Introduction to Non-Alcoholic Beer

It’s called low-alcohol beer, or non-alcoholic beer, or small beer, or light beer, or near beer… In addition, the definition differs from country to country: In the United States, non-alcoholic beverages contain less than 0.5% ABV; In the United Kingdom, they contain no more than 0.05% (beers with less than 0.5% are called “dealcoholized”); in the European Union, the rate must be lower than or equal to 1.2%; in Australia, a “light beer” contains less than 3%; etc.

Although many people consider low-alcohol beers tasteless or less virile, or even swampwater, these beers are attracting more and more drinkers. It’s a real boom in Spain (60% of consumers), a success in Japan, the US, and Germany, but remains still quite marginal in France, Britain and Sweden.

In Germany, brewers sold 480 million liters of alcohol-free beer in 2013 — a 12% increase over one year. Among these currently much-discussed beers, I naturally chose a craft one to see what they’re like. This Weissbier Alkoholfrei is produced by Schäffler Bräu (Missen-Wilhams, Bavaria), founded in 1868.

My question was simple: Can alcohol-free beer really be good? And the answer is a definitive yes. Admitted, the beer I chose for this segment is anything but ordinary. First, it’s not a pils but a wheat beer; and we’re dealing with a brewery renowned for that style.

This refreshing beer develops an aroma of sweet malt, yeast and wheat. It’s something between Helles and Dunkles, with a tangy finish with fermentation notes (which is surprising since the fermentation of alcohol-free beers is very short). This Weissbier is very well carbonated, maybe even too much, but some carbon dioxide is added (because the short fermentation produces little fizz). This product won’t compare with the best wheat beers, but it’s good, pleasant and different.