Throughout history, alcoholic beverages have played a large role in sustenance. While widely consumed in beverage form, ethyl alcohol (grain alcohol) has several other uses. Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) can be used to kill biological organisms (eg. bacteria, virii), something I learned during my lab days and continue to use in our home still. It is used in the perfume and pharmacological industries. I use a clear grain alcohol called Everclear (no flavour) to make homemade coffee liqueur and transparent soaps. Many cough remedies, mouthwash and vanilla extract contain ethanol. Any fermented foods (eg. yeast breads, sauerkraut, fermented pickles, wines) contain alcohol, a product of the fermentation process. In fact, jams and jellies, orange juice and some sodas (eg. Mountain Dew) all contain very low levels of alcohol as a result of sugar conversion during storage. Many processed foods contain added sugar alcohols (eg. sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol) as sweeteners but these are not true alcohols as found in the foods mentioned, although they are still cause for concern especially for those with diabetes.
Alcohol is commonly used in cooking to add flavour but can also be used as a food preservative. Alcohol does add to the cost of the dish but normally there isn't enough added to greatly inflate the price of the dish. the biggest concern is residual alcohol in the dish that remains after cooking and in the case of wine jellies the alcohol does not burn off at all. For this reason, foods cooked with alcohol or using alcohol as an ingredient are not suitable for children, pregnant women or those choosing to abstain from alcohol. While we do cook with alcohol, we do so on a fairly limited basis. I have a couple of wine jellies that I make and I occasionally add some type of liquor to fruit preserves. I use vodka or light rum to make vanilla extract. A few years ago a friend introduced us to using a wine reduction sauce for grilled steaks. On the very rare occasion I will add a dash of sherry to a dish. Other than that, beer is the most common alcohol we use in cooking. It is the secret to a great pizza dough and cheese sticks. We use beer to make batter for English style fish & chips or coating vegetables. I also like using beer when grilling brats and chicken.
Non-alcoholic beers are real beers (look, taste, fizz), brewed the same way as alcoholic beers but they undergo a final step to remove most of the alcohol leaving less than 0.5% ABV. That means they retain all the flavour of the barley malt and hops that went into making the beer. Most non-alcoholic beers are lagers but some are ales. Using a non-alcoholic beer eliminates the worry of any residual alcohol in the food not burned out during the cooking process. My concern after doing a bit of research was whether the non-alcoholic beers would give the same flavour because of some of the negative reviews regarding flavour. as some beer drinkers in the forums indicated that the non-alcoholic beers were lacking in flavour, tasting watered down. I reasoned that the lighter non-alcoholic beers would suitable for using in bread doughs, biscuits, fish or vegetable batters or for grilling while the darker, amber non-alcoholic beers with a deeper flavour would be a good choice for beef dishes and some beer breads.
I also found that non-alcoholic beers are not highly regarded with many commenting to the effect of 'why drink non-alcoholic beer because there is no point without the alcohol'. Well, there are many reasons for choosing a non-alcoholic beer including religious and personal choice. It has been shown that beer has several health benefits. Those health benefits are still there in the non-alcoholic versions! In all honesty the choice to use non-alcoholic (de-alcoholized) beer is no different than choosing to use: decaffeinated coffee, sugar-free candy, no fat sour cream, soy based meat products, and margarine.
Non-alcoholic beers in Canada do have the nutritional value label on them just like any other food drink or beverage sold in the grocery stores. Unlike beer that is sold in the government owned LCBO stores and The Beer Store, non-alcoholic beers and wines are available at the grocery store. In fact, The Beer Store does not carry non-alcoholic beers. I didn't check the LCBO but I doubt they carry them either. To be labeled as non-alcoholic, the alcohol content must be 0.05% ABV or less. So, a non-alcoholic beer can have up to 0.05% ABV which is the same amount of alcohol in a glass of fresh orange juice.
Beck's (German brewed) non-alcoholic beer is 0.0% ABV and 60 calories per 355 ml bottle. Our Compliments is brewed by Lakeport Brewing Company of London, Ontario is <0.05% ABV, 35 calories and 10 mg sodium per 255 ml can. President's Choice Blonde (80 calories) and Rousse (100 calories) are <0.05% ABV, 0 mg sodium and brewed by Brick Brewing Co. in Waterloo, Ontario for the Loblaw's Company. Molson Excel brewed by Molson-Coors Canada Ltd. is <0.05% ABV, 80 calories and 65 mg sodium. Of these non-alcoholic beers, the sodium content in Molson Excel could be a concern for some. In terms of flavour, PC blonde and Our Compliments are quite smooth, nicely flavoured beers. PC rousse is a darker amber colour, stronger flavoured beer. Molson Excel has a nice enough flavour but is not as smooth and there is a distinct after taste. Beck's has a mild flavour with a slight tang. O'doul's does taste watered down in comparison to the other non-alcoholic beers I tested.
The same rule as cooking with alcohol applies for cooking with non-alcoholic (de-alcoholized) beer. Do not cook with one you would not drink! That means before cooking with a non-alcoholic beer, chill one to enjoy. I have tasted all of these beers and was surprised that they are quite palatable, definitely worth keeping on hand for entertaining or enjoying those times where you don't want alcohol. You might have to try a couple of brands before you find one you like but the good news is, the non-alcoholic beers are not expensive. Some non-alcoholic beers like Our Compliments, President's Choice and Bush cost only 50¢ per 355 ml can. Coors and St. Pauli Girl is about 90¢ per 355 ml bottle. Beck's is the most expensive at $1.50 per 355 ml bottle. So, for the most part, non-alcoholic beer costs less than soda. The best thing is so far, I have found that the non-alcoholic beers perform exactly the same as beers that have the alcohol content. I will be sharing the tasty results of cooking with non-alcoholic beers as I continue experimenting with them.