Alcohol-free series: Busting the myths

 

 

“You don’t want to drink that stuff, it’s full of chemicals.”

“Non-alcoholic beer isn’t safe when you’re pregnant, it still has alcohol in it.”

“Real beer has health benefits, non-alcoholic beer doesn’t.”

“Non-alcoholic beer tastes like *insert expletive*”

I have to say that the amount of grief I’ve gotten for switching to non-alcoholic beer at the start of my pregnancy has taken me somewhat by surprise.

What seemed to me to be the logical choice – I love drinking beer, but I don’t want to hurt my baby – has sparked concerns ranging from the health impact to the palatability of non-alcoholic brews.

Mind you, I probably wouldn’t have strayed into the non-alcoholic beer market if I didn’t have a health reason to do so, but now that I’m here I feel the need to stand up for these brews. Not all of them taste like crap and there is actually quite a lot of exciting innovation taking place in this particular market.

Furthermore, it infuriates me that my every move is up for debate and interpretation just because I’m expecting. I’m happy to wave goodbye to the soft cheeses and weekend sessions for the next few months, but I don’t want to hear that non-alcoholic beers are harmful, or that I can’t take a bath or sit out in the sun when pregnant. I prefer to err on the side of common sense rather than neurosis when it comes to making a little human.

So for all you mums-to-be out there – or anyone else wondering what the deal is with these non-alcoholic brews – this is my attempt to bust some of the common misconceptions out there.

Myth # 1- non-alcoholic beer is packed with chemicals

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Non-alcoholic beer is made with exactly the same ingredients as alcoholic beer – water, barley, hops and malt. I think the main reason it has the reputation for being chemical-laden is because people don’t understand how it is made.

Non-alcoholic brews aren’t a completely different “knock off” substance that have lots of artificial flavour to mimic the real stuff. It isn’t the equivalent of splenda to sugar.

To keep a beer from becoming alcoholic, a brewer will either stop the fermentation process early, which can sometimes lead to an overly-sweet taste, or they will “boil off” the alcohol after it is made. Many brewers these days combine the two techniques to retain as much flavour as possible while killing off the alcohol.

I can’t say unequivocally that there isn’t a single non-alcoholic beer out on the market that doesn’t have chemical flavouring to it, but most of them should be exactly the same as their fully alcoholic counterparts. If you have any concerns, have a look at the label – all of the ones I’ve looked at have just the four traditional ingredients listed.

Myth #2 – non-alcoholic beer isn’t safe because it contains alcohol

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Yes, some non-alcoholic beers in the UK have an ABV of up to 0.5%. Yes, the Chief Medical Officer’s new guidelines (note: new) is that no amount of alcohol consumption is safe in pregnancy.

However, to put things into context, a normal glass of fresh orange juice can naturally contain up to 0.5% alcohol. Malt vinegar that you put on your chips is about 0.2% ABV. A 0.5% ABV is so minimal it is considered “non-alcoholic” for a good reason – it’s not going to do anything to you.

Furthermore, it’s worth remembering that prior to the new alcohol guidelines being introduced just under a year and a half ago, low-to-moderate alcohol intake (defined as 1 or 2 units, once or twice a week) was considered the “safe” threshold cut-off in pregnancy. That means you could comfortably enjoy a fully alcoholic beer up to twice a week without the world caving in around you.

The move to recommend total abstinence during pregnancy is not based on new research or data, it is because the Chief Medical Officers don’t think that women understand what 1-2 units a week actually means, and therefore believe that pushing a total abstinence agenda is the safest option.

Having a non-alcoholic beer is not going to cause foetal alcohol syndrome, and the scaremongering needs to stop.

Myth #3 – normal beer is healthier than non-alcoholic beer

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Image from https://beer-and-health.co.uk/

At the heart of this argument is the assertion that full-strength beer is superior because beer is a natural and healthy choice for drinkers.

I wholeheartedly agree that beer has a lot of health benefits. It is well documented that it contains vitamins which can help you maintain a well-balanced diet – according to the US Department of Agriculture, a half pint of beer contains on average 7% of your daily folate requirements and 9% of the required vitamin B2 intake. Beer contains plenty of fibre, readily absorbed antioxidants and minerals such as silicon which may lower your risk of osteoporosis.

Why don’t we hear more about this? Because you can’t put health claims on the side of an alcoholic drink. As per the “J-Shaped Curve”, the more alcohol you consume the less benefits you reap from it.

So it stands to reason that if non-alcoholic beer is made from the same ingredients, and essentially in the same way as alcoholic beer, then surely you can actually get all of those nice health benefits, without any of the drawbacks.

Myth #4 – Non-alcoholic beer tastes like crap

 

 

I would have said the same thing a few months ago, but after having the chance to try a huge range of non-alcoholic brews, I can wholeheartedly say that this is a myth.

Not every non-alcoholic beer is good – a lot of them taste nothing like beer, are too sweet or too watered down. However, there are some gems within the market, which has only really taken off in the last few years.

Mikkeller Drink’in in the Sun (0.3% ABV) wheat beer literally made my mouth water, and their winter counterpart is the equivalent to a Christmas pudding. Nirvana’s Kosmic Stout (0% ABV) has loads of body to it, and Big Drop’s Pale Ale (0.5% ABV) boasts plenty of flavour.

You may not find a huge range of good non-alcoholic beers in your local supermarket or corner shop, but independent bottle shops, farm stands and online retailers like Dry Drinker are making it easier than ever to access a huge range of flavours and styles.

As “mindful drinking” becomes more popular, a number of new brewers have sprung up who are solely focused on the non-alcoholic arena. Just as I firmly believe that anyone who says they don’t like beer just hasn’t tried the right one yet, so the wisdom holds true for the non-alcoholic beer world. You just need to find the one you like.

Spotlight on… FitBeer

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I thought this article would be a good place to introduce one of my new favourite non-alcoholic beers, FitBeer.

FitBeer is made by a small German brewer which has been brought over to the UK by a family determined to make good, non-alcoholic beers part of the future. FitBeer helps bust the myths around non-alcoholic beers because:

  • All of their ingredients are 100% natural – it is made up of water, hops, malted barley and yeast. There is no added sugar or any other chemicals.
  • At 0.3% ABV it is a safe, non-alcoholic option for those who cannot or choose not to drink.
  • It boasts a wide range of health claims, including being low-calorie, vegan, rich in Vitamin B12 and full of folic acid (just what the baby calls for!)
  • It tastes great  and is a lovely lager with a lot of flavours and body. For someone who doesn’t usually drink lager, that is high praise indeed.

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