Beer drinkers are increasingly opening an alcohol-free beer. Due to the health aspect and the extensive range, the ceiling is still not in sight. Ordinary lager is by far the most drunk beer, but will there come a time when the non-alcoholic varieties will dominate the beer market?

When the friends of Sander and Ronald van de Streek were pregnant at the same time, the beer-brewing brothers discovered that an important type of alcohol-free beer was missing from them. Namely the IPA (India Pale Ale). The founders of the Van de Streek brewery wanted to change that.

"During those pregnancies we bought a crate of alcohol-free lager," says Ronald van de Streek. "We found out that there was no alcohol-free beer made with American hops that we love so much. Then we started experimenting. It was a long and difficult process, but it finally worked out. In 2016, our non-alcoholic IPA hit the The demand was huge and it is now our biggest beer. "

The demand for alcohol-free beer is not only high at the Van de Streek brewery. This spring, the annual beer monitor of trade association Nederlandse Brouwers showed that the sale of non-alcoholic beer increased by more than 30 percent in 2018. The increase was much greater than in previous years. Since 2010, the consumption of '0.0 beer' has increased fivefold.

Beer sales

  • Sales of non-alcoholic beer increased by 32.4 percent last year, by 24.7 percent in 2017
  • One in twenty beers is now alcohol-free
  • Consumption of specialty beer increased by 10.2 percent
  • Also beer with an alcohol percentage up to 4 more popular

Dutch Brewers director Cees-Jan Adema notes on the basis of the beer monitor that this trend is going to continue fast. "We are also seeing more and more alcohol-free and low-alcohol specialty beers on offer," said Adema. "From 0.0 bock beer and IPA. It is becoming more and more fun and easier for consumers to taste tasty beers in that category. This is in line with both the trend towards more responsible use of alcohol and falling alcohol consumption, and the popularity of specialty beer. "

As a large producer, AB InBev beer brewery is very busy with non-alcoholic beers. The brewer had already launched an alcohol-free lager with Jupiler 0.0 and Leffe Blond 0.0 followed last spring. AB InBev hopes that in 2025 20 percent of the beer sold will be alcohol-free or low-alcohol.

"We will certainly see that advance again," says AB InBev spokesperson Wilco Heiwegen. "We see that all our non-alcoholic beers are doing well and continue to rise every year. Now we are seeing an increase in demand for non-alcoholic specialty beers, so new non-alcoholic beers may follow. If the proportion of non-alcoholic beer continues to increase by 30 percent each year , then that ticks down considerably in the long run. "

"A lot of 0.0 beer is a thirst quencher"

Albert Heijn sees the increasing popularity reflected in the sales figures. According to a spokesperson for the supermarket chain, many customers see alcohol-free beers as a good thirst quencher in the summer. "For example, Radler has been a real summer hit for years and white beer is also popular in good weather," said the spokesperson. "A lot of 0.0 beer is drunk to quench the thirst."

Moreover, alcohol-free does not always mean that there is no alcohol in the beer at all. In Germany, beers with an alcohol percentage of 0.5 can be called alcohol-free, in Spain that percentage is even 1. In the Netherlands we are a lot stricter: the limit is 0.1 percent. A beer that contains slightly more alcohol is here formally called 'low alcohol'. But the beer drinker hardly notices that small difference in percentages. After all, fermentation means that a banana or freshly squeezed juice is not completely alcohol-free. For convenience, in this article we also include low-alcohol beers in the non-alcoholic range.

A crate of Jupiler 0.0. (Photo: Reuters)

Offer enormously developed

Beer connoisseurs indicate roughly two causes for the rising popularity of non-alcoholic beer. Firstly, people are more concerned with their health and in addition, the alcohol-free range has expanded enormously in recent years.

"People are starting to live more consciously and are more concerned with their health. That's not only the case with beer, but also with other foods," says Alain Schepers, beer sommelier and founder of online beer training Bierista. "It is more often about consciously enjoying at self-chosen moments. People are annoyed by others who have drunk too much. The 'pouring' of beer is out, it is more enjoyment."

Schepers says that there are many times when people want to drink beer, but rather not alcohol. "Then an alcohol-free beer is of course a solution. On Saturday afternoons after mowing the lawn, I am always looking forward to a beer. Then I opt for an alcohol-free variant, because I don't necessarily have to drink alcohol on Saturday afternoons."

Ronald and Sander van de Streek are testing a beer in their brewery. (Photo: Van de Streek Bier)

Brewing alcohol-free beer for a long and technical process

Then the improved offer. Brewers have made great strides in recent years in making beer alcohol-free. There are two ways to brew an alcohol-free beer. First, as a brewer you can prevent the alcohol from forming during the brewing process. Yeast cells convert the sugars from the grain into alcohol. If you use more grain, you get more alcohol. For an alcohol-free beer, brewers can stop the process of the yeast cells at some point before the alcohol is formed.

Brewer Ronald van de Streek says that the process of an alcohol-free beer is long and technical. "Because the alcohol is missing in the product, it is important to work clean. The product is much more sensitive to possible infections. So it goes wrong a few times."

In the second way, normal beer is brewed with alcohol, but the alcohol is filtered out afterwards. This is done by means of vacuum distillation. In that case alcohol, but also aromas are removed from the beer during distillation. The aromas are indispensable for a characteristic taste, so they are added to the beer later. This is mainly done at large breweries.

"Beer has twenty thousand years of history, it will not disappear in a few years" Ronald van de Streek, beer brewer

With the enormous flight that non-alcoholic beer has taken in recent years, the question arises where this ends. Have we exchanged our traditional beers for non-alcoholic variants in ten years?

"The techniques will improve," beer sommelier Schepers looks ahead. "More and more breweries are stepping in and the choice is increasing. Every brewer strives for a better product. What we are seeing now is just the beginning. Although I don't think alcoholic beer will go by."

Beer connoisseur Fiona de Lange has a different prediction. "That change is coming," she says resolutely. "Certainly in combination with beer with an alcohol percentage up to 2. The entire industry is going to change in the coming decades. It is already underway. For example, lager used to make up 95 percent of the beer market. very clear. "

Generation gap among beer drinkers

However, according to the beer connoisseur, not everyone is enthusiastic about the rise of non-alcoholic beer. According to De Lange, the younger generation of beer drinkers have embraced the non-alcoholic beers, while the older generation looks at the development with arousal. "They have been drinking alcoholic beer all their lives and do not really believe in the new beers. This creates a kind of generation gap in beer. But if development continues, there are expected to be breweries in 2050 that produce little or no alcohol."

Half of the production of the Van de Streek brewery is now alcohol-free and in a few years the entire production could be alcohol-free, but the founders are not satisfied. "We don't want to be in a box, because we like to experiment," says Ronald van de Streek.

He thinks the Dutch beer drinker will continue to drink alcohol. "The history of beer goes back twenty years, it doesn't just disappear within a few years. Alcohol should of course be drunk in moderation, but it is also a nice substance. It creates friendship and love and we should certainly not let that disappear. "