Non-Alcoholic Beers: They Really Taste Good

More and more often, mashes for non-alcoholic beers are prepared in the brew kettles of large breweries. Above the brewhouse of Feldschlösschen brewery, Switzerland.

© Stefan Bienz |

More and more often, mashes for non-alcoholic beers are prepared in the brew kettles of large breweries. Above the brewhouse of Feldschlösschen brewery, Switzerland.

More and more often, mashes for non-alcoholic beers are prepared in the brew kettles of large breweries. Above the brewhouse of Feldschlösschen brewery, Switzerland.

© Stefan Bienz | Non-Alcoholic Beers: They Really Taste Good Alcohol-free beer tastes better today than ever before and consumption is increasing dramatically. This trend is made possible by innovative breweries and it's happening across the continent.

Jokes about non-alcoholic beer or people who drink it abound. However, they are not really new. What is new, however, is that non-alcoholic beer is more popular than ever before. 4.2 million hectolitres of non-alcoholic beer were brewed in Germany in 2019 - that's almost twice as much as ten years ago. In fact nearly all the universal lager brands now offer a non-alcoholic option.

In Germany, 6.4 percent of all beers are alcohol-free – and the trend is rising. This puts Germany in the middle of the field. In Austria, three percent of brewed beer is alcohol-free, in Spain a whopping 12 percent. "The attitude of consumers – and breweries – towards alcohol-free beer has changed dramatically," explains Elisa Raus, beer sommelière and press spokeswoman for the Störtebeker brewery in Stralsund. "In the past, people only drank non-alcoholic beer when they had to drive, but today no one is ashamed to drink it, regardless of whether or not they are driving."

Rising Quality

The history of non-alcoholic beer is relatively young and its origins are in fact closely linked to drivers' need for a hoppy refreshment. It originated in the early 1970s. In 1972, Aubi – short for Autofahrerbier – came onto the market in former East Germany. In the GDR, there was zero tolerance for drink driving, so the non-alcoholic beer became quite popular.

"Today's non-alcoholic beers taste completely different than they used to," says Rüdiger Galm, head of product development at the Swiss brewery Feldschlösschen, explaining the growing success of non-alcoholic beer. "The quality has improved drastically."

There are basically two ways to produce alcohol-free beer. Either the yeast is stopped during fermentation, or the alcohol is removed after fermentation is complete. "The matter is complex," explains Tobias Frank, Head Brewmaster at Ottakringer in Austria. "The goal of us brewers is to make an alcohol-free beer that comes close in taste to an alcoholic one. With stopped fermentation, it is the aromas of the unfermented wort that we try to prevent, and also excessive sweetness; with alcohol withdrawal, on the other hand, we want to preserve the character of the base beer as much as possible." Today, modern technology is used for this.

Combined methods are often used. This is the case with Atlantic Ale from the north German brewery Störtebeker, one of the current top products on the market. The hop-accented ale is created from a combination of two beers: One part is de-alcoholised and one part is made with stopped fermentation, after which the beers are combined.

In this way Störtebeker uses the advantages and disadvantages of the two methods – the beer with stopped fermentation has a certain sweetness that actually suits the dealcoholised portion quite well. No wonder the brewery has long since made a name for itself on the scene with its total of three non-alcoholic beers. One in ten Störtebeker beers is now alcohol-free and the trend is rising.

"We have invested a lot in development," says Elisa Raus. "Alcohol is not only an important flavour carrier in the finished beer, but also enormously important in the brewing process. To dissolve the aroma substances of the hops without the alcohol is difficult." The alcohol-free Atlantic Ale is therefore hopped several times – at various stages of production. "I can't reveal any further details," Elisa Raus explains with a smile. And she tells us that the alcohol produced during the production process is not wasted. Störtebeker passes it on to a company that uses it to make disinfectants.

Best of Alcohol-Free Beer: Tasting

93 POINTS – Störtebeker Atlantic Ale
A cleverly composed non-alcoholic beer from northern Germany – especially when it comes to the use of hops. Fresh on the nose with grassy hop notes, elderflower nuances and malt aromas. Tart in the mouth with a fitting sweetness impression and a certain astringency in the aftertaste. Non-alcoholic beer for real beer drinkers.

93 POINTS – Kehrwieder Above Sea Level
The Hamburg creative brewery Kehrwieder is also top in the non-alcoholic segment. Intense, tropical-sweet as well as resinous aroma. Very balanced and complex. Sweetish on the palate, with a nice astringency and caramel malt notes. Tart, floral finish with impressive length. Non-alcoholic beer in a class of its own.

92 POINTS – Jever Fun
Non-alcoholic Jever Fun is a fresh, tart beer, light gold in colour with a discreet head. On the nose it is fresh and grassy-floral and on the palate surprisingly tart and hoppy with the typical Jever bitter note on the finish. A non-alcoholic for pilgrim drinkers.

92 POINTS – Maisel & Friends Pale Ale
Very cloudy, yellow colour with a nice head. The nose is dominated by citrus and herbal hop notes, with the malt remaining in the background. On the palate, the beer is nicely full-bodied with cereal and pleasant herbal notes. Drinkable astringency in the finish. Refreshing and extremely drinkable pale ale without alcohol.

92 POINTS – Brewdog Punk
The non-alcoholic version of the Brewdog Punk IPA shows a pleasant, in no way overbearing IPA aroma with greenish as well as fruity hop notes. Like its alcoholic counterpart, the beer knows how to convince with great drinkability and a relatively overt aroma. Nicely dry, fruity non-alcoholic beer with a subtle astringency.

91 POINTS – Erdinger
The classic among the non-alcoholic wheat beers is also convincing in the taste test. Slightly cloudy with a dense, snow-white head. The nose is initially sweet with fresh malt notes and fruity nuances. A wonderfully drinkable non-alcoholic beer thanks to the balanced but noticeable residual sweetness. Every sip makes you want to drink the next one.

90 POINTS – Riegele IPA Liberis
Slightly cloudy colour. The nose reveals a grassy-floral and thoroughly modern hop aroma with present tangerine notes. On the palate, rather sweet with a fruity impression and an astringent, bitter aftertaste. Quite challenging, but equally ingenious non-alcoholic beer for IPA lovers.

90 POINTS ­– Riedenburger Dolden Null
Dolden Null shows an intense, fruity hop nose with resinous nuances. On the palate, the residual sweetness is clearly noticeable, but it's nicely balanced by the fruity notes and the noticeable, gripping bitterness on the finish. A non-alcoholic IPA with a bold use of hops. Could be a little drier.

89 POINTS – Bitburger 0.0 %
The label says it all – this beer really is completely alcohol-free. It is one of the oldest 0.0% beers in Germany. The nose is very discreet with notes of grain and mash. The palate is very restrained and pleasantly soft, whilst the aftertaste shows a discreet bitterness, which provides length and drinkability.