After decades as the most recognizable non-alcoholic beer on the market, O’Doul’s is still the same light lager with an inoffensive—if barely-there—flavor profile. But the brew can’t compete with newer additions to the category that have much more in common with full-strength beer.
Style non-alcoholic beer
Company Anheuser-Busch (AB InBev)
Brewery Location St. Louis, Missouri
ABV 0.5% or less
MSRP $10 per 6-pack
An incredibly light-bodied beer with fine carbonation and a crisp finish
Widely available and affordable
Less than 0.5% alcohol provides the flavor of beer without intoxication.
Absurdly watery and bland on the palate
Lack of aroma and tight carbonation is more reminiscent of mineral water than beer.
Some may find it too flavorless to replace a beer-drinking experience.
Color: This beer pours as a pale straw yellow color in the glass with a thin, bubbly head that dissipates within seconds.
Nose: The nose on this beer is surprisingly thin and difficult to pull from the glass. Light malty aromas of wet grain, water crackers, and dry breakfast cereal are present but hard to pick up.
Palate: Incredibly vibrant carbonation is the first thing that shocks the tongue, almost with the intensity of soda water. Malt graininess comes through as the first noticeable flavor—albeit fairly thin—and is flanked by subtle hints of corn sweetness and cereal.
Finish: The zap of carbonation lingers long enough to leave a finish unmistakably similar to that of mineral water. The bubbles scrub the tongue and leave it bone dry within seconds, with no lingering aromas besides a hint of wet grain.
O’Doul’s has been the most recognizable non-alcoholic beer on the market for just over three decades, achieving an almost mythic status that has made it practically synonymous with the category it represents. Despite this association, few people understand that the lager is brewed to full strength before most of the alcohol is removed using a low-temperature and low-pressure distillation process. This means the beer technically contains about 0.4% alcohol by volume, which is a low enough concentration for the body to metabolize before it can create intoxication, and which keeps it under the legal limit of 0.5% set by the government for the category. Anheuser-Busch produces, markets, and distributes the brand across the U.S.
There was a time not long ago where O’Doul’s faced almost no competition in its category, which almost certainly helped make the brand a recognizable name nationwide. In the face of such few options, most customers were forced to either make do with O’Doul’s or to forgo buying beer altogether. Unfortunately for the brand, ubiquity of the product and name recognition didn’t exactly translate to a solid reputation for good taste, making it something of a punchline—or at the very least, an unfortunate novelty. But with nothing much else to compare it to, the beer enjoyed a long run of dominance that remained unchecked.
Today, the market for low and non-alcoholic beers is very different. Alongside the full-strength craft beer movement, smaller breweries have arrived, offering a wide variety of styles that fit the non-alcoholic category, ranging from rich stouts to aromatic IPAs. Larger macro breweries like Heineken and Budweiser have also taken note of shifting trends and begun offering low or non-alcoholic brews of their own. By comparison, even the most pared-back of these options can make O’Doul’s taste like cereal-flavored mineral water.
As the brand sees new competition from all angles, it still remains significantly cheaper than most of the smaller craft options that have hit the market. And some will appreciate the light and refreshing qualities of the bottle compared to other light lagers in the non-alcoholic category. But ultimately, anyone looking to replace their full-strength beer with a booze-free option might be quick to pass on O’Doul’s as soon as they realize more complex products can now be found.
O’Doul’s might be synonymous with non-alcoholic beer, but it’s technically a “near beer”: It’s brewed just like a regular lager before the alcohol is removed using a low-temperature distillation process, resulting in a very low ABV of about 0.4%, which is roughly what you’d find in a bottle of a kombucha.