The Rise of Non-Alcoholic Beer

on February 24, 2021

Hello brew crew!

I used to chuckle at the thought of non-alcoholic (“NA”) beer and ignored it. It was easy to do so – there were not many options available in the U.S. and most were substandard substitutes for mass produced American lagers.

Now, I’m not getting any younger, and my health is a much bigger concern now as the years pass. While I have no plans on giving up the alcoholic option, the thought of NA beer isn’t as strange as I used to think. The good news? The beer industry is rapidly catching up, and NA beer is becoming a major trend for 2021 and beyond.

I decided to purchase 11 NA beers and conduct a very basic taste test with my wife, who is even more excited about the trend. Here are our findings:

  • There is a fair amount of disparity between brands and styles.
  • Most of the NA beers have an unusual “first sip” impression, but improve. Almost like a beer “uncanny valley” – similar but not quite right. While many didn’t quite taste quite like their full alcoholic counterparts, if you could get past the initial impression and lack of similarity, most were pretty good, interesting drinks.
  • Lagers, light ales, and the one stout we tasted were much more on point style-wise relative to their other ale brethren, particularly IPAs. NA IPAs have a lot of room to improve.
  • I have a bias against NA wheat ales. I wonder if the lack of alcohol throws off the balance, making them too sweet for me.
  • Good news: all were under 100 calories, some substantially, so it is good for the waistline.

In summary, NA beer has come a long way. I expect the trend to continue, and am excited to see improvements, particularly on the IPA style. NA beers provide a fun alternative and change of pace when you are looking for flavor without the alcohol.

Brands tasted: Athletic Brewing Company, Wellbeing Brewing, Heineken, Lagunitas, Krombacher, Weihenstephaner

The best:

Heineken 0.0

Heineken 0.0

Somewhat surprisingly, the Heineken 0.0 took the overall top grade. It is an almost spot on replacement for the European pale lager. If anything, I think there is a little less hop bitterness, particularly on the finish, so the beer is a tad bit sweeter.

All Out Stout

All Out Stout by Athletic Brewing Company

I was convinced I was drinking a real stout with this beer. The body was a bit light and there was (obviously) no hint of alcoholic heat. Overall, very well done.

Very good:

Run Wild IPA

Run Wild IPA by Athletic Brewing Company

This was the best hop-forward beer in the mix. With a relatively light body, this reminded me more of an American Pale Ale vs. India Pale Ale. A nice way to get a hop fix.

Heavenly Body Golden Wheat

Heavenly Body Golden Wheat by Wellbeing Brewing

Similar to the upside dawn, relatively basic, easy drinking beer. A touch more sweetness and tanginess with the addition of wheat, but not as pronounced as a typical wheat ale.

Upside Down

Upside Dawn Golden Ale by Athletic Brewing Company  

This is a pretty good “lawnmower beer” replacement. Simple without any strong flavors.

Okay:

Krombacher NA

Krombacher Weizen

This was a pretty good representation of the weizen style, particularly with the beautiful appearance, including a big, fluffy head. However, something struck me as off, and I think it was the hop flavor/aroma. Something with the sweetness was a bit strange, too. A pretty good way to scratch a weizen ich, but expect some difference compared to the alcoholic versions.

Weinehstaphner NA

Weihenstaphner

Pretty good beer. Nice aroma. A little light on the carbonation.

Victory Wheat

Victory Wheat by Wellbeing Brewing Company

Pretty good. Without the alcohol, it was a bit too sweet on the balance.

The rest:

Free Wave

Free Wave Hazy IPA by Athletic Brewing Company

This didn’t pour hazy to me, but that wasn’t really the main issue. The main issue was the flavor. The hops just didn’t convey that citrusy beautifulness that you expect to find in these beers. In fact, something was so off with the hop flavor that I couldn’t really drink it.

Hellraiser Dark Amber

Hellraiser Dark Amber by Wellbeing Brewing Company

Something was off for me here, likely the hops, and it was not really drinkable.

IPNA

Lagunitas IPNA

Similar to the above: something was wrong with how the hops are conveyed to me in the beer. Borderline undrinkable.

I hope this is helpful! Next time you are at the beer store, you can mix it up and see if they have any NA options.

Cheers,

Bruce

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