Non-alcoholic beer, also known as non-alcoholic malt beverages or near beers, are beers that contain very low amounts of alcohol, typically less than 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). These beers provide the flavor and experience of regular beer without the intoxicating effects of alcohol.
Non-alcoholic beers are produced through various methods that remove most of the alcohol while trying to maintain the unique flavors of beer. Because they are made from the same core ingredients as traditional beer – malt, hops, yeast and water – non-alcoholic beers may contain trace amounts of gluten from the malted barley used in production.
For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, the gluten content of non-alcoholic beer is an important consideration. This article will provide a detailed look at whether non-alcoholic beers contain gluten and how much, to help gluten-sensitive beer lovers understand their options.
How Non-Alcoholic Beer is Made
There are several techniques used to produce low-alcohol and non-alcoholic versions of beer:
Traditional brewing allows the yeast to fully ferment the sugars from the malt, producing around 5-10% alcohol. Restricted fermentation limits the fermentation time or conditions, resulting in lower alcohol content. However, some alcohol is still produced through fermentation.
This involves brewing a fully fermented beer then removing the alcohol. Common dealcoholization methods include vacuum distillation, reverse osmosis, and evaporation. The alcohol is boiled off while trying to retain as much of the original beer flavor as possible.
Specialized strains of yeast are used that cannot ferment maltose sugars well, stopping fermentation early and yielding only about 1% ABV. The yeast still produces some alcohol and carbonation.
Malted Grain Alternatives
Replacing the malted barley with grains containing no gluten, like sorghum, rice or corn. The fermentable sugars are extracted from these grains instead to make a gluten-free beer.
Gluten Content of Malted Barley
Malted barley contains gluten because it is derived from wheat. Barley contains similar proteins to wheat called hordeins. Most people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity cannot tolerate barley.
During the malting process, barley grains are soaked, germinated and dried. This activates enzymes that convert starches into fermentable sugars. Malted barley is essential to provide these sugars for fermentation into alcohol. It also contributes the grain flavors characteristic of most beers.
The gluten content of malted barley can vary based on the species of barley but is estimated around 200 parts per million (ppm) or higher. In comparison, wheat flours average around 80,000-120,000 ppm of gluten.
Gluten Content of Non-Alcoholic Beers
Because traditional non-alcoholic beer production starts with malted barley, it will inherently contain some residual gluten. However, the gluten content is very low compared to other beers or foods containing gluten grains.
There are no federal labeling regulations regarding gluten content for alcoholic or non-alcoholic beer in the United States. Testing on popular non-alcoholic beer brands shows gluten levels are typically well below 20 ppm:
|Non-Alcoholic Beer Brand||Tested Gluten Content (ppm)|
|O’Doul’s||Less than 5|
|Budweiser Prohibition Brew||Less than 5|
|Coors Peak||Less than 5|
|St. Pauli Girl N.A.||11.5|
|Beck’s N.A.||Less than 20|
The gluten content is under 20 ppm, even though malted barley is used. This indicates the alcohol removal and filtration processes employed also strip out most of the gluten from the final non-alcoholic beer.
Some companies also make non-alcoholic beers using reduced-gluten grains like sorghum. Glutenberg makes several sorghum-based options with less than 5 ppm of gluten.
Ultimately, most non-alcoholic beers test below 20 ppm and are considered “gluten-free” per FDA standards. However, those highly sensitive should use caution and consult the company if concerned.
Are Non-Alcoholic Beers Safe for Celiacs?
For those with celiac disease, non-alcoholic beer made from glutenous grains may still be problematic. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten exposure and damage to the small intestine. Complete elimination of gluten is needed to manage celiac disease.
Some experts advise those with celiac disease to avoid non-alcoholic beers made from malted barley even though the gluten content is minimal. Several factors may make non-alcoholic beers unsuitable for celiacs:
Inadequate Testing and Label Regulations
There are no mandated third-party testing or gluten-free labeling laws specific to non-alcoholic beers. So celiacs must rely on their own research and judgment regarding safety. Undisclosed barley or wheat adjuncts could be problematic.
Possibility of Gluten Contamination
Small amounts of gluten introduced during the brewing process may be enough to trigger issues in those highly sensitive. Shared equipment may increase this risk of cross-contamination.
Alcohol May Help Protect Against Gluten
Some research indicates the alcohol in traditional beer may help limit intestinal absorption of gluten peptides. Non-alcoholic beer would lack this potential protective effect.
Individual Sensitivity Varies
Each person has a unique threshold level that provokes symptoms or intestinal damage. Those who react to traces of gluten should avoid most non-alcoholic beers.
While unlikely to cause perceptible symptoms in most due to the low gluten content, celiacs need to make personal judgments regarding their own tolerance levels. Non-alcoholic beers made from gluten-free grains offer a safer choice.
Are Non-Alcoholic Beers Safe for Gluten Sensitivity?
For those with gluten sensitivity or intolerance, most non-alcoholic beers made from malted barley appear to be well-tolerated.
Gluten sensitivity involves adverse reactions to gluten like digestive issues, fatigue or joint pain. It does not include the autoimmune attack on the intestine seen in celiac disease. Small amounts of gluten are not believed to cause significant long-term harm to those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
The under 20 ppm gluten content of most non-alcoholic beers falls below the threshold established for gluten-free foods. While responses vary, several factors suggest non-alcoholic beers are suitable options for gluten-sensitive individuals in most cases:
Very Low Gluten Dose
At less than 20 ppm, a 12-ounce serving of non-alcoholic beer contains only about 0.25 mg of gluten. This is considered a negligible amount even for those quite sensitive.
Symptoms Appear Dose-Dependent
Research indicates gluten sensitivity symptoms are related to the dose consumed. The low doses in non-alcoholic beers are unlikely to provoke perceptible issues.
Many Report No Problems
In online forums, many with gluten sensitivity or intolerance say they drink non-alcoholic beer without problems. However, a minority report reacting, so individual mileage may vary.
Those with gluten sensitivity should try a small serving of non-alcoholic beer first to check tolerance. Gluten-free options are also available if uncertain. Overall, the very low gluten content makes non-alcoholic beers a low-risk choice worth considering.
Cheaper Non-Alcoholic Beer Alternatives
While most major beer companies now produce non-alcoholic options, they are sometimes pricier than regular beer. For a cheaper alternative, some gluten-sensitive beer lovers make low-alcohol beer at home by boiling regular beer briefly.
Simply pour the beer into a saucepan, bring to a gentle boil, then immediately remove from heat once bubbles start to form vigorously. Allow to cool then refrigerate. This can evaporate around 70% of the alcohol content in around 5 minutes, providing a cost-effective non-alcoholic beer.
However, the remaining alcohol content will vary. The process may concentrate any gluten present as well, so this approach is best avoided by those with celiac disease and not recommended for children.
Gluten-Free Non-Alcoholic Beer Options
For those wishing to avoid gluten more strictly, several companies make gluten-free non-alcoholic beers, including:
Brewed from sorghum syrup, millet, buckwheat and rice. Tested at less than 5 ppm gluten.
Green’s Discovery Amber Ale
Made from sorghum, buckwheat, rice, millet, and gluten-free yeast and hops. Less than 5 ppm gluten.
St. Peter’s Without
Uses gluten-free grains and maize alongside Hallertau hops. Contains less than 3 ppm gluten.
Vanberg & DeWulf Lambic-Free
Belgian-style lambic beer produced from gluten-free grains. Contains less than 5 ppm gluten.
Crafted from sorghum, rice, hops and gluten-free yeast. Tested below 5 ppm gluten.
These gluten-free options provide non-alcoholic beer made from grains considered safe for celiac disease. They offer added assurance for those wishing to minimize gluten exposure. Prices are generally higher than traditional non-alcoholic beers however.
Making Your Own Gluten-Free Non-Alcoholic Beer
It is also possible to brew basic gluten-free non-alcoholic beer at home with minimal equipment needed. You can use brewer’s yeast to add carbonation and beer-like flavor.
One simple recipe is:
– 3 pounds sorghum syrup
– 1 gallon water
– 1 ounce brewer’s yeast
– 1 teaspoon gluten-free beer extract
– 1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder
– 1⁄4 teaspoon onion powder
1. Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Remove from heat.
2. Stir in sorghum syrup until dissolved. Add yeast, beer extract, garlic powder and onion powder.
3. Pour into sanitized beer bottles, leaving 1 inch headspace. Cap tightly.
4. Store at room temperature for 48 hours then refrigerate for 5-7 days before drinking.
The carbonation and flavors will develop during storage as the yeast ferments the sugars. This produces a fizzy, beer-flavored beverage without alcohol or gluten. Feel free to customize and experiment with different gluten-free grains, flavorings and fermentation times.
Potential Drawbacks of Non-Alcoholic Beers
While non-alcoholic beers offer new options for gluten-sensitive beer lovers, a few cautions are warranted:
A minority with gluten-related disorders may react to protein components in gluten-free grains like corn, rice or sorghum. These individuals may still have problems with some non-alcoholic beers.
Non-alcoholic beers contain fermentable carbohydrates called FODMAPs that can trigger digestive issues in some with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Those with IBS may want to check tolerance first.
The calorie, sugar, vitamin and mineral content of non-alcoholic beers can vary greatly by brand and recipe. Those looking to limit sugar or carbs will need to choose wisely.
While quite safe for most gluten-sensitive individuals, personal factors should be considered when selecting non-alcoholic beers. Proper hydration and nutrition also remain important for overall well-being.
The Bottom Line
So does non-alcoholic beer contain gluten? In most cases, yes – but only trace amounts below 20 ppm.
For celiacs, most mainstream non-alcoholic beers are likely best avoided due to uncertainty around precise gluten content and individual sensitivity levels. Those with gluten sensitivity or intolerance can generally consume non-alcoholic beers safely in moderation, but gluten-free varieties offer extra assurance.
When in doubt, check with the brewer regarding their gluten testing and production processes. While not suitable for everyone with gluten restrictions, non-alcoholic beers provide another way for many beer aficionados to enjoy a cold brew without the alcohol or gluten over-indulgence.