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 and diversity of style. Those days are now long gone, with big-box brands and craft breweries getting into the game, pumping out NA options including pilsners, fruit-forward saisons and Mexican-style lagers. And major players like Clausthaler and O’Doul’s are redesigning, offering new styles to keep up with the trends.
“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 the historically bland product?”
The near beer market in America is still relatively small, but experts see a lot of room for growth due to growing wellness trends and millennial drink preferences. “The current NA space is 1% of the U.S. beer industry with over 5 million cases sold over the past year,” says Hamill. “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% of its global beer volume be no- or low-alcohol by 2025, according to Harry Lewis, the VP of premium and super premium brands at Anheuser-Busch.
“We see the space as a huge opportunity in the U.S. for us to tap into a growing consumer desire for great-tasting options with no/low alcohol content,” he says. Others, like Athletic Brewing founder Bill Shufelt, don’t see the NA beer category as a flash-in-the-pan trend. “Wine, beer and spirits are great, but we just think they will occupy fewer and fewer occasions in the coming decades,” he says. “More than 50% of U.S. adults consume 0.1 drinks or less per week, and we intend to provide those healthy and active adults great-tasting beer, where previously they've been neglected by the industry.”
To celebrate the boozeless beer trend, we’ve put together a short list of brews that deserve your sober attention. These are seven nonalcoholic beers that don’t suck.
Athletic Brewing ($10 for 12-oz 6-pack)
Stratford, Conn., brewery 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 Mexican-lager-style Cerveza Athletica, the IPA-style Run Wild and the gose-style Downwinder. These are definitely NA beers for fans of craft beer, created with the idea that just because there’s no alcohol doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice flavor or variety.
Clausthaler ($7-$8 for 12-oz 6-pack)
Clausthaler is one of the OG’s of NA beer. 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 nothing but water, hops and barley can be used to make beer. Keep an eye peeled for new styles such as unfiltered, lemon and a dry-hopped brew made with Cascade hops.
Heineken 0.0 ($8 for 12-oz 6-pack)
Popular Dutch beer brand Heineken has gotten into the NA beer game as well with its new 0.0. Originally launched in Europe, the brew is now available in the U.S. Die-hard fans of the original may not mistake this for classic Heineken, as the flavor is a bit on the thin side, but it does have the characteristic skunkiness and mouthfeel of the original. In fact, some who have done blind taste tests have not been able to tell the difference.
Hoegaarden Soft Brew ($7 for 44.8-oz 4-pack)
There are two flavors of Belgian wheat beer brand Hoegaarden’s new Soft Brew, Rosée and Citrus. Rosée is very sweet and floral, less like a beer and more like a raspberry soda. The Citrus version is less sweet with prominent lemon notes throughout. This is nonalcoholic beer is for people who are really looking for an alternative to beer and not something that will replicate familiar flavors.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
Mikkeller ($4-$7 per bottle)
Danish brewery Mikkeller has made a big impact here in the U.S., with East and West Coast outposts that offer many varieties, all of which come in eye-catching cans. Mikkeller takes its NA beer seriously, and some of the brews in this category are bestsellers. These include beers with names like Ambler, Barley Drinkin in Berliner, Energibajer, Limbo Raspberry, and Henry and His Science. Styles include American wheat beer, New England IPA and Flemish beer brewed with raspberries.
O’Doul’s ($7 for 12-oz 6-pack)
Another NA OG, O’Doul’s is ubiquitous in the world of alcohol-free beer. Its classic brew is mild with a slightly dry finish, nothing to offend or excite. But last summer, the brand was given an update that was meant to appeal to younger consumers, with three limited-edition cans designed by different artists.
Weihenstephaner ($11.50 for 11-oz 6-pack)
Oktoberfest staple and German brand Weihenstephaner 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 latter is the better of the two, a very light and crisp lager with a touch of hops and the overall feeling that you are, indeed, drinking beer and not some barleyed version of White Claw.