The non alcoholic beer craze is sweeping the nation. After two years of lockdown and (I assume) more-than-usual drinking, people worldwide are flocking to find something — anything! — that’s healthier than beer.
In the least shocking news ever, it turns out that non alcoholic beer is better after exercise than alcoholic beer. While non alcoholic (or NA) beer isn’t as healthy as something like water, it’s definitely a step way above alcohol.
But any amount of critical thinking about NA beer begs the question: how do you brew something without it becoming alcoholic? Even kombucha has some amount of alcohol, due to the brewing process.
It turns out that there’s more than one way to brew a non alcoholic beer.
How do you make NA beers?
The best, and really only, way to brew a non alcoholic beer is by…brewing beer. Basically there are two base methods to making a beer non alcoholic: alcohol prevention and dealcoholization.
Alcohol prevention/alcohol reduction
Alcohol prevention and alcohol reduction occur during the brewing process and aim to reduce, or entirely eliminate, alcohol production. Some brewers achieve this by not letting the yeast in the beer enable the fermentation process. Yeast is the good stuff that turns sugars into alcohol. Of course, this method can still lead to trace amounts of alcohol, albeit at such low levels that it essentially becomes negligible.
Another way to acheive this is by skipping the part where you add yeast to your brew. However, by skipping this step, the sugars don’t get eaten up by yeasts, leading to a particularly sweet (albeit alcohol-free) brew.
Science has also started making advancements on a special yeast that essentially doesn’t create alcohol, which would be the easiest and most effective way to make non alcoholic beers. Of course, this method will take time to develop.
Yes, science can now suck the alcohol out of alcohol. Dealcoholization is the process of removing alcohol from something like beer. With an array of expensive equipment and scientific methods, brewers can literally remove the alcohol from brews. At a high level (since I’m not the science expert here), dealcoholization can range from filtering out the alcohol to boiling it out entirely.
Regardless of how a brewer makes non alcoholic beer, one thing remains constant during the entire process: the beer.
What was the first non alcoholic beer?
The history of beer is long and storied, rich and fascinating. Of course, anything with a long history is bound to have holes in information, or debatable origins. Non alcoholic beer falls under this every-opinion-might-be-right umbrella.
Naturally I consulted Wikipedia, and it gives a very wishy-washy history of “well, low alcohol beer was maybe around hundreds of years ago” and “I guess there was probably non-alcoholic beer in places where you couldn’t have alcohol.”
Of course, it could be that non alcoholic beer has been brewed myriad times over the past several thousand years, and brewers just didn’t have the tools to measure alcohol content.
So, to answer your question I asked, there is no first non alcoholic beer.
Does non alcoholic beer have alcohol?
As I previously mentioned in my Dry January post, many non alcoholic products technically have trace amounts of alcohol in them. However, because there are different methods of producing non alcoholic beer, the amount of alcohol in your brew can vary.
For example, any brew that doesn’t use yeast won’t be alcoholic since yeast is required for brewing. Brews with yeast could yield low ABV brews — so low that they might as well be NA.
If you’re looking to make a healthy switch, any NA beer should suffice. If you cannot have alcohol for another reason, then it’s worth spending more time researching whichever beer you’re looking to buy.