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What is Near Beer?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Near beer is a malt beverage which does not contain enough alcohol to be considered a true beer. This beverage arose during the Prohibition in the United States, when alcohol was not permitted, but people still had a taste for it. It is not the same thing as small beer, a low-alcohol beer which has been brewed for centuries. Many markets sell near beer, and because it is not a true alcoholic beverage, purchase is generally not restricted, although in some regions people must reach a certain age before being allowed to buy these beverages.

The alcohol by volume (ABV) in a near beer can vary, depending on how it is brewed and handled. Generally, the ABV hovers around .5%; in many places, if the ABV is below .5%, it can be sold as “non-alcoholic.” Many near beers are brewed in the lager style, although some are made as ales. All of them tend to be light and a bit watery. Beverages with a slightly higher ABV are sold as “low-alcohol beer” in some regions.

During Prohibition, people often added a little extra illicit alcohol to their near beer, turning it into so-called “spiked” or “needle” beer, a reference to punching a small hole into a keg for the purpose of adding alcohol. After Prohibition, of course, it was no longer necessary for breweries to make near beer, since they could return to regular production. However, some people had acquired a taste for it, creating a small market for the product which lives on to this day.

People should be cautious with near beer, since it does contain some alcohol, even when it is labeled as non-alcoholic. Alcoholics and people who struggle with substance abuse may want to avoid near beer, since it can trigger cravings, as it tastes a lot like beer, looks like beer, and is packaged like beer. These associations can be difficult for people who have experienced alcohol addiction.

In case you're wondering, small beer, also called small ale, is a completely different beverage. It is made by adding water to hops which have already been fermented to create beer once. The hops and water are heated, creating a weaker brew which tends to be slightly bitter. Small beer was used historically in regions where water was unsafe to drink, and it has a long and illustrious brewing history. It can be difficult to track down small ale, as only a few breweries continue to make it. Small ale can also be made from the materials used to ferment hard alcohol, which case there's nothing small about it; it can pack a formidable alcoholic punch, in fact.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon70467 — On Mar 14, 2010

how many calories are in, say, a busch near beer?

By anon39574 — On Aug 03, 2009

how many carbs are in near beer?

By Davjohn — On Apr 05, 2009

Is it possible to home brew Near Beer/Very Low alcohol beers?

By anon14578 — On Jun 19, 2008

How does near beer affect your blood sugars. How many carbs?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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