Difference between alcoholic and 'non-alcoholic' beers
Bars, pubs and supermarkets stock a growing range of alcohol-free drinks and beers, which means it’s easier than ever to cut back your alcohol intake.
If you’ve ever considered cutting back on alcohol, you may have tried switching to alcohol-free or low-alcohol drinks. But what are the differences between alcoholic and alcohol-free beers?
The main difference between alcoholic and alcohol-free beer is the amount of alcohol they contain. Alcoholic beers have some alcohol in them while alcohol-free beers contain very little alcohol.
By UK law ‘alcohol-free’ beer can contain a very small amount of alcohol (less than 0.05%)
The amount of alcohol in a drink is shown as a percentage of the whole drink. The labels on all alcoholic drinks will show the Alcohol by Volume (ABV). Beer that says 5% ABV on its label contains 5% pure alcohol.
There are four types of categorisation often used on labels:
Alcohol-free beer does contain a small amount of alcohol (up to 0.05% ABV). This is because some alcohol naturally forms as part of the brewing process.
Manufacturers have two ways of reducing the alcohol content of their beer. They can remove alcohol from the finished product, or make sure alcohol doesn’t form during the brewing process.1
One of the most common methods is to heat the beer to boil away alcohol. Another is to pass the beer through a filter which takes out the alcohol.
Alcohol-free beers do tend to contain fewer calories than alcoholic beers. Drinks also labelled as ‘light’ beers usually have less alcohol and fewer calories.
Low-alcohol and alcohol-free beers will have fewer alcohol units in them, which means it’s easier to stay within the UK Chief Medical Officers' (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines, which recommend it is safest not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week. If you regularly drink more than these guidelines, you could be increasing your chances of developing long-term health conditions.
Because low-alcohol and alcohol-free beer tends to have fewer calories than alcoholic beer, choosing it over alcohol can reduce your calorie intake as part of a healthy diet.
This is because alcohol-free beer contains some alcohol and drinking it might cause problems for someone who is alcohol dependent. It could trigger behaviour that makes them want to drink more alcohol or relapse from a recovery.
 Branyik, T et al, A review of methods of low alcohol and alcohol-free beer production. Journal of Food Engineering (2012).