Posted on: May 18, 2023

Near Beer vs. Nonalcoholic Beer: How Much Alcohol is in Each?

How Much Alcohol is in Each?

Whether it’s to live a healthier lifestyle, save a little money, or just a lack of interest, one thing’s for sure: the trend of low or non-alcoholic beverages is growing in popularity in the US. Options such as near beer or non-alcoholic beer can replicate the taste of beer without all the awful side effects like a pounding headache the next morning. But that doesn’t mean that these options are 100% alcohol-free either. Read on to learn more about the difference between near beer and nonalcoholic beer, and the amount of alcohol that’s actually in each.

The Growing Popularity of Nonalcoholic Beer

While alcohol has long been a traditional way for people to relax, socialize, or celebrate, more people are enjoying sobriety with nonalcoholic beverages. A 2019 study found that 16- to 25-year-olds were more likely to be sober than people above the age of 25. Consumer analytics company Nielsen IQ found that between August 2021 and August 2022, total dollar sales of non-alcoholic drinks increased in the US by just over 20% coming in at a whopping $395 million. Craft breweries that focus solely on selling nonalcoholic beer have been popping up all over the country.

Near Beer vs Nonalcoholic Beer

The terms near beer and nonalcoholic beer are sometimes used interchangeably because of their similarities, but there’s some slight differences between the two having to do with the history of each.

What Is Near Beer?

During the Prohibition era in the United States, many brewers continued to produce beer illegally. Others, however, wanted to work with the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act. The legislation defined an intoxicating beverage as anything that contained more than one half of one percent alcohol. And that’s how near beer was born.

The term “near beer” was used for malt beverages containing less than .5% alcohol by volume (ABV) during Prohibition. Companies such as Anheuser-Busch, Pabst, and Miller all created their own versions of near beer, all done completely legally. Since near beer could not legally be labeled as “beer”, it was instead classified and mass marketed as a “cereal beverage”.

When Prohibition was officially repealed in 1933, another type of beer was born: the 3.2 beer. The number 3.2 refers to alcohol by weight instead of by volume. After the federal government legalized all liquor, many states used the new 3.2 percent alcohol by weight standard as a middle ground between allowing alcohol and not. Today, there is only one state who still sells 3.2 beer, Minnesota.

What Is Nonalcoholic Beer?

If you’re wondering what does “nonalcoholic” mean because it sounds like a term used for a drink that contains no alcohol whatsoever, you’re not the only one. While confusing, that’s not exactly the case with nonalcoholic beer. While the term can include beers that truly have 0 alcohol, under federal law, the term “non-alcoholic” can be used on malt beverages containing up to .5% alcohol by volume. If you’re feeling déjà vu, that’s because it’s the exact same percentage regulation as that of near beer.

Because nonalcoholic beer still contains a small amount of alcohol, it’s still not considered completely nonalcoholic. Nonalcoholic beer can also go by different names such as alcohol-free beer or low-alcohol beer.

How Old Do You Have To Be To Buy Nonalcoholic Beer?

Now, because of the small amount of alcohol in near and nonalcoholic beer, you might ask yourself: Can you buy nonalcoholic beer under 21? The short answer is, it depends on what state you’re in. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 requires the purchasers of alcohol to be 21 or older. However, there are a few states that have created their own exceptions to this rule when it comes to nonalcoholic beers. Those are:

  • Alaska
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin

Buyers under the age of 21 are allowed to purchase and consume nonalcoholic beer in these 8 states only.  

Can You Get Drunk Off Nonalcoholic Beer?

We’ve mentioned that both near beer and nonalcoholic beer still contain a small amount of alcohol, but does that mean you can get drunk after consuming them? According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one 12 fl oz of beer with a 5% ABV is equal to one standard serving of alcohol. If we assume a nonalcoholic beer has a 0.5% ABV, which is the maximum amount it can have to be considered nonalcoholic, then one regular beer would be equal to about ten nonalcoholic beers. So, while it might be incredibly hard, it’s definitely not impossible to get inebriated off of nonalcoholic beverages.

Will NA Beer Show Up On A Urine Test?

An Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG) test is a urine test that is used to detect the presence of ethyl alcohol and glucuronide within a person's system. These tests are used to determine if someone has recently consumed alcohol. Since there’s such a small amount of alcohol in both nonalcoholic and near beer, many people might believe that if you drink either, it won’t show up on a urine test. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Whether or not a low alcohol beer will result in a positive EtG test depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • The sensitivity of the test in question
  • The concentration of alcohol in the beverage
  • How many beverages were consumed
  • The amount of time the beverages were consumed
  • A person’s body weight/body type

Because alcohol affects every person differently, it’s entirely possible to fail an EtG test after indulging in some nonalcoholic or near beer for the night. Because of this fact, many DUI or Drug Court participants are not allowed to drink nonalcoholic or near beers at all, despite the low alcohol content. If someone does have to take an EtG test, it would probably be better to avoid these types of drinks completely.

So, there are a few differences and similarities between near beer and nonalcoholic beer. While both can be a decent option for those who are looking to cut back on their alcohol consumption, it’s still important to remember to drink responsibly.

Nonalcoholic or near beer can usually be found as an option at your favorite local bar or restaurant. Because these spots tend to also sell alcoholic beverages, you’ll more than likely need to take an alcohol training course. If you’re looking to begin your career in the food and beverage industry, you can start by signing up for one of our alcohol server and seller training p