Non-alcoholic beer in Germany is becoming increasingly popular because according to the law, alcohol-free beer may only have an alcohol content of less than 0.5 percent by volume. However, the lack of alcohol is compensated by sugar and Germans are starting to sound the sugar alarm!
According to the German Brewers’ Association, more than 660 million liters of non-alcoholic beer and malt drink were sold in 2020. The non-alcoholic market share was almost seven percent of the German beer market – and the trend is rising. What is also becoming loud is the sugar alarm that Germans are starting to raise.
Alcohol-free beer is very popular in Germany
Growing diversity: 700 alcohol-free beer brands in Germany
According to the Brewers’ Association, there are now almost 7,000 beer brands in Germany – more than 700 of them are non-alcoholic beers and mixed beer drinks. In addition to classic types such as Pils, wheat beer or shandy, more and more regional specialties such as Kölsch and Alt are coming onto the market as non-alcoholic variants. The popular Helle as well as craft varieties such as IPA (India Pale Ale) have also long been available without alcohol.
An INSA consumer survey for the Brewers’ Association from January 2021 confirmed the trend: Almost every second German (46 percent) drinks non-alcoholic beers. Among other things, consumers particularly value the low number of calories, according to the survey. The drink scores with an average of around 40 percent fewer calories than beer with alcohol.
A closer look at the Alcohol-free beer ingredients
If you take a closer look at the nutritional information on the label, you will notice that almost all non-alcoholic beers contain sugar. For example, at Bitburger 0.0% alcohol-free: There are 4.4 grams per 100 milliliters, while Diebels alcohol-free only 0.1 grams.
The nutritional tables on the back of the bottle tell you how much sugar the beer contains per 100 ml: Jever Fun 0 g, Clausthaler Original 2.8 g, Beck’s Blue 2.1 g, Erdinger Weißbier alcohol-free 3.6 g, Krombacher alcohol-free 2.8 g, Veltins Pilsener 0.0% alcohol-free 2.6 g.
How does the sugar get into the alcohol-free beer?
Alcohol-free beer can be made in a number of ways. That is also the reason why some of them contain sugar and some are free of it.
Ways in which alcohol-free beer is brewed in Germany
- Malt that contains malt sugar is used to brew beer. This sugar is used by the added yeast in the brewing process as a nutritional basis. In the case of alcoholic beer, the sugar is completely converted into alcohol. The drink no longer contains sugar. If the alcohol is withdrawn after brewing, there will be no sugar in the non-alcoholic beer. This is done by filtering the alcohol through membranes or evaporating it by heating it in a vacuum.
- Another possibility is to interrupt the fermentation process and the alcohol does not even arise. Cold temperatures slow down fermentation or stop it completely.
- Special yeast strains that cannot utilize the malt sugar are also used. Part of the malt sugar is retained in these drinks.
What are the advantages of the different manufacturing processes?
The breweries argue with taste.
► Clausthaler is considered a pioneer for beer without alcohol. The classic Clausthaler Original, first brewed in 1979 according to the German Purity Law, as well as all other products of the brand are alcohol-free. The company has relied on interrupting the fermentation process from the start. In order to give the beer its “taste, we spent years of research and development work to design a brewing process that was unique in the world for a long time,” reports a spokeswoman. Alcohol is not created in the first place, but “in such drinks some of the malt sugar is retained”.
► The Frisian Brewery in Jever relies on the extraction of alcohol for its Jever Fun. “Our master brewers made the conscious decision to use this brewing process 30 years ago so that our alcohol-free beer comes as close as possible to the taste of full beer” and the tart character is retained, says a company spokeswoman. The fact that Jever Fun does not contain sugar did not play a role at the time. In the meantime, however, the beer is “also bought with pleasure, as we know from market research”.
Why are Germans sounding the sugar alarm on alcohol-free beer?
Does an alcohol-free beer with a sugar content have any nutritional weight at all?
The WHO recommends no more than 24 grams of free sugar a day. If you now drink a 0.5 liter bottle of non-alcoholic beer that contains 3 grams of sugar per 100 milliliters, that’s 15 grams. The chocolate bar falls flat that day.
That is a worrying prospect especially for diabetics.
Doctors warn to be careful because alcohol-free beers often have a particularly high amount of malt sugar compared to other types of beer. This quickly goes into the blood and drive the sugar level up.
Alcohol-free Beer tip: choose an alcohol-free variety that does not remove the alcohol until after brewing.