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Yesterday, I had a can of alcohol free beer which tasted almost like normal beer, just without the alcohol bite. Practically any other alcohol free beer I've had has a different taste. They all are slightly sweet (but not with a sucrose sweetness) and remind me very much of the taste of young corn, specifically the white liquid contained in the raw kernels before the corn is ripe. This happens with beer which contains enough hops and no corn at all (brewed by Reinheitsgebot), while alcoholic beer which actually contains corn (like Tuborg) doesn't have that taste. I am talking about regular light lager here, not the strongly malted dark beers which turn sweet with caramel products.

I think that young corn is sweet because of its glucose, which converts to starch while ripening. Is it glucose which makes the alcohol free beer sweet? If yes, does it ferment in the alcoholic beer, or is it still there, but covered by the alcohol taste? Or is my sense of taste misleading me?

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I take you never tasted Belgian beers? –  nico Aug 11 '11 at 9:19
    
In fact, I drank a Kasteel for the first time a few days ago. But I don't think I've ever had a light lager from Belgium, only brown ales. Why are you mentioning it, are they usually sweet? –  rumtscho Aug 11 '11 at 9:40
    
well, they have quite a few sweet beers. I am no expert but I think it has something to do with fermentation in bottle (but most probably the ingredients play an important role in generating the fruityness of the beer) –  nico Aug 11 '11 at 9:51
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1 Answer

Beer is made from malted cereal grains. These can be corn but more commonly malted barley. The malting process turns the starch in the grain into sugars then the fermentation turns the sugars into beer. To get a strong dry beer, first start with a sweet malt and the ferment until as much sugar as possible becomes alcohol. For a non alcoholic beer, you need to remove the alcohol so you start with a low sugar malt and ferment just long enough to get the flavour but not too much alcohol. Since the fermentation is short, even through the initial sugar content might be low, there is sugar left in the beer thus giving you a sweet taste.

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Hm, I already knew that much. I wanted to know which sugars are responsible (maltose? then why does it taste like corn?), and why is the sweetness of alcohol-free beer different from the sweetness of malt-rich beers like abovementioned Kasteel? –  rumtscho Aug 12 '11 at 8:20
    
The majority of the sugar in a malt beer is maltose, but glucose, sucrose, maltriose, and un-fermentable dextrins are also created. Sugar may also be added at the bottling stage to sweeten a dry beer. This may be of any type including corn based sugars. –  Rincewind42 Aug 13 '11 at 4:44
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