Breweries are trying to make beer healthier

Beer is getting better for you.

As American beer consumption continues to drop, brewers are attracting health-conscious consumers with no and low alcohol beverages that pack in vitamin-rich fruit and electrolytes with fewer calories.

Beer volumes were down 1.5 percent in 2018, compared to a 1.1 percent decline in 2017, according to data compiled for The Wall Street Journal by industry tracker IWSR. And beer makers are adjusting to the changing demand.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, the third largest craft brewery in the US, announced last month it purchased the low alcohol, San Francisco-based Sufferfest Beer Company. The gluten-reduced beer brands itself as “beer with benefits” marketed to athletes as a recovery drink because it contains electrolytes and sea salts to help drinkers refuel instead of leaving them dehydrated like most alcohol does.

Sufferfest launched in 2016 by founder Caitlin Landesberg, a long-distance trail runner aiming to create a post-workout brew. Beers like its 95-calorie Kolsch (3.5 percent) alcohol by volume (ABV) are brewed with bee pollen and its FKT (Faster Known Time) Pale Ale is made with salt and black currant with 5.5 percent ABV.

“Low or no alcohol is of interest to many brewers especially in the US because wellness is a huge facet that’s driving a lot of consumer packaged goods sales,” Julia Herz, the craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, told MarketWatch. “Wellness and health is a big deal and many people are taking a look at their beverage alcohol consumption.”

Indeed, the global wellness industry grew 12.8 percent from 2015 to 2017 and is now a $4.2 trillion industry. And mainstream beer brands have jumped on the bandwagon. Anheuser-Busch the maker of Budweiser, has a spiked coconut water product. And last year, Molson Coors acquired California-based Clearly Kombucha, making it the first international brewing company to purchase a non-alcoholic beverage brand.

The Brewers Association surveyed all of its members in 2018 and found that 40 percent are already brewing products that fall outside its traditional beer and cider categories to include low alcohol and non-alcoholic beers, while more than half would consider making similar products.

Herz says a number of craft brewers have been able to mimic the flavors of existing beer styles like American lager and India Pale ales sans alcohol to cater to those who actually enjoy the taste of beer, but want to consume less alcohol and fewer calories.

Stratford, Conn.-based Athletic Brewing Co. boasts three beers under 100 calories with less than 0.5 percent ABV. It’s Run Wild IPA, said to have a complex malt profile for example ($12.99 for a six pack), contains 70 calories. The All Out ($12.99 for a six pack) non-alcoholic stout has chocolate and coffee tasting notes with a hint of roasted fire for 100 calories. And Harpoon Brewery recently released is own low alcohol beer Rec League brewed with Mediterranean sea salt and chia seeds and said to taste like an IPA with only 3.8 ABV.

While non-alcoholic beer ends up tasting similar to the real thing, the process to make it is more time-consuming. It starts out as regular beer, going through the full process of making a mash, extracting and boiling the sugar-containing liquid (wort), adding hops and fermenting. To remove the alcohol, heat is applied until the brew is only 0.5 percent ABV. Heating the beer changes its flavor, so to minimize this, some breweries use vacuum distilling.

Beer contains plant-derived compounds called phenols found in foods like barley, corn, wheat, fruits and spices that have a number of antiviral properties and health effects like lowering inflammation. A study from the University of Munich looked at the effects of beer on athletes. When runners were told to drink 1.5 liters of nonalcoholic beer a day, their risk of upper respiratory infection was reduced and their number of white blood cells — an indicator of inflammation — was lowered 20 percent.

What’s more, Olympians have even used nonalcoholic beer as recovery drinks after high-intensity workouts.

Shares of Anheuser-Busch InBev are up 22.3 percent year-to-date, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 9.1 percent and the S&P 500 Index is up 9.8 percent. Shares of Molson Coors Brewing Co. are up 6.7 percent.

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