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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. Now, big-box brands and craft breweries are getting into the game, pumping out NA 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 NA space is 1 percent of the U.S. beer industry," he says. "But NA 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 percent 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: Mikkeller Weird Weather
This Danish brewery has made a big impact in the U.S., with East and West Coast outposts that offer many varieties. Mikkeller takes its NA beer seriously, and some of the brews in this category are bestsellers. According to Mark Verling, the beverage director at Torst in New York, this NA IPA is a standout. "It hits lots of the same notes you would typically get from a New England IPA," he says. "Definitely the most impressed I’ve been thus far [with NA beer]."
Best Wheat: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier
Oktoberfest staple Weihenstephaner, based in Germany, dubs itself the world’s oldest brewery. It offers NA versions of its classic brews, like the NA Wheat Beer and NA 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
Connecticut’s Athletic Brewing does one thing and one thing only: NA 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 NA beer I have ever tasted." Perfect for fans of craft beer, these NA beers are created with the idea that, just because there’s no alcohol, doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice flavor or variety.
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Best German: Clausthaler Original
Clausthaler is one of the original NA beer makers. The brewery got its start in the early '70s with a focus on making German-style beer that adheres to the Germany Purity Law, which dictates that only water, hops and barley can be used to make beer. In addition to the Original, there are new styles such as a dry-hopped brew made with Cascade hops, as well as the brand's upcoming release, Santa Clausthaler, a blend of the Original and cranberry-cinnamon drink.
Best Low-Calorie: Surreal Brewing Natural Bridges Kolsch
This Kolsch-style ale from Surreal Brewing is perfect for those looking for a low-calorie NA beer. Each can only has 17 calories, but keeps the crisp, malty character of a Kolsch. The beer is named after a protected marine reserve in Santa Cruz, Calif., in keeping with the brand’s focus on the outdoors.
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Best Lager: Heineken 0.0
The popular Dutch brand joined the NA beer game with 0.0. 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.
Best Stout: Bravus Oatmeal Stout
Just because you are drinking NA beer doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a hearty stout. Bravus compares its oatmeal stout to Guinness, describing the palate as having notes of chocolate, caramel and roasted coffee. This would be a great beer to enjoy in the colder months along with some steak or perhaps a chocolate dessert.
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Best IPA: WellBeing Intentional IPA
WellBeing uses Mosaic and Citra hops to brew its Intentional IPA, a craft NA beer that has all the bitterness and hoppy flavor (along with some citrus notes) that you’d expect from a solid pale ale. The brewery’s founder calls himself a "non-alcoholic," and his mission is to make NA beer you can enjoy in a bar or at home that can stand up to any beer with alcohol. In that, this brand succeeds.
Best THC-Infused: Two Roots Enough Said
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.
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Best Hazy IPA: BrewDog Hazy AF
Looking for a hazy IPA with big, juicy tropical fruit notes? BrewDog has an NA 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 Ohio, Berlin and Australia, making its mark in the world with both NA and alcoholic beers.
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries 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.