What Does Non-Alcoholic Beer Taste Like?

It’s an age-old question: why drink non-alcoholic beer at all? What’s the point? The same question often pertains to coffee: why drink decaf? Well, the answer is some people love coffee, and others love caffeine. Same goes for beer. Some people love beer, and others love alcohol. So, if you’ve been asking the question, what does non-alcohol beer taste like, the answer is, beer. It tastes like beer.

Perhaps, what you’re really asking then, is a two-fold question: what does beer taste like? And how is non-alcoholic beer made?

The answer to those questions will help you understand both what non-alcoholic beer tastes like and why people still drink it, even without the alcohol.

What Is Non-Alcoholic Beer?

In the United States, non-alcoholic beer must contain .5% ABV of alcohol or less. To be considered “low alcohol,” beer can contain up to 1.2% ABV.

What is funny about this fact is that historically, beer has been quite low in alcohol.

Indeed, beer drunk during the Middle Ages, considered “table beer” was drunk in great quantities as it was the only beverage one could consume that was guaranteed, or at least as much as it could be, to be nontoxic, thanks to the fermentation process.

Table beer typically had less than 1% ABV and was drunk at every meal by every member of the family.

So, beer that is considered non-alcoholic today was simply beer back then.

How to Make Non-Alcoholic Beer

The trick to making non-alcoholic beer like they did in the Middle Ages, or even before that, is to watch your fermentable sugars. The more sugar you have, the more alcohol you will have. Therefore, we typically see very low levels of alcohol in kombucha, which is simply fermented tea, but we see very high levels of alcohol in wine, which is basically fructose, the most fermentable sugar there is.

Indeed, to make beer with higher levels of alcohol, brewers began toasting or roasting their grains. Called “kilning,” the carbohydrates in the grain would convert to more easily fermented sugars. Then, once the yeast enters to wort, it converts all the fermentable sugars it can consume into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

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More sugar equals more alcohol. Less sugar equals less alcohol.

Thus, to make non-alcoholic beer, you would simply need to work with a grain that has less fermentable sugar in it.

Oats and rye are two grains lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein, so your beer will have a much lower ABV but a great body and full flavor. Quinoa is another. And oats and quinoa have both been used traditionally to make gluten free beer as well, making a win/win for beer lovers with a gluten sensitivity.

You can also be sure to allow oxygen into your fermentation process as the lack of oxygen forces the yeast to create more alcohol than it normally would.

Today, of course, there are many tricks brewers implement to create non-alcoholic beer, like steaming or boiling the beer once it has been fully fermented, which kills the alcohol in any brew.

Some brewers will also make beer without any yeast whatsoever, making what amounts to a grain tea.

In both cases, however, the end result will taste quite different from beer. Boiled beer will taste very bitter, bringing all the hops flavors into stark relief. And grain tea beer will lack the flavor and aroma brought into beer, that makes us traditionally think of beer, by the yeast.

The best recipe for non-alcoholic beer, then, will be one similar to that made in the Middle Ages: choose a low carb grain, grind it, mash in to filtered water, boil for 60 minutes, add hops, chill to 70F, pitch your yeast, ferment without an airlock for two weeks, chill and enjoy.

This process will of course result in a very low alcohol beer, around .5%, but that is what you would get with a non-alcoholic beer in the store in any event.

What Does Beer Taste Like?

In the end, beer should taste like grain and hops with a hint of alcohol and then notes of whatever the yeast has brought in.

The complexity of these flavors can be malty, caramelly, nutty, and creamy. You can get hints of vanilla, fruity tones, or floral hints.

The variety is really endless.

And if you make non-alcoholic beer as described in the recipe above, you can get all of these same effects with none of the downsides of trying to remove alcohol from the beer.

What Does Non-Alcoholic Beer Taste Like?

Again, the best non-alcoholic beers taste just like beer. Non-alcoholic beers that undergo some sort of removal process will necessarily be more bitter, less aromatic, and less flavorful. This is just part and parcel of that process.

You can avoid this and get great tasting beer by avoiding all the current tricks of the trade and simply brewing up a very, very low alcohol beer.

You won’t be sorry you did.

Best Non-Alcoholic Beers on the Market

To begin experimenting with flavors and aromas in non-alcoholic beers, you can try out what is at the top of the market today.

Brooklyn Brewery Special Effects is a favorite of many non-alcoholic beer drinkers, coming in with citrus, bread, and hops flavors. It seems the secret to their success does indeed lie in brewing and fermenting a low alcohol beer.

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Alkoholifrei is a great German wheat beer that does not taste watered down or high in barley at all. Light and refreshing, this Hefeweizen qualifies as a great brew.

And if you’re looking for a heavy malt flavor, turn to Athletic Brewing Company’s Run Wild, a Non-alcoholic IPA, which indeed was not an easy task to accomplish.

More than anything else in brewing, brewing non-alcoholic beer may be the most challenging task at hand, but if you have patience and a willingness to experiment, and fail, you can carve out a market in a growing crowd of beer lovers who don’t want the downside of alcohol.


Passionate about the beer and/or wine making process? So are we! If you’re interested in finding out how you can use our technology to control fermentation and monitor your yeast, save work hours and improve the cost-efficiency of your business, drop us a line at info@oculyze.net or check out our product pages:

Also, you can now get access to a fully functional demo account to test your yeast via our Web App. Completely free of charge and with no commitment to purchase.

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