How Do Today's Brewers Make Non-alcoholic Beer?

By: Jennifer Walker-Journey  | 
Athletic Brewing beer
TIME named Athletic Brewing Co. to its 100 Most Influential Companies of 2022 list. Cofounders Bill Shufelt and John Walker started the non-alcoholic craft brewing company in 2017 after they saw a need for high-quality non-alcoholic beers in the American market. Business Wire

If you were around in the 1990s and someone offered you an O'Doul's — the country's first mainstream non-alcoholic beer — chances are you'd have wrinkled your nose and passed. After all, what's the point of drinking brewski if not to get a buzz?

In the decades since, people's taste for the world's most popular alcoholic beverage (and third most popular drink in the world, behind water and tea) has become more refined. Brewers have tapped into what consumers want most — better-tasting beer, of course, but also beverages that better align with healthy lifestyles and provide safer drinking experiences. That shed new light on the concept of non-alcoholic beer. And craft brewers responded.


"[We] certainly did," says John Walker, chief product officer for Athletic Brewing Co., a non-alcoholic craft brewery he founded with Bill Shufelt. "When we started in 2017, the non-alcoholic beer market was 0.03 percent of the total beer market, and now we just crested 2 percent in grocery [sales] this past year."

According to GMI Insights, the global non-alcoholic (NA) beer market raked in $22 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $40 billion by 2032.


What Is Non-alcoholic Beer?

The Tokyo-Musashino Brewery has produced ALL-FREE in Japan since 1963. It's now available in the U.S. Suntory

These days, it's nearly impossible for the average drinker to tell the difference between a good non-alcoholic beer and regular beer. That's because the ingredients and brewing process are basically the same. The biggest difference is that NA brewers take steps during the process to greatly reduce or eliminate the alcohol in the final product.

Generally speaking, the main difference between NA beer and regular beer is the alcohol content, Walker says. The alcohol content of beer typically ranges from 2 percent to 12 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). But that doesn't mean the NA beer you're guzzling isn't 100 percent alcohol-free.


There are some true 0.0 percent ABV beers (formerly called alcohol-free beer) on the market, including Suntory ALL-FREE. However, beer sold in the U.S. that contains up to 0.5 percent ABV (sometimes referred to as low-alcohol beer) is also allowed to carry the "non-alcohol" moniker. That's because the standard methods for brewing NA beer make reaching a true 0.0 percent difficult. (For reference, Athletic Brewing Co.'s beers are less than 0.5 percent ABV.)

Keep in mind that it's highly unlikely you'll catch a buzz from a non-alcoholic beer with 0.5 percent ABV. That's because your body can metabolize that small amount of alcohol about as fast as you consume it — roughly within 17 minutes after guzzling.

On the other hand, a beer containing 5.6 percent ABV takes more than three hours to metabolize. In other words, you'd have to kick back about 10 non-alcohol beers with 0.5 percent ABV in a short amount of time to feel the effects of just one 5 percent ABV beer.

"A lot of people just like beer," but don't necessarily want the alcohol that comes with it, Walker says. NA beer gives consumers the opportunity to enjoy a cold one any time — say, at lunch on a workday — without being impaired afterward.

Consumers can also enjoy one every night of the week and still wake up the morning after feeling great. "It's a beer for every occasion," Walker says.

Brooklyn Brewery Special Effects
Brooklyn Brewery has several non-alcoholic option, including its Special Effects Pilsner.
Brooklyn Brewery


What Is Non-alcoholic Beer Made Of?

NA beer and regular beer are actually quite similar in makeup as well as processing. First, they contain the same basic ingredients:

  • Grains: Commonly used grains in beer include barley and wheat, which must first undergo a malting process. Other grains sometimes used include rice, corn, oats and rye. The grains provide the sugar, which the yeast converts to alcohol through a process known as fermentation.
  • Hops: Hops is a flower added to beer for its natural antimicrobial and stabilizing properties. Hops also provides the bitterness that helps offset the sweetness of malt and other flavors.
  • Water: Water is the primary ingredient in beer. It also helps convert the starches in grain into sugars.
  • Yeast: A common ingredient in bread, yeast is an organism that feeds on sugar and converts it to alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. This gives beer its alcohol content as well as its carbonation. Different strains of yeast can give rise to different flavor profiles.

Brewers will usually add spices and other ingredients to enhance the flavor of their products.


How Is Non-alcoholic Beer Made?

Athletic Brewing beer
Athletic Brewing's head brewer John Walker crafts only non-alcoholic beer in the Stratford, Connecticut, brewery. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The process of making either NA beer or regular beer is also quite similar and involves malting, milling, brewing, fermenting, maturation and packaging. But NA brewers must take steps to eliminate — or reduce — the amount of alcohol in the beer to keep it no more than 0.5 percent ABV.

To achieve this, NA beers are usually brewed using one of four methods:


  • Controlled fermentation: Sometimes called "arrested fermentation," this most common method involves fermenting the beer but stopping the fermentation process before it reaches its highest alcohol content. Brewers do this by keeping the wort (the liquid solution of extracted grains and water) at or below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius).
  • Dealcoholization: Dealcoholizing is the process of removing alcohol from a liquid. Brewers commonly do it by adding water or steam to the liquid and then boiling it until it releases alcohol vapor into a condenser where it is collected and removed.
  • Dilution: For this method, brewers add water to the finished beer either before or after fermentation.
  • Simulated fermentation: Some brewers skip the fermentation process when brewing NA beer. Instead, they add ingredients and enzymes to give the same effect as fermentation.

Technology is always evolving, and brewers are constantly refining their craft for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beer, and that can give rise to new methods.

As for Athletic Brewing Co.'s process, that's a well-kept secret. Walker says simply, "We looked at the way non-alcoholic beer was being brewed and turned it on its head."