With a plethora of micro breweries, German beer drinkers now have some 400 alcohol-free brews to choose from. Taste remains the Achilles' heel of non-alcoholic beer, with some concerns about detectable glyphosate.
Overall beer consumption in Germany is declining but one form of the amber liquid continues to see an increase in demand — non-alcoholic beer.
The independent consumer organization and foundation Warentest investigates and compares goods and services in Germany. It did taste-tests on 20 non-alcoholic brews and got positive results for nearly half of them.
The researchers tested Pils and Helles varieties, including brand names such as Krombacher, Bitburger, Clausthaler and Beck's, as well as various craft and organic beers. Wheat beers were not included in the latest test.
Professional testers tasted the beers and also examined them in a laboratory. Many were said to be good, and even the worst among them was deemed sufficient.
The researchers examined the beers' appearance, smell, taste and aftertaste. They assessed the brews' thirst-quenching abilities and even measured the durability of the foam.
Nine of the alcohol-free beers received "good" ratings; 10 were "satisfactory" and one was merely "sufficient."
Since 1990, total beer consumption in Germany has plunged more than 25 percent. Back then, the average German consumed nearly 143 liters per year. By 2016, the per capita consumption had fallen to 104 liters.
Glyphosate detectable in 90 percent of beers
The testers found 90 percent of the beers had detectable levels of the controversial herbicide glyphosate. In 16 bottles they found trace amounts or low levels of the chemical.
One Holsten beer tested contained glyphosate and also carbon dioxide which did not come from fermentation. Although this made no difference to the taste, the testers said it was not in strict adherence to the German Beer Purity Law.
Glyphosate has come under scrutiny in Europe, where there has been talk of banning it. But last November the European Parliament voted to allow the continued use of glyphosate for another five years.
Nevertheless, brewers were advised by the Warentest testers to reduce the glyphosate content in their beers to protect consumers.
Craft beer cost, taste and alcohol content
It's not clear just how much non-alcoholic beer is being downed these days, but consumers now have about 400 brands to choose from, according to the German Brewers Association.
Researchers also found major price disparities with at least one craft beer selling for as much as €7.85 ($9.15), while a discount brew could be had for as little as 66 cents.
Many alcohol-free beers do, in fact, have some alcohol in them, albeit very little — perhaps up to 0.5 percent. Some brands, however, offer 0 percent versions, too.
For most beer connoisseurs, however, it all comes down to taste in the end. Historically, taste has always been the Achilles' heel of alcohol-free beer.
The Warentest researchers found that many of the alcohol-free beers had a lot going for them. Some were spicy and others sweet, while others had a hoppy flavor. But not all passed the taste test — some carried with them a bitter aftertaste.