The Best Beers to Drink When You’re Not Drinking Alcohol

I bet you know more jokes about non-alcoholic beer than you do good examples that you might enjoy imbibing. Non-Alcoholic beer has a reputation for being too sweet, too watery, or having a lingering bad aftertaste. This has been pretty typical in the US, but that is changing.

 

SHEDDING STIGMA

 

Overseas, specifically in Germany, most breweries produce an “alkoholfrei” version in their lineup, and consumers actually buy them. There is a large association with NA beer and sports in Germany, with many Olympic-level athletes replacing their ‘sports drinks’ with NA beer. There was even a double-blind study (financed by a beer company, however) that noted in 2009 marathon runners given NA beer suffered less inflammation and fewer respiratory infections than those given a placebo. At most major German marathons, nonalcoholic beer is available (or even provided!) to runners at the finish line.

 

Between 2011-2016, though overall beer drinking declined in Germany, Euromonitor International data showed consumption of non-alcoholic beer went up 43%. With new (undisclosed) brewing techniques helping to improve flavor and diversity of brews available (there are over 400 NA beers on the market in Germany), Germans drink more NA beer than any nation, except Iran. The innovation and growth of the NA beer market in Germany shows it can work in other markets. Consumers are slowly changing their minds about NA beer. Over 25% of consumers in Poland, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany agree that NA beer can taste just as good as full-strength beer.

 

NON-ALCOHOLIC CRAFT BEER

 

Enter brands like Stratford, Connecticut’s Athletic Brewing. Started in 2018 by Bill Shufelt, it only brews alcohol-free craft beer. They have a Stout, IPA, and a Golden Ale in their current lineup. Currently they are the only brewery in the US east of the Mississippi River specializing in non-alcoholic beer, but not the only one in the US. Bravus Brewing Co. and Surreal Brewing Co. in California and WellBeing Brewing Co. in Missouri are also making craft NA brews. 
Historically, NA beers are made in one of two ways: brewers stop fermentation or they boil the alcohol off. Athletic Brewing isn’t saying exactly how they remove the alcohol from their beer. They did say it is not by burning off the alcohol, and it involves “small tweaks to every step of the process.” Bravus said of their process, “We found a specialized strain of yeast that doesn’t produce a lot of alcohol. We worked with a molecular biologist to keep the fermentation slow and low (heat). It’s almost like cooking sous vide. We don’t distill our beer or run it through a filter.” WellBeing Brewing says they produce their brews by putting fully-brewed and finished craft beer into a vacuum and lowering the boiling point to remove the alcohol, while “maintaining the body, aroma, mouthfeel, crispness, and flavor.” Similar to Athletic, Surreal doesn’t disclose their NA brewing methods. 

 

“There’s an incredible world of craft beer out there with all sorts of variety and options, but the way the world is trending with people being healthy and active, or wanting a clear head for any number of reasons, there’s really nothing out there for (people who want) social drinks that are healthy and made from high-quality ingredients.” Shufelt said.

 

NA beer is growing, partly because consumers want it too. Americans are drinking less, citing family, religious or medical reasons, and recovery. Almost 84% of global drinkers say they’re trying to reduce or moderate their alcohol consumption. The craft beer industry is making changes to be more inclusive of this group. With the new brewing technologies and a wave of NA focused craft brewers making great beer without the alcohol, the options are greater than ever for you to knock- back a beer even when you’re not drinking. 

Virginia is the Products, Programming, and Educational Director for Craft Beer Cellar. In addition to being a Certified Cicerone, she is an Introductory Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Her home base is Chicago, but she’s often found in the Boston area, or wherever her passion for good food & drink takes her.

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