What is non-alcoholic beer?

Non-alcoholic, alcohol free, alkoholfrei, low alcohol, de-alcoholised……………there’s a lot of different names out there – I’m confused!!

I thought I’d get the lingo out of the way first. It’s a minefield and really doesn’t help the category make itself clear but a lot of this is caused by regulation. The first thing to know is that none of these terms mean the drink has zero alcohol in it. Every country has a limit below which a certain term can be used; for example, in Europe anything 0.5% and below can be called alcohol-free, whereas here in the UK it needs to be below 0.05% to have that on the label.

At first you might think that labels, therefore, are misleading: how can they be called alcohol-free if they have alcohol in them? Well, allowances are needed because alcohol is naturally occurring and many everyday foodstuffs have alcohol in them, such as fresh fruit, yoghurt, bread and vinegar. Some orange juices have up to 0.3% alcohol! Research has shown that you can’t get even remotely drunk from drinking 0.5% beer, even if you tried, and that 0.5% beer does no physiological harm to our bodies.

Ok, so what are the regulations then? Well, the UK regulations have a few different levels:

• Below 1.2% can be called low alcohol;
• Below 0.5% can be called de-alcoholised;
• Below 0.05% can be called alcohol free

In addition, non-alcoholic cannot be used with any words associated with alcoholic equivalents, for example ‘beer’, except for wine used for communion.
So, in theory that means anything between 0.05% and 0.5% must be called de-alcoholised. Simple, right? Well, there’s even a problem with that because although 0.5% beers used to be created by taking the alcohol out of regular beer (by boiling it, that’s why they all used to taste disgusting – yuck!) ) most that taste nice aren’t made this way anymore. So, if we call them de-alcoholised we’d be within the law but telling porky pies. If we call them non-alcoholic, we’re outside the law. There you have it…….clear as mud.

For wine and spirits its is even more punitive: a drink can only be called ‘wine’ if it is over 8%, otherwise it has to be called a ‘wine-based product’. As for low-alcohol spirits, they cannot even refer to ‘vodka’, ‘gin’ etc at all.
One thing is clear, however, which is here at Sobersauce we will only ever supply beers with 0.5% or less alcohol in them. Given the quality and size of range we won’t be doing any 0.0%-only boxes anytime soon but you’ll get the odd one in there. Whatever the definition and regulations, there is now a whole world of great-tasting, healthy craft beers out there. If you haven’t already, why not join Sobersauce and find out.

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