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Many social drinkers are looking for an alcoholic beverage they can enjoy drinking without getting drunk. American and European beverage makers have greatly expanded their offering for this upscale, health-conscious market.

Most Americans don't really think of beer as a potential health food. However, beverage manufacturers seeking their share of the highly competitive $206 billion a year American adult beverage market are coming out with a number of imaginative, sometimes delicious, and sometimes just plain odd options for responsible drinkers seeking wholesome, or at least healthier, libations.

More Options Than Just "Lite" Beer

The bestselling alcoholic beverage in the United States, most people will not be surprised to learn, is beer. Sales of beer account for a little less than half of the American alcoholic beverage market in terms of sales, about $93 billion a year, but about 80 percent of alcoholic beverage sales in terms of customer contact, about 80% of all purchases of alcohol including beer. 

About half of beer sales reflect an innovation from the 1970's, light beer, also known as "lite" beer. In the UK and Australia, beers are "light" if they contain less alcohol. In these English-speaking countries regular beer contains about 5.5 percent alcohol and light beer just 2.0-2.5 percent. In the United States, light or "lite" beer contains fewer carbohydrates, and therefore fewer calories, but not necessarily less alcohol.  

The problem with light beers is that they often taste as if they had been watered down. In making regular beer, American brewers allow the growth of fungi that break down a kind of carbohydrate called dextrin, which the human body cannot digest, into malt sugars, which it can. In making light beers, brewers stop the action of the years to leave more of the indigestible dextrin in the product. This robs the beer of some of its malt flavor, but allows the production of alcohol. In the UK and Australia, brewers may simply dilute beer with water.

In the United States, for many years the only alternatives to "light" beer were alcohol-free beer and cider. In the last 10 years, however, about five percent of the beer market has been taken over by exotic beverages that provide less alcohol but more flavor.

Get Tickled, Not Pickled

One of those alternative beers is kombucha beer, made from kombucha tea prepared over an especially long fermentation time. Kombucha is made without grains, so the resulting beer is gluten-free, and the brew contains all of the alleged health benefits of regular kombucha tea. The long fermentation time gives the beer an alcohol content of about 2 percent, which is four to five times more than regular kombucha tea, but about half as much as in regular beer. One kombucha beer, Kombrewcha, sold in New York and Connecticut, invites consumers to "get tickeld, not pickled" with the lowers alcohol content. Lambrucha, which combines Lambric beer and kombucha and has a higher alcohol content, is available in 40 states.

European beer industry giant Heineken recently introduced Americans to Amstel Radner, a mixture of 40 percent beer and 60 percent lemon juice. It has just 2 percent alcohol by volume along with a hefty dose of vitamin C. Heineken hopes it will bring more women into the American beer market. Amstel Radner contains less gluten than most other beers, but it is not gluten-free. The popular workout drink, coconut water, has been combined with lime juice, tequila, and malt liquor to make Parrot Bay Margarita, which comes in 8-ounce (240 ml) cans.  The lime juice in this drink also provides some vitamin C.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Kasper LR. The lowdown on low-alcohol wines. Splendid Table. Accessed 18 February 2015.
  • Robinson R. The Nine Healthiest Alcoholic Drinks. Gizmodo. Accessed 18 February 2015.
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