Guide to non-alcoholic beer: what it is, how it's made, which are best

Beers cheers with non alcoholic beers

Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted March 15, 2022

With new options providing a taste as good as the real deal, minus the hangover, the appetite for non-alcoholic beers is brewing.

Folks looking for an alcohol-free beverage have traditionally either been relegated to soda water, sugary soft drinks, or ghastly imitations. Nowadays, non-alcoholic beers consist of brews so flavourful that you’d believe it’s the real thing.

Health consciousness is on the rise along with more Australians ditching the drink, whether it is for an event like Dry July, or simply wanting to cut back on the COVID-kilos.

Sales of zero alcohol beverages increased by 100 per cent at local sellers over the 2020-2021 period. The uptake in movements such as Dry July, Feb Fast and Sober October has also given pause for people to test-run a booze-free lifestyle.

Rob Pierce, Bars Manager for the Bourke Street Green, Sojourn and Wine Bar, has witnessed the rise in popularity of non-alcoholic beverages amongst a range of patrons - from after-work office-folk looking for a Friday after-work beer, to younger crowds looking to try something different.

“It’s always nice to come across a customer that wants a new experience, or wants to try something new,” he says.

For those who are looking for their next beer without the burden, consider going alcohol-free. 

How is non-alcoholic beer made?

So, what exactly is non-alcoholic beer, and how is it made?

To get technical, non-alcoholic beverages come down to the amount of alcohol in a drink - those with less than 0.5 per cent of alcohol by volume (abv). Some other food and drinks that you may not have know contain trace-amounts of alcohol include orange juice, some breads, and even bananas. There are, of course, varieties available that are 100 per cent alcohol-free.

Not surprisingly, the types of non-alcoholic and low-alcoholic beers are categorised by the amount of alcohol in the beverage. While drinks with 0.5 per cent abv are classified as a ‘non-alcoholic’ beverage, a drink that has 0.5-1.2 per cent abv are considered ‘low alcohol.’ To put this in perspective, a standard beer can range from 2.7 per cent abv in a light beer, to 4.9 per cent abv (and higher) in a full-strength, or regular beer.  

Whilst the brewing and fermentation process for both regular beer and non-alcoholic beer is similar, including the ingredients of grain, water hops and yeast, as well as the hop blending process and fermentation, there is one key difference – heat.

The alcoholic content of a beer evaporates when heated. However, to preserve the taste, some brewers use a process know as vacuum distilling to remove the – making the beer mixture warm, rather than boiling, to reduce the alcohol while maintaining its multidimensional flavour.

Another way to counter the alcoholic content is to use a specialised yeast strain that does not produce alcohol. The ingredients can sometimes prove costlier than alcoholic beer, due to the goal of keeping the taste smooth and balanced without the alcoholic content.


Cheers with non alcoholic beers

Those looking to join after work drinks but aren't interesting in having alcohol can still partake in the social scene. Image: Getty. 

Why is alcohol-free beer now so popular?

While the rise in popularity of non-alcoholic beers has been recent, its inception dates back to the Prohibition-era in the United States. Non-alcoholic beer was considered quite bland in taste and was not an overly popular alternative to alcoholic beer.

In recent years, non-alcoholic beverages have been enjoying a quiet resurgence and has been adopted by some of the state’s finest bars and restaurants. The movement to sobriety in beverages such as wine, cider, gin, mocktail recipes, and of course, beer, has also inspired the surge in alcohol-free beer.

Harry Edmunds, Bartender at Bourke Street Green, has noticed more people opting for the alcohol-free beers, particularly with the after-work crowd. “They’ve taken off more than soft drink, and people want try what’s available… They taste just like a normal beer.”

Bars Manager Rob Pierce agrees. “[At the end of the day], you’re at a bar. There is an Australian culture of a knock-off drink. Maybe it’s mid-week but people don’t want to miss the social aspect, so can still enjoy a drink that’s healthier, cheaper, and more hydrating.”

Others patrons have also been spotted with alcohol-free beer to simply enjoy the social aspect of ‘having a beer’ in a social setting, without having to worry how they’re going to get home.

Does non-alcoholic beer taste good?

While every individual has their own unique palette, non-alcoholic beers have come a long way since simply boiling out the alcohol in the previous century. Non-alcoholic beers also start off the creation and ingredient process the same way as regular, alcoholic beer – and can still pack in a ton of flavour, whether you have a penchant for the dry and bitter, or like to cleanse your palette with a beer that is rich, full and creamy.

As for Pierce, he says it’s pretty simple. “A good one should taste like a beer.”

Many popular brewers, such as Heineken, Budweiser, Peroni, Corona and Carlton have hopped onto the non-alcoholic beer bandwagon, bringing along a flavour profile that clean and crisp, yet still rich and full in a taste and texture that carries on to the palate. The rise of craft breweries has also meant that recipes have been more finely tuned to create beers that remove the alcoholic content without sacrificing on taste. 


non alcoholic beers

Non-alcoholic beer is rising in popularity across Australia's bars and restaurants. Image: Matt Harvey. 

The best alcohol-free beers

Here is our round-up of some great non-alcoholic beers that still pack a punch in authentic flavour, without the alcoholic content:

Heaps Normal – Quiet XPA

A favourite with the after-work drinks crowd, the company started brewing during the first COVID-lockdown in Victoria through crowdfunding, raking in over nine million dollars. Pierce believes it is a standout, as it has lots of flavour, and is “enjoyable for those who like their craft brews.”

Heaps Normal – Another Lager

This one, Pierce says, is great to go with “a BBQ in the backyard.” A recent launch, the lager is also proudly brewed right here in Victoria. 

James Squire Zero Alcohol Bottle

Popular with the craft beer set, this alcohol-free beer has a flavour profile that is clean and crisp, with a refreshing balance of malt and hops with zero alcohol.

Coopers Birell Ultra-Light 

A premium beer for those who like their flavour bitter and their beer alcohol-free, the barley malt is grown and brewed in South Australia and is best accompanied with a pasta or Asian-inspired dish.

Heineken Zero

While the Dutch beer brand may be an acquired taste on Australian palettes, the non-alcoholic lager is fruity and floral in flavour, with a refreshing after-taste with a flavour profile that feels like you’re drinking the ‘real’ thing.