‘NoLow’ beer throughout history
Once, low-alcohol beer was by far the most popular beer type in Europe, though nobody was talking about 'NoLow' or even 'low alcohol'. For that we have to go back in time, towards the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the early modern period. Then, beer was an everyday drink, partly because other drinks were simply not yet available. Fizzy drinks, coffee, wine, juices, forget it - you just didn’t have them. There was some wine, but that was only for the rich. In many cases, clean drinking water was scarce and milk was seen as a food for children.
Beer became an obvious alternative. Brewing was a regular part of the household; it was tended to be work done by women, even before the Middle Ages. The beer they made at home contained little alcohol, however: they used was as little grain as possible, so that there was little fermentable sugar, and the fermentation itself was completely uncontrolled. However, the drink was boiled, making it relatively safe to drink. It was never more than 1% to 1.5% alcohol. So, in a way, NoLow goes way back.
Gradually, home breweries turned into more professional companies, and home-brewed beer all but disappeared from the stage. Production changed a lot: while at first people brewed small quantities for immediate consumption in their own household, now, breweries were opening that produced beer en masse for public use that could be kept for quite a while.
The raw materials were handled more efficiently, too. Breweries rinsed the malt batter (the grains which the sugars come from) several times with hot water. With every new rinse, more and more sugars are washed away and less alcohol remains. The last rinse gave so little sugar, and therefore alcohol, the Dutch called it 'scharrebier' and sold it to the poorest of the population for just a few cents. But even the beer that everyone else drank daily - in considerable quantities, maybe up to five litres a day - contained little alcohol.
We now know this beer as 'table beer'. You can still buy it in litre bottles, mainly in Belgium. There, as recently as ten years ago, parliamentarians voted on whether this table beer should be used again in primary schools. Surprisingly, the proposal didn’t make it in parliament.