Beer vs Orange Juice – How Much Alcohol Is In Alcohol-Free Drinks?

People go alcohol free for many reasons, either abstaining for a short while or giving up for good.  Months like Dry January or Sober October have made short-term refrain even more popular.

When deciding to quit alcohol, the question is what does it mean to go alcohol-free?

Sounds like an easy question, if only the answer was that simple.

“You’re avoiding alcohol so choosing between orange juice, an alcohol free beer and a low alcohol beer like Drop Bear Beer’s Tropical IPA at 0.5% is an easy – right?”

Understanding What Is Alcohol-Free

I’m frequently asked sbout drinks that are 0.0% abv as they feel this is the only way to go alcohol free.  I’m happy to point them in the direction of drinks with a 0.0% abv. However, by choosing only these drinks they’re missing out on a fabulous range of exciting drinks that they might enjoy more.

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There’s also the risk of an accidental slip-up drinking an alcohol-free drink that’s 0.5% and feel disappointed.  What if that regret was misplaced?

Avoiding Alcohol is Harder Than You Think

Reading through social media posts during Dry January or Sober October you’ll see people upset they’ve drunk an alcohol-free beer only to find it’s 0.5% abv i.e. it contained alcohol.  They’re frustrated and feel they’ve failed in their challenge.

Even worse, trolls mocking those drinking 0.5% beer and highlighting their “failure”.

But have they really failed in their attempt to stay dry?   There’s a good argument to say no.

Finding Alcohol in Unexpected Places

You’ve set yourself the target of quitting alcohol and decided absolutely no alcohol will cross your lips.  You check drinks labels and if there’s even a sneaky 0.5% abv in a drink you place it back on the shelf.  Avoiding alcohol is easy, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. 

Alcohol is found in more than just alcoholic drinks.  You’ll find it in wide variety of everyday food and drink, sometimes in quite surprising volumes. 

It may even be the fruit juice you’re choosing contains more alcohol than the alcohol-free drink you’re passing up on. 

“Giving up alcohol – choosing orange juice over an alcohol free beer might not be the no-brainer it seems.” 

Alcohol in Everyday Food & Drink

Alcohol is produced by ethanol fermentation and is used in the production of some foods (e.g. bread, cheese & ketchup).  It also occurs naturally with wild yeasts in the air reacting with sugars in the food to produce alcohol resulting in surprising (although still small) amounts of alcohol in some foods.

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study by the University of Kaiserslautern looked a wide range of foods and identified the grams of alcohol contained per 100g of various foods where 1g of alcohol per 100g equals 1% abv.  Their research came up with some interesting results: 

Grape Juice 10.29% – 0.86%1
Apple Juice 20.06% – 0.66%2
Orange Juice 20.16% – 0.73%2
Wheat Rolls0.14%
Wheat and rye bread0.29%
Burger Rolls (American Style)1.28%
Banana (ripe)0.02%
Banana (very ripe, peel with dark zones)0.04%
Pear (ripe)0.04%

1 3 different brands were tested

2 5 different brands were tested

With small amounts of alcohol in many foods, maybe you’ll need another way to define what is alcohol-free

How about checking the labels on drinks?  Afterall, there are rules on how companies package drinks.  You’d think that, but…

Confusing Label & Packaging 

Unfortunately, relying on the packaging of drinks to tell you what is alcohol-free isn’t the easy task you’d expect.  The UK has its own legislation for what terms can be used by drinks with low alcohol content and same legislation includes a +/- 0.5% tolerance when measuring abv:

  • Alcohol-Free: drink with an abv of not more than 0.05 per cent
  • Dealcoholised: A drink from which the alcohol has been extracted and which has an abv of not more than 0.5%

Note: it’s the “drink from which the alcohol has been extracted” that means you’ll never find Dealcoholised Orange Juice on a supermarket shelf despite the research above showing abv higher than 0.05% 

  • Low Alcohol: A drink with an abv of above 0.5% but not more than 1.2%.
  • Non-Alcoholic: cannot be used with a name commonly associated with an alcoholic drink. The only exception being “non-alcoholic wine” for wine that “is intended exclusively for communion or sacramental use

Does this mean two drinks with the same abv will both be labelled as alcohol free?  You’ve probably already guessed that it’s not that simple

When Alcohol-Free Means Different ABV’s

You’d think with simple legislation like that you can now confidently stroll into a bar, drink an alcohol free drink and know it has no more than 0.05% abv.

Well you’re wrong. 

Many drinks are legally labelled as alcohol free when they’re over the 0.05% and can be up to 0.5% abv.  This has nothing to do with the tolerances allowed in the legislation when measuring the abv.  These are beers measured at 0.5%, but still labelled as alcohol-free.

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Which raises the question, why are these 0.5% drinks legally labelled as alcohol-free?

“Both 0.5% abv, but only one of them can be labelled alcohol-free.”

Unlevel Playing Field

The labelling laws above apply to drinks that are brewed in the UK.  For the rest of the EU, alcohol-free generally means up to 0.5%.  Due to the free movement of goods through the EU, these drinks can remain labelled as alcohol-free and then be imported into the UK. 

For UK drinks producers, it puts them at a disadvantage as they can only market their products as alcohol-free if they match the much tougher limits. 

Where does this leave you and your alcohol-free challenge?  Well I’ve finally got some good news.

Can’t Get Drunk

People are often motivated to give up alcohol to avoid getting drunk and its side effects e.g. memory loss, hangovers, being sick, etc. 

The good news is, it’s almost impossible to get drunk on drinks containing 0.5% abv due to the speed at which the body processes alcohol.   I supposed you could try to get drunk by drinking 0.5% wine or beer at a spectacularly rapid rate, but let’s be honest, that’s not really in the spirit of your giving-up-alcohol-challenge.

Can You Avoid Alcohol Completely?

With that sneaky little alcohol popping up in many common foods and label rules that are clear as mud, you can see that trying to avoid all alcohol is almost an impossible task.  Trace amounts of alcohol are everywhere, including healthy foods like fruit and I doubt you’ll hear a doctor say “don’t eat your fruit and veg” based on the trace amounts of alcohol.

Where does this leave you and your quest to go alcohol-free?

Make Your Own Rules

The great thing about your quest to avoid alcohol is that it’s yours.  This means you can make your own rules.  You decide what you think going alcohol free means to you. 

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For some it may be that they want to keep any alcohol crossing their lips to an absolute minimum so choosing 0.0% abv drinks makes sense.  For others it may be more about living a healthier lifestyle or not getting drunk.  If that’s you, then going for anything up to 0.5% abv should be fine.

Guilt Free Pleasures

Once you’ve set your rules, the challenge becomes sticking with them.  If you decide up to 0.5% is fine, then go out and enjoy trying the ever-growing range of incredible drinks available. 

Or you can choose to limit yourself to only those containing 0.0%.  Good for you! There’s fewer to choose from, but there’s still plenty of great drinks out there for you to enjoy.

Whatever you choose, have fun! Explore the drinks available and find your new favourite.  With so many great drinks to choose from, you’ll soon find going alcohol-free a fun and easy challenge to complete.

Try Alcohol-Free Drinks

If you want to try some of these great tasting alcohol-free drinks, head on over to Wise Bartender and use the code GOODSTUFF to receive a 5% discount on your order.

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