The beer market today is bubbling, led by a category that has grown in popularity over the past few years: the nonalcoholic kind. Globally, nonalcoholic beer is growing at twice the rate of alcoholic beer, according market research firm Global Market Insights.. The worldwide market for nonalcoholic beer is projected to almost double by 2024 to $25 billion, and until then, the industry is expected to grow 7.5 percent per year.
Nonalcoholic beer's popularity is already foaming in Europe, especially Germany, says Jared Jankoski, brewmaster at Octopi Brewing, a contract brewery in Waunakee, Wisconsin, that's seen demand spike for nonalcoholic beer. China has also seen growth in the market, and now, it is taking hold in the U.S.
Even big brewers are getting in on the trend. Earlier in 2019, Heineken USA launched Heineken 0.0, which has 0 percent alcohol by volume.
Taste, Not Alcohol, Matters
"It's the beer that matters, not necessarily the alcohol," Jankoski says. After all, nonalcoholic beer often does contain trace amounts of alcohol. In the U.S., beers labeled "nonalcoholic" can legally contain less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), a fraction of what many traditional beers have. From the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
The potential market of nonalcoholic beer drinkers could be huge. About 30 percent of people 18 or older in the U.S. did not drink alcohol in the past 12 months, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Jankoski says one factor for fewer people drinking alcohol, and the growth in nonalcoholic beer's influence, is people are trying to live healthier. Heineken 0.0 boasts that it has only 69 calories per bottle. Traditional beers can have double to triple that amount.
"In general, when you remove the alcohol from beer, I think there's a lot of benefit there," Jankoski says. "Alcohol has calories. Alcohol itself is deleterious to any numbers of elements of life. If you want to get up in the morning and go for a run and you're out drinking the night before and you can enjoy flavorful beverages that both have reduced calories ... and also almost zero alcohol to them, you're going to be doing a lot better the next day or later on that night."
Jankoski says people could start a drinking session with alcoholic beer and then switch to nonalcoholic beer so they can drive or go to work the next day. "People want to be able to drink beer because it's so culturally relevant," he says, noting the social aspects of drinking with others. "But obviously, there's a certain responsibility angle to that as well."
There are of course lots of other reasons for people to avoid alcohol entirely: pregnancy, sobriety, religion, medical conditions.
Making Alcohol-free Beer Taste Good
Octopi Brewing produces and packages beer for craft breweries, in addition to having a few of its own brands. The brewery has seen such a demand for nonalcoholic beer that it's installing equipment to remove alcohol from beer that will use reverse osmosis to make a drink that is less than 0.5 percent ABV.
Jankoski says making beer that is truly alcohol-free requires a secondary process called vacuum distillation, which is distillation of a liquid under reduced pressure, enabling it to boil at a lower temperature than normal.
Of course, one reason people don't choose nonalcohol beer is the taste. Jankoski says it can be challenging to achieve a proper beer profile without alcohol. Plus, until recently, most nonalcohol beers available in the U.S. were lager styles.
"A lot of people would maybe drink nonalcoholic beers if there were more offerings rather than just sort of standard light lager options," Jankoski says.
Now, nonalcohol drinkers have more and more selections to peruse at the store. They can get citrusy ales or Heineken or Pabst Blue Ribbon. Many have positive reviews from drinkers of regular strength beer. Still, the craft nonalcohol beer sector is in its infancy. There is a long way to go in order to have more diverse options for a night out.
"People are once again getting to that point of saying, 'Well, it's the beer that matters,' and hopefully we can be producing beers that have great flavor, great flavor characteristics and a lot of intrigue beyond typical, kind of light lager space," Jankoski says. "This is all kind of untouched territory, and my hope is that it catches on."