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Not long ago, there were just a couple of nonalcoholic beer brands on the market, none of which offered much in the way of flavor or style diversity. But recently, big-box brands and craft breweries are getting into the game, pumping out nonalcoholic options, including lagers, IPAs and stouts.
"With little to no innovation within the nonalcoholic beer category over the past few decades, this poses an exciting opportunity for brewers," says Golden Road Brewing general manager Dan Hamill. "How can we bring full flavor to a historically bland product?"
The near-beer market in America is still relatively small, but experts see a lot of room for growth. "The current [nonalcoholic] space is 1% of the U.S. beer industry," Hamill says. "But [nonalcoholic] beer is expected to grow by double digits in the next few years with recent trends in health and wellness." Beer giant AB InBev, which owns Golden Road, has even set a goal to have at least 20% of its global beer volume be no- or low-alcohol by 2025.
To celebrate this new golden age of beers, here are the best nonalcoholic beers that deserve your sober attention.
Best Overall: Brooklyn Special Effects Hoppy Amber
Region: New York City | ABV: Less than 0.5% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, Bread, Hops
Brooklyn Brewery is a favorite of many craft beer drinkers around the country, but it also appeals to those who can more often be found with a Budweiser in hand. That’s because the brewery has really honed its craft over the years, and now it has this nonalcoholic addition to its lineup.
Special Effects is made using a special fermentation method, according to the brewery, that allows it to retain flavor without the alcohol. The result is a citrus-forward brew with just the right amount of bitterness from the hops.
Best Wheat: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Alkoholfrei
Region: Germany | ABV: Less than 0.5% | Tasting Notes: Wheat, Yeast, Citrus
Oktoberfest staple Weihenstephaner, based in Germany, dubs itself the world’s oldest brewery. It offers nonalcoholic versions of its classic brews, like the Nonalcoholic Wheat Beer and Nonalcoholic Original Helles.
The former is the better of the two: a very light and refreshing Hefeweizen with a touch of hops and the overall feeling that you are, indeed, drinking beer and not some barleyed version of White Claw.
Best Craft: Athletic Brewing Run Wild IPA
Region: Connecticut | ABV: Less than 0.5% | Tasting Notes: Hops, Fruit, Malt
Connecticut’s Athletic Brewing does one thing and one thing only: nonalcoholic beer with a craft brewery mentality. That means there are many different types of beer available, like the IPA. "The heavy malt in this brew is awesome because it actually tastes like a West Coast American IPA," says Kevin Bradford, a partner of Harlem Hops. "It’s the best [nonalcoholic] beer I have ever tasted."
Perfect for fans of craft beer, these nonalcoholic beers are created with the idea that just because there’s no alcohol doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice flavor or variety.
Related: The Best Beer Fridges
Best German: Clausthaler Original
Region: Germany | ABV: Less than 0.5% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, Malt, Hops
Clausthaler is one of the original nonalcoholic beer makers. The brewery got its start in the early 1970s with a focus on making German-style beer that adheres to the Germany Purity Law. This law dictates that only water, hops and barley can be used to make beer.
In addition to the original flavor, there are new styles such as a dry-hopped brew made with Cascade hops, as well as the brand's upcoming release, Santa Clausthaler, which is a blend of the original and the cranberry-cinnamon drink.
Best Lager: Heineken 0.0
Region: The Netherlands | ABV: 0.03% | Tasting Notes: Malt, Bitter hops, Lemon
The popular Dutch brand joined the nonalcoholic beer game with its Heineken 0.0 lager. Diehard fans of the original might not mistake this for classic Heineken, as the flavor is a bit on the thin side, but it does have that characteristic skunkiness and mouthfeel.
Plus, some who have done blind taste tests have not been able to tell the difference.
Related: The Best Kegerators
Best THC-Infused: Two Roots Enough Said
Region: California | ABV: Less than 0.5% | Tasting Notes: Hops, Banana, Citrus
Cannabis-infused beverages, while not legal in every state yet, are becoming more and more popular. Two Roots is leading in this category, removing alcohol from its beer and infusing it with THC to produce a slight buzz.
Enough Said, the brewery’s German-style beer, is low in calories and has only 5 milligrams of THC per can, so you won’t be overwhelmed by the effects.
Related: The Best Beer Koozies
Best Low-Calorie: Surreal Brewing Natural Bridges Kolsch Style
Region: California | ABV: Less than 0.5% | Tasting Notes: Malt, Honeydew, Crisp apple
This Kölsch-style ale from Surreal Brewing is perfect for those looking for a low-calorie nonalcoholic beer. Each can only has 17 calories, but keeps the crisp, malty character of a Kölsch.
The beer is named after a protected marine reserve in Santa Cruz, California, in keeping with the brand’s focus on the outdoors.
Related: The Best Beer Growlers
Best Hazy IPA: BrewDog Hazy AF
Region: U.K. | ABV: Less Than 0.5% | Tasting Notes: Lemon, Grapefruit, Malt
Looking for a hazy IPA with big, juicy tropical fruit notes? BrewDog has a nonalcoholic beer that fits right into that wheelhouse. Hazy AF is bold and assertive, but with no alcohol, you can drink a few of these without worrying about slowing down.
This brewery got its start in Scotland but now has outposts in the U.S., Germany, and Australia, making its mark in the world with both nonalcoholic and alcoholic beers.
Best Stout: WellBeing Brewing Intrepid Traveler Coffee Cream Stout
Region: Missouri | ABV: 0.4% | Tasting Notes: Coffee, Nutmeg, Cinnamon
It’s brewed with Mississippi Mud coffee, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and lactose, giving it a creamy mouthfeel, with roasted coffee bean and baking spice notes in every sip.
Related: The Best Bottle Openers
Best IPA: Gruvi Nonalcoholic IPA
Region: Colorado | ABV: Less than 0.5% | Tasting Notes: Lemon, Hops, Malt
Colorado’s Gruvi uses three different kinds of hops to make this nonalcoholic IPA: citra, galaxy and mosaic. That means the beer is packed with the bitterness and citrus that you’d expect from any full alcohol version you can find.
The brewery recommends pairing this with tacos, spicy foods or burgers—food that will complement the inherent fresh hoppiness of this nonalcoholic brew.
Related: The Best Beer Glasses
We found the Brooklyn Brewery’s Special Effects to be the most impressive. It has just enough citrus and hoppy bitterness to satisfy IPA fans, without being overwhelming on the palate for those who prefer something less assertive (view at Drizly).
How do they get the alcohol out of fermented beer?
There are several methods for creating nonalcoholic beer that involve interfering with the yeast during the fermentation process, which inhibits the creation of alcohol. The amount of fermentable sugar can also be reduced during this process by reducing the heat quickly and removing yeast before it can create alcohol.
Dealcoholization is another method for making nonalcoholic beer, using heat or reverse osmosis after the beer is made.
Are there any trace amounts of alcohol still left in nonalcoholic beer?
There usually is a negligible amount of less than 0.5% alcohol in nonalcoholic beer, which, while small, is an important thing to remember for those who want to avoid alcohol completely.
Is nonalcoholic beer made the same way as alcoholic beer?
Many nonalcoholic beers are made in the same way as regular beer, except they undergo one of the steps listed above to remove the alcohol. The basic ingredients usually remain the same, with some combination of water, yeast, malt and hops.
Does nonalcoholic beer naturally have fewer calories?
It is generally lower in calories, although this can vary depending on the type of beer. Sometimes it’s just a matter of 10 or 20 calories per beer, but there is a market for very low-cal nonalcoholic beer as well.
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and visiting distilleries around the world for many years. His work has appeared in many different national outlets, reporting on trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac and all things distilled.
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