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Alcohol-Free Beer Aids Athletes

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It’s official! Scientific findings by German Olympic ski team doctor, Johannes Scherr have confirmed what many pro and amateur athletes already knew (or at least suspected), all along: non-alcoholic beer or low-alcohol beer is an ideal isotonic drink, and actually far better for you than most other sugary workout beverages. Specifically, alcohol-free wheat beer, thousands of litres of which have been drunk at the German team’s pavillion in Pyeongchang this year, sponsored courtesy of German brewer, Krombacher.

The findings stem from a study conducted by Dr. Scherr on Munich Marathon runners in 2009 which showed alcohol-free beer reduced post-run joint inflammation in the short-term, and also helped prevent respiratory infections over time, while replenishing various salts and minerals, and generally speeding athletes’ recovery times faster than other rehydration sources like isotonics or “sports drinks”.

If it’s measured purely on anecdotal evidence, then the German team’s resounding success at this year’s Winter Olympics seems to back the efficacy of alcohol-free beer for its isotonic effects. With Germany’s 31 medals to date putting it solidly in 2nd place overall, ahead of Canada, the US, Russia and various other athletics powerhouses.

While non-alcoholic beers are often seen as a gimmick elsewhere, in Germany they’re the norm at roadside restaurants and cafes nationwide, where thirsty drivers who like the taste of beer want a responsible alternative to drink-driving. The result has seen a boom in German domestic alcohol-free (ie <0.5% ABV) beers of every variety, ranging from standard lagers and pils, to quintessentially German varieties, like Altbeir, Bockbeir, Kölsch, and Weiß.

A Brief History of Alcohol-Free Beer
Alcohol-free beer was effectively invented by the German brewery, Clausthaler in 1972. They acheived it by stopping the fermentation process early, once the beer already had acquired its aroma, colour and taste, but before it became alcoholic. The resulting alcohol-free brews were bland pils, and didn’t catch on among a the discerning, German beer drinking public.

It was only in 1979, when Clausthaler re-branded it’s alcohol-free line under the new name, Prinzen that the concept became a hit, thanks largely to technological improvements that had taken place during the intervening years, taking it from being a beer-like beverage, to being an actual beer, only without any alcohol.

By the 1990s, even major breweries like Löwenbräu and Paulaner had gotten in on the act, pioneering a second method for making alcohol-free beer – by brewing the beer normally, then removing the alcohol chemically afterwards. Of the two methods, stopping the fermentation early vs. removing the alcohol after the fact, the latter is the only way to have absolutely 0.0% ABV beer, since anything that’s naturally fermented, such as sauerkraut or even kimchi, has trace amounts of alcohol.

Today, you can find them on tap (not just bottled) in virtually any bar or restaurant in Germany, and there’s absolutely zero stigma attached when ordering an alkohol-frei, even at the most hallowed of all German beer institutions, Oktoberfest; where there’s a widely-held belief that waitresses will covertly serve rowdier customers alcohol-free beer if they start getting too drunk; while it’s an urban legend, it’s easily believable given that good alcohol-free beers these days are indistinguishable from their boozy counterparts.

And while they’ve been variously marketed over the years, to pregnant women, teenagers, designated drivers, etc., they’re now widely drunk among amateur athletes as a guilt-free way to unwind after a hard training session.

Just how much does Germany love it’s alcohol-free beers? As of 2017, over 10 million Germans regularly drank alcohol-free beer; which doesn’t even take into account popular low-alcohol beers, like Germany’s extremely popular radlers. Either way, it’s a startlingly high figure in a country that’s so synonymous with beer, that it had already gone so far as to ensure its strict beer-making standards into law in 1516 with the famous Reinheitsgebot.

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