Non alcoholic beer has seen a major spike in recent years in terms of both sales and popularity, as more adults are choosing to abstain from alcohol for one reason or another. There are also those who enjoy mixing in a few non-alcoholic beverages with traditional beers and cocktails, as it allows them to enjoy a long night out with friends while still drinking responsibly.
There is still plenty of confusion surrounding the legality of non alcoholic beer laws in different situations, so we have put together this helpful guide to break down the different rules and non alcoholic beer laws by state.
History of Non Alcoholic Beer
The roots of non-alcoholic beer production can largely be traced back to the year 1919 when the United States banned the production, distribution, and consumption of alcoholic beverages measuring higher than 0.5% in alcohol by volume.
When prohibition first went into effect, the majority of breweries were scrambling just to stay in business. Without being able to produce their traditional beer beverages, many of these American breweries transitioned to brewing low-alcohol beer, which was prominently referred to as “tonic” at the time.
The advent of prohibition also led to an increased demand for low-alcohol beer-like beverages that still tasted like traditional hops without exceeding the legal regulations on alcohol content. The term “near beer” was coined, and the production of these tunics remained fairly popular in the US well into the 1930s.
In the year 1933, the repeal of the Prohibition Act in the United States ended the country’s “dry period,” and breweries were once again able to brew their traditional recipes. During this era, the demand for low-alcohol beer greatly diminished, as much of the country was busy celebrating their access to regular beer and other alcoholic beverages.
In the 1970s, a fitness wave took over the United States, and people started to place much more focus on exercise, proper diet and living a healthy lifestyle. This opened the door for a new generation of nonalcoholic beer brewers, as the demand for a tasty drink without the negative side effects associated with alcohol grew tremendously in this era.
During the 1980s and 1990s, improvements in brewing technology allowed nonalcoholic beer makers to improve the overall taste and quality of their products. Some of the top breweries in the United States began offering nonalcoholic options, and brands like O’Douls non-alcoholic beer gained popularity.
In recent years, many more massive strides have been made in the production of high-quality non-alcoholic beer. In years past, it was never possible to create a true beer with zero alcohol. Today, some of the top brewers in the world like Heineken and Budweiser offer their own “n/a” beer that is truly alcohol-free, and labeled “0.0% ABV”
Non Alcoholic Beer Laws
States with Unique Non Alcoholic Beer Laws
Under federal law in the United States, a “non alcoholic beer” can contain no more than 0.5% alcohol by volume. While the majority of states have used this 0.5% rule when establishing individual state laws, there are six states that have differed from the US government’s guidelines when it comes to defining non-alcoholic beer.
The state of Kentucky is home to some of the most confusing and convoluted alcohol laws in the US. Many of these laws can be traced all the way back to the prohibition era, as Kentucky was a major hotspot for the production and distribution of illegal liquor.
There are 120 different counties within the state of Kentucky, and each of them is either considered “dry,” “wet,” or “moist,” depending on their alcohol laws. In dry states, the sale and consumption of alcohol are prohibited in any capacity, which includes most non-alcoholic beers.
In “wet” counties where alcohol is allowed, people over the age of 21 are also able to buy non-alcoholic beer. Things get a bit more confusing in “moist” counties, however, as each county has different rules and restrictions regarding what type of alcohol is allowed.
To make matters even more confusing, the state of Kentucky allows for up to one percent alcohol by volume in a “non alcoholic” beverage. This is higher than the federal limit of one-half percent, but “NA beers” with any trace amount of alcohol are still prohibited in dry counties.
In dry and moist counties where alcohol sales are allowed, non-alcoholic beers can be purchased at pharmacies, but not grocery stores unless a separate entrance is provided. While truly alcohol-free beers like Heineken 0.0 could be considered allowable in some dry Kentucky counties, the individual county laws should be referenced as they vary widely.
Like Kentucky, the state of Vermont allows for up to one percent alcohol in an NA beer. Vermont state law refers to “low alcohol spirits beverages” as those between one and 16 percent ABV. This leaves anything up to and below one percent alcohol by volume in the “non alcoholic” category.
While there is greater flexibility with the alcohol percentage of non-alcoholic beers in the state of Vermont, the majority of NA beer producers use the federal limit of one-half percent ABV, and it is very uncommon to find a non-alcoholic beer between .5 and 1% ABV.
Kansas has the loosest laws in the entire United States when it comes to non-alcoholic beers, as their alcohol limit is more than three times higher than the nearest state laws. At an allowable 3.2% ABV, NA beer in Kansas can legally contain six times the federal limit.
This strange legal loophole is due in large part to the overall strict alcohol laws across the state of Kansas. While many county laws have become more tolerant of alcohol sales and consumption over the past few decades there are still three dry counties in the state.
However, the sale of “3.2 percent beer” is still permitted in these counties, and there are a number of different popular beer manufacturers who produce special batches of this “near beer” specifically to meet this 3.2 percent threshold.
Until 1985, it was legal for people between the ages of 18 and 21 to purchase this low-alcohol beer, which became better known as “Cereal Malt Beverage.” Today, many new laws have been put in place that has diminished the popularity of cereal malt beverages, and grocery stores are no longer required to stock it as an option statewide.
In the state of New York, a beverage must be one hundred percent free of alcohol to be considered “non alcoholic.” This rules out the majority of large non-alcoholic beer brands and makes finding NA beers very tough to find as a result.
State laws regarding where NA beer can be sold further complicate things, as liquor stores are not allowed to carry or sell zero percent ABV beer. In the state of New York, any beverage without alcohol is considered a “mixer” and must be sold at a separate establishment apart from the liquor store.
Tennessee is home to some of the toughest alcohol laws in the country, as like Kentucky it was one of the most prevalent areas for “moonshining” during the prohibition era. The sale of liquor is not allowed on Sundays, though beer can be sold at grocery stores seven days per week.
The state laws in Tennessee restrict the alcohol content in NA beer to 0% ABV, which drastically limits the options in terms of selection. However, large grocery store chains like Kroger have begun carrying a handful of zero percent beers, with Heineken 0.0 being the most widely distributed.
In the state of Idaho, any beverage that contains even 0.1 percent alcohol by volume is treated as an alcoholic beverage. NA beer is legal for sale throughout the state where beer sales are allowed, though an ID is required to prove the buyer is at least 21 years of age.
Non Alcoholic Beer Laws – Final Thoughts
There is a significant amount of confusion surrounding individual state laws in the United States when it comes to non-alcoholic beer. While the federal government stipulates that a non-alcoholic beer may not exceed 0.5 percent alcohol by volume, there are six states that differ from these guidelines.
Three states are more lenient compared to federal regulations, while four others are stricter and allow zero alcohol in non-alcoholic beers.
Feel free to leave a comment below if you are a fan of non-alcoholic beer, and be sure to let other beer enthusiasts know about the NA beer laws in your specific state and county!