It’s illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase nonalcoholic beer. But it’s proper across the state line in Washington.
Arick Branen, who owns Branegan’s Pizza, said he always asks customers for identification when they want to purchase nonalcoholic drinks such as O’Doul’s or Sharp’s.
Both beverages have less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume. Still, in Idaho any amount of alcohol is considered an alcoholic drink.
Idaho laws allow up to 6 percent alcohol by weight for a beverage to qualify as beer.
Lyle Bolan, an agent for Idaho Beverage Control, said there is very little chance of becoming intoxicated from nonalcoholic drinks. Still, stores and restaurants must have a license to sell the products.
In Washington, nonalcoholic beverages are not regulated. They’re treated the same as sparkling water or soda.
Bob Wihtelin, an agent for the Washington Liquor Control Board, said the Washington State Patrol conducted an experiment about three years ago to test the effects of nonalcoholic beer.
A man was put in a room with as much Sharp’s as he could drink and a toilet. Wihtelin said when the man was done he was given a breath test to see how much his blood-alcohol content had increased.
There was no difference. He had eliminated any alcohol in his system, Wihtelin said.
“There’s no special alcohol license for this kind of beer,” he said. “A retailer could sell it to a 5-year-old.”
Outside of the 70 calories in O’Doul’s and 58 calories in Sharp’s, Wihtelin said there is no health risk involved in drinking nonalcoholic beer. He said in his 25 years he has been with the board, he has never heard of anyone becoming intoxicated by drinking nonalcoholic beer.
“There are recovering alcoholics who might buy it for the taste,” he said. “Some people just enjoy it as a beverage.”
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