at all.[6]

Pros and cons

Positive features of non-alcoholic brews include the ability to drive after consuming several drinks, the reduction in alcohol-related illness, and less severe hangover symptoms.[7] Low-alcohol and alcohol-free beers are usually lower in calories than equivalent full-strength beers.[8]

Some common complaints about non-alcoholic brews include a loss of flavor, addition of one step in the brewing process, sugary taste, and a shorter shelf life. There are also legal implications. Some state governments, e.g. Pennsylvania, prohibit the sale of non-alcoholic brews to persons under the age of 21. A study conducted by the department of psychology at Indiana University said, "Because non-alcoholic beer provides sensory cues that simulate alcoholic beer, this beverage may be more effective than other placebos in contributing to a credible manipulation of expectancies to receive alcohol",[9] making people feel "drunk" when physically they are not.

There is little to no research on consequences of drinking such products in pregnancy, but as they may contain trace amounts of alcohol, in rare cases even higher than 1% (despite labelling as 0%), most doctors advice against drinking non-alcoholic brews during pregnancy.[10]


In the United States, beverages containing less than 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) were legally called non-alcoholic, according to the now-defunct Volstead Act. Because of its very low alcohol content, non-alcoholic beer may be legally sold to people under age 21 in many American states.

In the United Kingdom, Government guidance recommends the following descriptions for "alcohol substitute" drinks including alcohol-free beer. The use of these descriptions is voluntary:[11][12]

  • No alcohol or alcohol-free: not more than 0.05% ABV
  • Dealcoholized: over 0.05% but less than 0.5% ABV
  • Low-alcohol: not more than 1.2% ABV

In some parts of the European Union, beer must contain no more than 0.5% ABV if it is labelled "alcohol-free".

In Australia, the term "light beer" refers to any beer with less than 3.5% alcohol.

Light beer

Light beers are beers with reduced caloric content compared to regular beer, and typically also have a lower alcoholic content, depending on the brand and where they are sold. The spelling "lite beer" is also commonly used. Light beers are manufactured by reducing the carbohydrate content, and secondarily by reducing the alcohol content, since both carbohydrates and alcohol contribute to the caloric content of beer.[13]

Light beers are marketed primarily to drinkers who wish to manage their calorie intake. However, these beers are sometimes criticized for being less flavorful than full-strength beers, being "watered down" (whether in perception or in fact), and thus advertising campaigns for light beers generally advertise their retention of flavor.[13]

In Australia, regular beers have approximately 4%-5% ABV, while reduced-alcohol beers have 2.2%–3.2%.[14]

In Canada, a reduced-alcohol beer contains 2.6%–4.0% ABV, and an "extra-light" beer contains less than 2.5%.[15]

In the United States, most mass-market light beer brands, including Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite, have 4.2% ABV, less than ordinary beers from the same makers which are 5% ABV.[13]

In Sweden, low alcohol beer is either 2.2%, 2.8% or 3.5%, and can be purchased in an ordinary supermarket whereas normal strength beers of above 3.5% must be purchased at Systembolaget. Beer containing 2.8-3.5% ABV (called Folköl or "Peoples' Beer") may be legally sold in any convenience store to people over 18 years of age, whereas stronger beer may only be sold in state-run liquor stores to people older than 20. In addition, businesses selling food for on-premises consumption do not need an alcohol license to serve 3.5% beer. Virtually all major Swedish brewers, and several international ones, in addition to their full-strength beer, make 3.5% folköl versions as well. Beer below or equaling 2.25% ABV (lättöl) is not legally subject to age restrictions;[16] however, some stores voluntarily opt out from selling it to minors anyway.[17]

Low-point beer

Low-point beer, which is often known in the United States as "three-two beer" or "3 point 2 brew", is beer that contains 3.2% alcohol by weight (equivalent to about 4% ABV).

The term "low-point beer" is unique to the United States, where some states limit the sale of beer, but beers of this type are also available in countries (such as Sweden and Finland) that tax or otherwise regulate beer according to its alcohol content.

In the United States, 3.2 beer was the highest alcohol content beer allowed to be produced legally for nine months in 1933. As part of his New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Cullen–Harrison Act that repealed the Volstead Act on March 22, 1933. In December 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed, negating the federal government's power to regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages, though states retained the power to regulate.[18]

After the repeal of Prohibition, a number of state laws prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquors remained in effect. As these were repealed, they were first replaced by laws limiting the maximum alcohol content allowed for sale as 3.2 ABW. As of 2019, the state of Minnesota permits general establishments such as supermarket chains and convenience stores to sell only low-point beer; in the 2010s, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Utah revised state laws to end this practice.[19][20][21][22][23] In those states that maintain these laws, all alcoholic beverages containing more than 3.2% alcohol by weight (ABW) must be sold from state-licensed liquor stores.

Missouri also has a legal classification for low-point beer, which it calls "nonintoxicating beer".[24] Unlike Minnesota and Utah, Missouri does not limit supermarket chains and convenience stores to selling only low-point beer. Instead, Missouri's alcohol laws permit grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations, and even "general merchandise stores" (a term that Missouri law does not define) to sell any alcoholic beverage;[25] consequently, 3.2% beer is rarely sold in Missouri.

Near beer

Tourtel, a near-beer which has 0.4% ABV

Originally, "near beer" was a term for malt beverages containing little or no alcohol (less than 0.5% ABV), which were mass-marketed during Prohibition in the United States. Near beer could not legally be labeled as "beer" and was officially classified as a "cereal beverage".[26] The public, however, almost universally called it "near beer".

The most popular "near beer" was Bevo, brewed by the Anheuser-Busch company. The Pabst company brewed "Pablo", Miller brewed "Vivo", and Schlitz brewed "Famo". Many local and regional breweries stayed in business by marketing their own near-beers. By 1921, production of near beer had reached over 300 million US gallons (1 billion L) a year (36 L/s).

A popular illegal practice was to add alcohol to near beer. The resulting beverage was known as spiked beer or needle beer,[27] so called because a needle was used to inject alcohol through the cork of the bottle or keg.

Food critic and writer Waverley Root described the common American near beer as "such a wishy-washy, thin, ill-tasting, discouraging sort of slop that it might have been dreamed up by a Puritan Machiavelli with the intent of disgusting drinkers with genuine beer forever."[28]

In the early 2010s, major breweries began experimenting with mass-market non-alcoholic beers to counter with declining alcohol consumption amid growing preference for craft beer, launching beverages like Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser Prohibition Brew, launched in 2016.

A drink similar to "near beer", "bjórlíki" was quite popular in Iceland before alcoholic beer was made legal in 1989. The Icelandic variant normally consisted of a shot of vodka added to a half-a-litre glass of light beer.

Small beer

Small beer (also, small ale) is a beer/ale that contains very little alcohol. Sometimes unfiltered and porridge-like, it was a favored drink in Medieval Europe and colonial North America as opposed to the often polluted water and the expensive beer used for festivities. Small beer was also produced in households for consumption by children and servants.

However, small beer/small ale can also refer to a beer made of the "second runnings" from a very strong beer (e.g., scotch ale) mash. These beers can be as strong as a mild ale, depending on the strength of the original mash. (Drake's 24th Anniversary Imperial Small Beer was expected to reach above 9.5% abv.[29]) This was done as an economy measure in household brewing in England up to the 18th century and is still done by some homebrewers. One commercial brewery, San Francisco's Anchor Brewing Company, also produces their Anchor Small Beer using the second runnings from their Old Foghorn Barleywine. The term is also used derisively for commercially produced beers which are thought to taste too weak.

Non-alcoholic beer

A can of non-alcoholic beer from the Austrian brewery Gösser.

Arab world

The Middle East accounts for almost a third of worldwide sales of nonalcoholic and alcohol-free beer.[5]


The market for nonalcoholic beer in Malaysia has been slow in comparison to other Muslim-majority countries, and as of 2015, the Malaysian government has not approved any nonalcoholic beers as halal.[30]


In 2008, the sale of non-alcoholic beers in Iran continued its high performance with double-digit growth rates in both value and volume and is expected to more than double its total volume sales between 2008 and 2013.[31]


Non alcoholic beer sales in India are relatively low.

North America

North America is seeing a rise in non-alcoholic beer consumption. Former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Mike Pence are known to drink non-alcoholic beer.[32]


Spain is the main consumer and producer of low-alcohol beer in the European Union.[33]

United Kingdom

As of March 2020, sales of alcohol-free beer are up by 30% since 2016, with younger generations shunning alcoholic beverages.[34]

Craft non-alcoholic beer

With the global non-alcoholic beer market expected to double by 2024 from the level in 2018,[35] there had been an increase in breweries producing the product. As more people had leaned towards non-alcoholic beverages for health reasons, social reasons, or just because they wanted to enjoy the taste of beer without the effects of alcohol, companies were producing beers that catered to these audiences.[36]


Craft non-alcoholic beer rose in early 2018, as beer companies slowed down on trying to put as high of an ABV% in their brews as possible, and started producing more sessionable beers. Some beers that are still classified as "alcoholic" can have an ABV of as low as 2.4%, and the companies producing these were still seeing sales as of 2019.[37]

With a growing health conscious market segment, breweries began to produce craft non-alcoholic beers with as little as 10 calories per can, so that those who crave a taste resembling beer can fulfil some of their cravings without breaking their health resolutions.

Beers that are labeled "non-alcoholic" still contain a very small amount of alcohol. Thus, some US states require the purchaser to be of a legal drinking age. Exceptions include:

  • In Texas, the law does not prohibit minors from consuming or buying non-alcoholic beer, but the law does specify that a beverage containing more than 0.5% ABV is an alcoholic beverage and thus will follow the same restrictions as regular beer.[38]
  • In Minnesota, non-alcoholic beer (less than 0.5% ABV) does not fit in the category that the state defines as an alcoholic beverage and can be purchased by those under the legal drinking age.[39]
  • In Wisconsin, the law does not regulate non-alcoholic beer (less than 0.5% ABV), and it can be purchased without any age restriction.
  • In New Jersey, the law governs only beverages of at least 0.5% ABV.
  • In Illinois, beverages with under 0.5% ABV are not governed by the Illinois Liquor Control Act and can be purchased and consumed by minors.[40]
  • In the District of Columbia, the District's alcohol laws apply to all beverages and food products that have 0.5% ABV or higher. Beverages below 0.5% ABV are not covered by the laws that ABRA regulates; therefore, a beverage with less than 0.5% ABV may purchased by a person under the age of 21. The laws and regulations that ABRA administers does not reference products carrying the label of "non-alcoholic beverage."
  • In Alaska, "...non-alcoholic beer and wine (containing less than 0.5% alcohol by volume) are not considered alcoholic beverages. Legally, non-alcoholic beer and wine are no different than coffee, tea, or soft drinks."[41]
  • In Hawaii, Hawaii State Liquor Law §281-101.5(b) states "No minor shall consume or purchase liquor and no minor shall consume or have liquor in the minor's possession..." In the "Liquor Laws of Hawaii" under §281-1 "Definitions", Liquor is defined as "…containing one-half of one per cent or more of alcohol by volume…"

Production process

According to the Birmingham Beverage Company, the brewing process of traditional brews consists of eight basic steps, nine for brewing non-alcoholic brews.[42]

  1. Malting Barley is prepared by soaking it in water and allowing the grain to germinate or "sprout". This allows the tough starch molecules to be softened and begin conversion to sugars. Next, the sprouts are dried in a kiln; the temperature at which the sprouts are dried will affect the flavor of the finished brew.
  2. Milling Next the malted grain is ground to a cornmeal-like consistency, which allows the sugars and remaining starches to be more easily released when mixed with water.
  3. Mashing The finely-ground malted grain is mixed with water and pulverized. By pulverizing the slurry, most of the remaining starches are converted to sugars due to enzymes present in the malt, and the sugars then dissolve into the water. The mix is gradually heated to 75 °C (167 °F) in what is called a mash tun. The slurry is then filtered to remove the majority of particulates. This filtered sugary liquid is called "wort".
  4. Brewing The wort is brought to a boil for roughly 1–2 hours. During this time, other grains that will contribute flavor, color, and aroma to the brew are added. Boiling allows several chemical reactions to occur and reduces the water content in the wort, condensing it.
  5. Cooling The wort is filtered to remove the majority of the grains and hops and then immediately cooled to allow the yeast to survive and grow in the next step.
  6. Fermenting The cooled wort is saturated with air, and yeast is added in the fermentation tank. Different strains of yeast will create different styles of beer. This step takes around ten days.
  7. Maturation The freshly fermented uncarbonated beer is placed into a conditioning tank and, in a similar process to wine making, is allowed to age. If this step is rushed the beer will have an off flavor (acetaldehyde) that beer experts sometimes refer to as "green beer" because of its resemblance to green apples.[43][44] During this process of aging, the majority of the residual particulates will settle to the bottom of the tank.
    * Between the seventh and eighth steps, the brew can be converted to non-alcoholic beer.
  8. Finishing Finally, the brewer is ready to finish the beer. The beer is filtered one last time; it is then carbonated and moved into a storage tank for either bottling or kegging.

Low- and non-alcohol beer starts out as regular alcoholic beer, which is then processed to remove the alcohol.

Older processes simply heat the beer to evaporate most of the alcohol. Since alcohol is more volatile than water, as the beer is heated alcohol boils off first. The alcohol is allowed to escape and the remaining liquid becomes the product, essentially the opposite of the process used to make distilled beverages. Most modern breweries utilize vacuum evaporation to reduce the boiling temperature and maintain flavor. In essence, the beer is placed under a light vacuum to facilitate the alcohol molecules going into the gaseous phase. If a sufficient vacuum is applied, it is not necessary to "cook" the beer at a temperature that destroys the flavor. Some heat must nevertheless be supplied to counter the heat lost to enthalpy of vaporization.

A more modern alternative process uses reverse osmosis to avoid heating the product at all. Under pressure, the beer is passed through a polymeric filter with pores small enough that only alcohol and water (and a few volatile acids) can pass through. A syrupy mixture of complex carbohydrates and most of the flavor compounds are retained by the filter. Alcohol is distilled out of the filtered alcohol-water mix using conventional distillation methods. Adding the water and remaining acids back into the syrup left behind on the filter completes the process.[45][1] Sometimes beer is simply diluted with water to give the desired alcohol level.[13] Once the alcohol is removed, one proceeds with the normal finishing process in which the beer is carbonated and bottled.

Newer techniques for making 0.5% non-alcoholic beer would include using special low-sugar grains, yeast which converts less sugar to alcohol or removing sugar from the wort pre-fermentation. These, in addition to limited fermentation, whereby the fermentation process is stopped early, enable craft brewers to produce a 0.5% beer without the expense of having to dealcoholize a beer.[46]


Example of Heineken 0.0%

Many low-alcohol beer brands incorporate the colour blue into the packaging design, including Becks Blue, Heineken 0.0%, Ožujsko Cool and Erdinger Alkoholfrei.

See also


  1. Naleszkiewicz, John (October 1995). "Low alcohol beer". Brew Your Own.
  2. "BrewDog Opens Its First Alcohol-Free Bar". InsideHook. Archived from the original on 2020-03-02. Retrieved 2020-03-02.
  3. Leicester, Andrew (2011). Alcohol pricing and taxation policies. IFS Briefing Note BN124 (PDF). London: Institute for Fiscal Studies. p. 1.
  4. The Economist explains: "Why are sales of non-alcoholic beer booming?"
  5. The Economist: "Sin-Free Ale"
  6. Goldfarb, Aaron (25 August 2022). "Don't Care for Non-Alcoholic Beer? Try This Zero-Calorie, Full-Flavored Alternative". Wall Street Journal via www.wsj.com.
  7. Helmenstine, Anne. "Hangover Remedies and Prevention". Retrieved 2011-11-30.
  8. "Compare Calories of Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic Beers". 14 September 2020. Retrieved 2020-09-29.
  9. Agley, Jonathan. "non-alcoholic beer". Indiana Prevention Resource Center.
  10. Adiong, John Patrick; Kim, Eunji; Koren, Gideon; Bozzo, Pina (August 2014). "Consuming non-alcoholic beer and other beverages during pregnancy and breastfeeding". Canadian Family Physician. 60 (8): 724–725. ISSN 0008-350X. PMC 4131961. PMID 25122816.
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  12. "What Is Meant By Alcohol-Free? | The Alcohol-Free Community". Alcoholfree.co.uk. 23 January 2021.
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  14. Bucher, Tamara; Deroover, Kristine; Stockley, Creina (1 November 2018). "Low-Alcohol Wine: A Narrative Review on Consumer Perception and Behaviour". Beverages. 4 (4): 82. doi:10.3390/beverages4040082.
  15. "Brewers Association of Canada: A Field Guide to Canadian Beer". Archived from the original on 2009-05-28. Retrieved 2009-09-08.
  16. "Alkohollag (2010:1622) | Lagen.nu". lagen.nu.
  17. "30-åring med pappa nekades lättöl". Aftonbladet.
  18. Ogle, Maureen (7 April 2008). "The day the beer flowed again". Los Angeles Times.
  19. Brand, William (14 July 2005). "Letters: Alcohol Labels for Consumers". What’s On Tap – The California Craft Beer Newsletter. Archived from the original on 2007-10-12.
  20. "USATODAY.com - What's up with Utah's liquor laws?". USA Today.
  21. "Getting to the bottom of Minnesota's liquor laws". Archived from the original on 2010-02-26.
  22. "The End Is Near For 3.2 Beer". NPR.
  23. "Guv signs off, so Utah's 3.2 beer law is on its way out. Stronger brews will be in grocery stores Nov. 1". Salt Lake Tribune. 26 March 2019.
  24. Chapter 312, Revised Statutes of Missouri (R.S.Mo.)
  25. Section 311.200, R.S.Mo.
  26. "Kansas Department of Revenue - About the Department". www.ksrevenue.gov. Archived from the original on 2007-01-17.
  27. "We Want Beer: National Prohibition, Part 1".
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  29. "Drake's Brewing Co. reveals 24th and 25th anniversary beers". BeerPulse. August 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-06.
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  31. "Alcoholic Drinks in Iran". Euromonitor.com. Retrieved 2011-07-12.
  32. Peyser, Eve. Non-Alcoholic Beer Is for Everyone Now—Yes, Even You Esquire, JUL 18, 2019.
  33. RTVE.es/SINC (3 November 2014). "Consiguen extraer aromas de la cerveza con alcohol para mejorar el sabor de la 'sin'".
  34. BBC (12 March 2020). "'Nolo beer' sales rocket thanks to young teetotallers". BBC News.
  35. Global Market Insights, Inc (20 March 2018). "Worldwide Non-alcoholic Beer Market worth over $ 25 billion by 2024: Global Market Insights, Inc". GlobeNewswire News Room. Retrieved 2019-06-11.
  36. Pomranz, Mike (4 January 2019). "Is 2019 the Year of Non-Alcoholic Beer?". Food & Wine. Archived from the original on 2019-06-11. Retrieved 2019-06-11.
  37. Bernot, Kate (2 November 2018). "How Low-Alcohol Beers Became Brewing's Next Big Thing". Thrillist. Retrieved 2019-06-12.
  38. "APIS - Underage Drinking: Possession/Consumption/Internal Possession of Alcohol". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2010-08-11.
  39. "2011 Minnesota Statutes". Minnesota Office of the Revisor of statutes. Retrieved 2012-09-11.
  40. "Illinois Legal Aid Online". www.illinoislegalaid.org.
  41. "Alcoholic Beverage FAQ". The Great State of Alaska.
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  44. "Common Off-Flavors - How to Brew". howtobrew.com.
  45. Horn, Jason (4 April 2007). "How Are Nonalcoholic Beer and Wine Made?". Chowhound. Retrieved 2022-01-03.
  46. "Does Non Alcoholic Beer Taste The Same? Plus the best ones to try. -". Opening The Bottle. 4 January 2022. Retrieved 2022-01-11.
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