Discovering Non-Alcoholic Beers
How a change in circumstances forced me to open my mind to drink alternatives, with surprising results.
I am someone who enjoys indulging in a cold beer most days. By most days, I mean pretty much all days. My relationship with alcohol is a complicated one, and one I need to look at hard at in the future, but that’s the subject of another post. For me, drinking beer is not simply about consuming the substance, but an integral part of my life. I grew up in the UK and during my twenties lived a life in London where the drinking culture was in full swing. Going to the pub was, and continues to be a part of my daily routine. It’s not uncommon for British people to have this kind of attachment to drinking. The pub culture in Britain is quite unique when compared to many other countries.
Up until recently I’ve had very little to stop me from having a drink, apart from the very few days in the past where I’ve been on some kind of medication that doesn’t mix well with alcohol and found myself feeling out of place and unsatisfied drinking a pint of orange juice and lemonade. I’m not saying for one moment that there is anything wrong with going to a bar and drinking soft drinks, but for me personally I found I missed that feeling of drinking a beer.
Living in Spain has been no exception, when moving to a new town here my first order of business after unpacking the boxes was to walk the streets around my new house to find candidates for my future “local”, and sure enough their were plenty. So the daily routine of going to the pub has continued here. It’s allowed me to meet new friends and because I don’t always stick to the foreign establishments I’ve been able to integrate more into Spanish life mixing with the locals in a way I enjoy by frequenting the nearby bars.
Earlier this year I finally achieved something that I had been putting off for many, many years. At forty-one years old, I took and past my driving test and for the first time in my life have a license to drive a motor vehicle. Having never had a driving license before I never had anything stopping me from enjoying a pint or two, but then I found myself happy in my achievement at passing my test first time in a foreign country, but wondering how I would handle the limitations this would sometimes put on my ability to drink beer.
Spain allows a small amount of alcohol to be consumed when driving, a blood alcohol level of 0.5mg/ml is legal for most motorists, with that limit being 0.3mg in my case because I have not had my license for more than two years. Despite the legalities, I choose to be teetotal when driving. It’s a personal choice. I would rather not drink at all than injure or kill someone and spend the rest of my life wondering if it would have happened if I hadn’t had that one drink.
Now, with a license in hand and taking on more family responsibilities, such as doing the school run some days, I was facing a dilemma. What to do when I had driving responsibilities after my regular jaunt to the pub?
This lead me to an interesting and surprising journey discovering the world of non-alcoholic beers.
…non alcoholic beers in Spain have become widely popular and account for a substantial 13% or more of overall beer sales and is by far the most booming non and low alcohol beer market in Europe.
Non and low alcoholic beers are not a new concept, but in the past they have often been perceived as foul tasting imitations that aside from visual aesthetics have little or no similarity with “real beer”. Depending on where you live however, all that is changing.
Surprisingly, non alcoholic beers in Spain have become widely popular and account for a substantial 13% or more of overall beer sales and is by far the most booming non and low alcohol beer market in Europe. The rise of non-alcoholic beers started around the time Spain tightened it’s drink driving laws with lower limits and higher penalties. The staggering adoption rates of non alcoholic alternatives is attributed partly to a long running campaign between the “ Cerveceros de España” (Brewers of Spain) and the DGT, Spain’s traffic authority, whom along with numerous other organizations have been promoting the use of non and low alcohol beers to combat drink driving with the slogan “ En la carretera, cerveza SIN “ (On the road, beer without [alcohol])… It’s catchier in Spanish!
Nearly every bar or restaurant in Spain sells non alcoholic beers and in many bars you’ll find it available on tap.
The success of the campaign is clear, Spain has embraced the demand for non alcoholic beer with nearly all the popular beer brands producing a line of low or non alcoholic offerings. San Miguel, Cruzcampo, Estrella and even imported brands such as Heineken can be enjoyed without worrying about your alcohol intake. Nearly every bar or restaurant in Spain sells non alcoholic beers and in many bars you’ll find it available on tap.
Spain has a very different attitude to drinking and there is no stigma in going to a bar and drinking non alcoholic beer.
Due to the way non alcoholic beer is made, there are very few beers that truly have no alcohol whatsoever. There are several ways to produce non alcoholic beer but the most common is to use heat to remove the alcohol. The beer is produced almost identically to regular beer using the same core ingredients, and at the end of the brewing process the beer is heated to a temperature high enough to evaporate the alcohol. Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so this method is effective at removing most of the alcohol from the beer. A side effect from this process is that the beer loses it’s naturally produced CO2 that makes bubbles. Once the alcohol is removed the resulting beer is re-carbonated and bottled.
Typically a “non alcoholic” beer can still contain anywhere from 0.05% to 0.9% ABV. In Spain there are two classes of beer that are referred to as non alcoholic. The word Sin, meaning without in Spanish, is used to identify a beer that has a very low alcohol contents usually between 0.5% and 0.9%, the label will often read “Inf. 1% ABV” declaring it’s alcohol content to be below 1% ABV. This is still considered low enough to be marketed as “non alcoholic” since alcohol contents at this level are too low to get intoxicated or reach anywhere near the drink drive limit as most people will break down the alcohol as quickly as they consume it meaning there are no adverse effects.
Many brands also offer beers with practically no alcohol and are labeled as 0,0. A “zero zero” beer may have trace amounts of alcohol around 0.05% ABV but this is considered irrelevant, many common foods such as bananas, rye bread and burger buns contain similar amounts of alcohol.
The biggest question on most peoples lips when contemplating non alcoholic beer is of course, how does it taste? Traditionally non alcoholic beer has never been a popular choice for beer drinkers because although it looked like beer, fizzed like beer and in some cases smelt a little like beer, the taste was far removed from anything at all beer like.
In recent years however, the growing trend particularly among younger drinkers seeking a non or low alcohol alternative to regular beer, and heightened awareness and legislation around drink driving has created a budding new market which big brands are keen to exploit. As a result many have refined their manufacturing processes and are capable of producing exceptionally pleasing non alcoholic beers that taste very much like their boozy counterparts.
While Spain is leading the way at the moment in Europe, many countries are still far behind when it comes to variety and availability of non alcoholic beers, and in the UK there is still a stigma attached with not drinking. It’s slowly changing though, younger pub-goers are trending towards alternatives and the market is being pressured into catering to them. The emergence of new startups such as The Nirvana Brewery based in the UK, which specialises in producing a line of non-alcoholic beers including Stouts, IPA’s and pale ales is testimony that there is a huge market opening up and pubs and bars need to react to consumer demand.
As an avid beer drinker for many years I’ve been very surprised at how effortlessly I’ve become accustomed to drinking non alcoholic beers when I’m shackled with the car keys. A trip down the pub does not feel that different, most times I forget I’m not even drinking alcohol except I can enjoy a nice quiet Sunday afternoon in the pub and then drive afterwards.
Remember, please drink responsibly, if you feel you have a problem related to alcohol or would like to know more information visit www.drinkaware.co.uk
Originally published at https://spangle.today on July 17, 2019.