Brewers offer non-alcoholic beers

Alcohol-free alternatives give underage party-goers a taste for beer.

The keg, filled with golden foamy brew is the staple of college parties. Though alcohol fuels a good many gatherings, there are alternatives for those not wanting to walk home blurry-eyed, slurry-speeched and unable to put one foot in front of the other.

Alongside Budweiser, Michelob and Heineken, on liquor store shelves, there sits an assortment of non-alcoholic brews, such O'Douls, Sharps and Buckley's. They're usually targeted to people with health concerns or those who just want to partake in the fun but are entrusted to drive their friends home.

"It's for people who like that beer taste, but may be trying to quit (drinking) or not wanting to get drunk," said Chris Johnson, manager of Muncie Liquors on Wheeling Ave.

The brands look like beer, smell like beer, even taste like beer, but with only a trace amount of alcohol, usually less than 0.5 percent, compared to around four to six percent for most alcoholic beers. Brewers are not required to remove all alcohol since natural fermentation creates trace amounts in fruit juices and ciders.

According to the Indiana Prevention Resource Center, however, it would take 30 12-ounce servings in one hour to bring a 150 pound man's blood alcohol level up to .10 percent.

There has been some controversy over the use of NA beers in recent years, mostly centering around their striking resemblance to the real thing.

According to an article on About.com, alcohol and the anticipation of alcohol may raise levels of a brain chemical called dopamine, which plays a role in feelings of pleasure.

Some have also worried about marketing strategies designed to give young people a taste for beer. Since the beverages are considered to be non-alcoholic they are available to minors.

Sometimes known as near-beers, NA beers, like their alcoholic counter parts, are brewed with hops, water and malt. But various processes are used to keep alcohol levels to a minimum. One method halts the fermentation process early on. Another involves removing the alcohol through heat or vacuum distillation.

NA beers have been around since the Prohibition era, but only in recent years have they had major impact on the brewing business. Though the various brands only make up less than three percent of sales, they are among the industry's fastest growing segments, with number of users rising between six and fifteen percent every year.

Most liquor stores in the area sell several brands of NA beer, the most popular being O'Douls and non-alcoholic versions of Coors and Budweiser. Six packs typically run between $3 and $5. Most bars in the village also sell them.


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