Low-alcohol beer (also non-alcoholic or NA beer, small beer, or small ale or near-beer) is beer with very low or no alcohol content. The vast majority of low alcohol beers are lagers, but there are to a lesser extent some ales.
In the United States, beverages containing less than 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) can be legally called non-alcoholic according to the Volstead Act. Due to the extremely low alcohol content present in various brands of "NA" (non-alcoholic) beer, the sale to minors and adults under age 21 is legal in most states.
In the UK the following descriptions apply by law (correct at May 2007):
No alcohol/alcohol free: not more than 0.05% ABV
Dealcoholised: over 0.05% and under 0.5% ABV
Low alcohol: not more than 1.2% ABV
In the rest of the European Union, it must be not more than 0.5% ABV to be described as alcohol free.
Although labeled as non-alcoholic, some products may still contain small amounts of alcohol as seen above and as a result some US states prohibit their sale to minors, and even young adults. According to Michigan law, persons must be 18 to purchase "non-alcoholic beer" within the state. According to Pennsylvania laws, persons must be 21 to purchase and consume "non-alcoholic beer" within the commonwealth. This is the case in several other states including Mississippi and Montana.
Near beer was originally a term for malt beverages containing little or no alcohol (less than one half of one percent by volume), which were mass-marketed during Prohibition in the United States. Near beer could not legally be labeled as "beer" and was officially classified as cereal beverage. The public, however, almost universally called them "near beer."
The most popular "near beer" was Bevo, brewed by the Anheuser-Busch company. The Pabst company brewed "Pablo", Miller brewed "Vivo", and Schlitz brewed "Famo". Many local and regional breweries stayed in business by marketing their own near-beers. By 1921 production of near beer had reached over 300 million US gallons (1 billion L) a year (360 L/s). Another near-beer is Palm Green.
A popular illegal practice was to add alcohol to near beer. The resulting beverage was known as spiked beer or needle beer, so called because a needle was used to inject alcohol through the cork of the bottle or keg.
Food critic and writer Waverley Root described the common American near beer as "such a wishy-washy, thin, ill-tasting, discouraging sort of slop that it might have been dreamed up by a Puritan Machiavelli with the intent of disgusting drinkers with genuine beer forever.
Today the term "near beer" has been revived by some people to refer to modern versions of non-alcoholic beer.
Light beer refers to beer which is reduced in alcohol content, or in calories, compared to "regular" beers. Light beers may be chosen by beer drinkers who wish to manage their alcohol consumption or their calorie intake; however, they are sometimes criticized for being less flavourful than full-strength beers, being (in perception or in fact) "watered down".
In the United States, the sale of only low-alcohol light beer is allowed in some establishments. For example, in Minnesota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Utah, beer sold in supermarket chains and convenience stores must be less than 3.2% alcohol by weight (4% ABV). This low alcohol beer is also referred to as Low-point beer or 3.2 ("three-two") beer. Minnesota has a full-service alcohol license available to retailers, permitting sales of beers up to the normal alcohol level, but 3.2 licenses are easier to obtain.
This is the primary definition in the United States, where the spelling “lite beer” is also encountered.
The term “low-point beer” is unique to the United States, where some states limit the sale of beer, but beers of this type are available in countries (such as Sweden and Finland) that tax or otherwise regulate beer according to its alcohol content.
The states of Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Utah permit general establishments such as supermarket chains and convenience stores to sell only low-point beer. In these states, all alcoholic beverages containing more than 3.2% alcohol by weight (ABW) must be sold from state-licensed liquor stores. Oklahoma additionally requires that any beverage containing more than 3.2% ABW must be sold at normal room temperature.
Missouri also has a legal classification for low-point beer, which it calls “nonintoxicating beer.” Unlike Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Utah, however, Missouri does not limit supermarket chains and convenience stores to selling only low-point beer. Instead, Missouri’s alcohol laws permit grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations, and even “general merchandise stores” (a term that Missouri law does not define) to sell any alcoholic beverage; consequently, 3.2% beer is rarely sold in Missouri.
Small beer (also small ale) is a beer/ale that contains very little alcohol. Sometimes unfiltered and porridge-like, it was a favoured drink in Medieval Europe and colonial North America where George Washington had a recipe involving bran and molasses. It was sometimes had with breakfast, as attested in Benjamin Franklin's autobiography. Before public sanitation, cholera and other water-transmitted diseases were a significant cause of death. Because alcohol is toxic to most water-borne pathogens, and because the process of brewing any beer from malt involves boiling the water, which also kills them, drinking small beer instead of water was one way to escape infection. Small beer was also produced in households for consumption by children and servants. It was not unknown for workers in heavy industries and physical work to consume double figure (pint) quantities of small beer during a working day to maintain their hydration levels. This was usually provided free as part of their working conditions, it being recognised that maintaining suitable levels of hydration was indeed essential for optimum performance.
Small beer/small ale can also refer to a beer made of the "second runnings" from a very strong beer (e.g., scotch ale) mash. These beers can be as strong as a mild ale, depending on the strength of the original mash. This was done as an economy measure in household brewing in England up to the 18th century and is still done by some homebrewers and microbrewers such as Anchor Brewing Company.
Metaphorically, small beer means a trifle, a thing of little importance. The term is also used Derision for commercially produced beers which are thought to taste too weak.
Besides Franklin's autobiography, small ale turns up in the writings of William Shakespeare, William Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, in Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael series and in Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602. Thomas Thetcher's tombstone at Winchester Cathedral features a poem that blames his death on drinking small beer while hot. Graham Greene used the phrase 'small beer' in the metaphorical sense in The Honorary Consul. Ken Follett, in his novel "The Pillars of the Earth," makes numerous references to small beer. The pub tradition of Swearing on the Horns includes a pledge not to drink small beer when strong beer is available.
Few commercial breweries bother to make small beer today. However, one of these rarities is produced by the Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco, California. It is made from the "second runnings" of the malt from the brewer's Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale.
Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol in any quantities. However, there is disagreement among the scholars of Islam about the consumption of non-alcoholic beer . Despite this disagreement, alcohol-free (0%) beers such as Laziza and Almaza are often available in stores and restaurants that cater to an Islamic customer base. They are also popular in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that enforce alcohol prohibition, and are often available with added flavors like apple, strawberry or peach.