Is Alcohol Free Beer Really Alcohol Free? Labels explained

Brewdog Nanny State

When trying to buy beer free of alcohol you will be met with various nomenclature. Low alcohol, non alcoholic, dealcoholised and alcohol free are all seen on bottles. Is alcohol free beer really alcohol free?

Alcohol free beer is virtually alcohol free but not completely. In the UK, USA and Australia, any beer displaying “alcohol free” on the label means the wine will have less than 0.05% alcohol by volume (ABV). The beer will often display “0.0%” prominently. This is not the case in the EU and the other terms seen on a bottle can relate to either an alcohol level of less than 1.2% or less than 0.5%.

You may may find that a beer sold in the UK and labelled as “alcohol free” will have an ABV of 0.5% due to coming from the EU or an EU law meaning it’s always prudent to look at the whole label and know the laws for where you live.

Alcohol free and the law

JurisdictionWhat the maximum ABV % can be for “alcohol free”
Alcohol free meaning around the world

The term alcohol free is enshrined in law around the world and shouldn’t be used interchangeably with low alcohol, dealcoholised or non alcoholic.

USA – The FDA state “To ensure that consumers are not misled as to the alcohol content of the product, the statement of identity should be followed by the declaration, “contains less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume.”

FDA considers use of the terms “dealcoholized” and “alcohol-removed” in the statement of identity of a reduced alcohol wine product to be misleading if the alcohol content exceeds 0.5 percent by volume (…)

FDA does not consider the terms “non-alcoholic” and “alcohol-free” to be synonymous. The term “alcohol-free” may be used only when the product contains no detectable alcohol.”

The term “alcohol-free” may be used only when the product contains no detectable alcohol


UK – The UK Government state that alcohol free can only be used when the the alcohol has been extracted and it contains no more than 0.05% ABV. The product should also include the ABV on the label or state it contains no alcohol.

EU – The EU is made up of various member states and as such allows an ABV of up to x10 more than UK, USA and Australia, preferring to leave it us to its member states to further decide what alcohol free needs to be. As such an ABV of up to 0.5% is allowed in the EU of EU produced drinks.

Below is an alcohol free drink i bought in the UK but doesnt comply with UK law as it was made in the EU

Brewdog Nanny State is apparently “alcohol free”
ABV is actually 0.5% not <0.05%

To be doubly sure that the wine you have is truly alcohol free i would check for both the “alcohol free” label and for the 0.0% ABV on the bottle or product information online.

Other non alcohol descriptors on bottles

Description on labelMaximum ABV content
Low alcohol1.2%
Alcohol free0.05%
UK Law

As with the alcohol free term, there are further terms and differences around the world and what they mean. You may see low alcohol, dealcoholised, non alcoholic as well as alcohol free.

Low alcohol – the nearly universally means there is an ABV below 1.2%. This is more prevalent in spirits than wines or beers. Ive not really found any low alcohol wines.

Dealcoholised – this again will almost invariably mean the drink in question has no more than 0.5% ABV

Non Alcoholic – This is a term that has a specific meaning but is often used as a common parlance catch all term for all types of low to alcohol free drinks. In the UK it should not be used.

There is an exception for non-alcoholic wine where it is derived from unfermented grape juice and is intended exclusively for communion or sacramental use. In much of the rest of the world, non alcoholic, will mean a maximum ABV of 0.5%.

How many units are in a bottle of 0.0% beer?

To calculate the units of alcohol in any drink (UK) you use the following formula…

  • strength (ABV) x volume (ml) ÷ 1,000 = units

With this formula we can see a 330ml 5% bottle of beer would have 5×330/1000 = 1.65.

A bottle of alcohol free wine will have a maximum of 0.05×330/1000 = 0.0165

You would have to drink 100 bottles of alcohol free beer at least to have the same alcoholic units as having one 5% bottle.

The formula for a unit of alcohol in USA, Canada and Australia is different as they work from a standard drink measurement but both definitions differ as well.

The ratios however remain the same. The same bottle of beer would equal 1 standard drinks in USA/Canada whereas you would have to drink at least 100 bottles of alcohol free wine to have just 1 standard drink equivalent.

120z Bottle of beer by ABV %UK UnitsUS/Canadian Standard Drinks
5% Regular Beer1.651
1.2% Low alcohol0.3960.25
0.5% Dealcoholised0.1650.1
0.05% Alcohol free0.01650.01
Alcohol per bottle

What do these figures actually mean?

If the question is does alcohol free beer contain alcohol, technically the answer is yes but its at such a low level that it is virtually zero. The amount of alcohol can have no physiological affect on you and is in all practical terms not there.

By way of a comparison, ripe bananas have up 0.4% ABV, orange juice has around 0.5% ABV and even rye bread can have 0.2% ABV. You would not consider any of these as alcoholic nor worry about the alcohol in them.

Alcohol free wine has a fraction of even these ABV percentages meaning that it really is virtually alcohol free.

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