Beers labelled as “0.0%” are now a staple of supermarket shelves and are sometimes available on draught in certain pubs and bars. Not a beverage of choice in the past, non-alcoholic beer has now become a drink that people really enjoy. It goes without saying that the taste of it has certainly improved over the years. The alcohol-free beer market is very different now to what it was a few years ago. The very sweet and flavoured alternatives, which were quite similar to soft drinks, have now been replaced with beverages that combine the bitterness, freshness and taste qualities commonly attributed to beer.
A general trend
An alternative to regular beer that resonates with lager and ale drinkers. The alcohol-free beer market may still be quite small, but with consumer demand soaring, the sector is growing rapidly at a compound annual growth rate of 7.4%1. No-alcohol volumes represented 1.8% of the total beer volumes sold in Europe in 2013; a figure that went up to 3.8% in 20192. The non-alcoholic beer market is set to exceed 22 billion dollars by 20263.
This trend is likely to continue for some time as demand grows among younger consumers, i.e. millennials and gen Zs4. There are obvious reasons why people choose non-alcoholic beer over regular beer, including medical conditions, religious beliefs, driving responsibilities, or simply to keep a clear head at work. But people are also concerned about how drinking affects their health and well-being, hence why they prefer a no-alcohol, healthier alternative with fewer calories. This is particularly the case during Dry January, as more and more people take on the 30-day alcohol-free challenge every year. Lastly, alcohol-free beer is becoming a firm favourite among an increasing number of beer lovers. Why? Because they like the taste of it!
The know-how of craft brewers
There is a technical explanation as to why the quality of non-alcoholic beer has improved in the last few years. “The first alcohol-free brews tasted like unfermented wort, which we know doesn’t offer the same levels of taste and freshness”, says Gilles Goemaere, Technical Sales Support Manager at Fermentis by Lesaffre. “But microbrewers have drawn on their know-how and expertise to create craft beers that almost taste like regular beer.”
Two key production methods
Let’s take a look at the different ways to make alcohol-free beer to understand how microbrewers have come to develop their expertise. There are two popular methods used. The first one involves removing alcohol from traditionally fermented beer, e.g. through evaporation (or vacuum distillation), a process used by larger breweries. The major beer manufacturers generally add some aromas to the beer to recreate a final “bouquet” very similar to the brand’s flagship product. But this type of beer is expensive to make. There is an extra step in the production process and the equipment used to remove the alcohol is costly to buy. Unable to afford these extra costs, craft breweries have taken a different approach and focus instead on the selection of raw materials and fermenting microorganisms. To support them, Fermentis by Lesaffre, a BU that specialises in alcoholic fermentation, has selected the ideal yeast for the production of non-alcoholic beer. “We’ve developed the Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. chevalieri, a yeast that does not assimilate maltose and maltotriose but assimilates simple sugars such as glucose, fructose and sucrose. Craft brewers can use this strain knowing they will be able to lower the amount of alcohol, explains Philippe Janssens, R&D Manager – Beer & Brewing. The yeast strain can help to produce low-alcohol beverages with aromas similar to those in regular beer, and free of off-flavours. While non-alcoholic beer gets its nice flavour from fermentation, brewers can use other ingredients, such as hops or malt, to create their own signature.
Fermentis’ yeast, SafBrew™ LA-01, works like dry yeast. “Brewers start by making their wort less dense, after which they add the yeast and obtain a low-alcohol beer in a fairly short time that can be consumed almost immediately. Since less than 20% of the wort’s fermentable sugars are fermented by yeast, the beer produced has considerably less alcohol with very much the same starter wort,” adds Gilles Goemaere.
A more challenging beer-making process
There are some difficulties brewers have to overcome to make a tasty alcohol-free brew. For example, residual unfermented sugars are still present in non-alcoholic beers after the yeast fermentation process is complete. A final pasteurisation stage is thus required to guarantee the stability and shelf life of beer, and eliminate microbiological spoilage. Alcohol-free beer also tends to “age” faster because it has less alcohol and the compounds remaining in the matrix are particularly sensitive to oxidation. Any off-flavour will be immediately detected, so brewers need to be mindful of these constraints and “mask” certain notes that may appear over time.
Alcohol-free beer has a bright future ahead
Advances in technology and innovation are constantly leading the way to new discoveries on the selection, benefits and combination of microorganisms that can be used to produce low-alcohol beer. They give brewers the opportunity to create plenty of different aromas and offer a wide variety of alcohol-free brews. “This is just the beginning,” says Philippe Janssens. “Brewers will continue to improve the quality of their products, and the market of non-alcoholic beers will expand more and more in the coming years.”
Is Non-Alcoholic Beer Really Alcohol-Free?
Not all the alcohol can be removed during the production process. Most beers labelled as “alcohol-free” or “0.0%” that are available on the market today actually contain a very small amount of alcohol. In France, beers labelled as “alcohol-free” can contain no more than 1.2% alcohol by volume (ABV). In the United States, beers must contain no more than 0.5% ABV. Legislation is stricter in the UK – “alcohol-free” beer should have no more than 0.05% ABV.
A Mocktail Made With Lime, Pineapple and Non-alcoholic Beer
Here is a recipe for a fresh and fruity mocktail made with alcohol-free beer.
- 170 ml (6 fl. oz) of non-alcoholic beer
- 220 ml (7.7 fl. oz) of pure pineapple juice
- Juice of one lime
- Sugar syrup
How to make it
- Pour the beer, the pineapple juice and the lime juice in a glass.
- Add sirop to taste.
- Garnish with a slice of pineapple or lime and serve immediately.
1 Non-Alcoholic Beer Market Report-Industry Forecast 2026
2 Non‐alcoholic beer in the European Union and UK : Availability and apparent consumption, Drug and Alcohol Review, December 2021.
3 Non-Alcoholic Beer Market Report-Industry Forecast 2026
4 Key Trends Driving the Global Beverage Alcohol Industry in 2022