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It wasn’t too long ago that the only available non-alcoholic beers on the market were seen as a sad afterthought of the big breweries. Usually, picking up a beer without booze in it left you with one or two options in the beer aisle and the quality of those products added insult to injury.
Today, non-alcoholic beer is experiencing an unprecedented boom on the craft side of the market. The target audience has expanded beyond people in recovery. These days, it might also be for the expectant mothers who miss the refreshing taste of a cold beer. It could also be for athletes who are training in endurance sports but have caught on to the idea of NA beer for its anti-inflammatory benefits and as a source of electrolyte replenishment. And it just might also be for someone who’s craving a stout with their dinner but has to drive themselves home. Whatever the case may be, the world of no/low ABV beer has changed drastically, quickly, and seemingly permanently.
But besides market trends, how do we know craft NA beer is here to stay? 2019 marked the first year non-alcoholic beers were represented as a style at the Great American Beer Festival (the largest beer competition in the world) since 2004. Back then, the five entrants yielded medals for Coors, O’Doul’s, and Old Milwaukee. Today, we’re looking at hazy IPAs, rich stouts, and Belgian-style ales, with many coming from exclusively non-alcoholic breweries.
Whether you're participating in dry January or just want to try something new, we’ve come up with some of our favorites from this nascent boozeless beer boom so you can taste them yourself and see what all the fuss is about.Stratford, Connecticut
If you’ve been paying attention to the non-alcoholic beer boom, there’s a good chance that it’s thanks to one of Athletic Brewing’s beers (we’ve talked with them about their breakthrough). Since 2017, they’ve been using a secret patent-pending method to produce some of the most noteworthy alcohol-free beers the world has ever seen, finally bringing the segment out of the thin, watery, mass-produced existence it’s known for decades and into a new era of booze-free craft beers that actually taste like something you’d want to drink.
If forecasts are met, Athletic will brew an astonishing 10,000 barrels of beer this year, putting them well above some of even the most well-known small scale regional breweries in the country. Besides the popular brewery-only releases, their Run Wild IPA has quickly developed a devoted following of fitness enthusiasts who are in search of something bright, hoppy, and malt-balanced to take down as they train for their marathons and Ironman races. The fact that it clocks in at just 70 calories doesn’t hurt, either.San Diego, California
It may not come as a surprise that no-and-low ABV products have found some of their most supportive audiences out west. Two Roots Brewing Co., which came to market in 2019, has swiftly come to prominence with a line of impressive takes on traditional styles. “Since they’re low in calories, Vitamin B12 fortified, and filled with electrolytes, our near beers make for a perfect incorporation into a healthier, active lifestyle,” says VP of Brewing Operations Kevin Barnes. “It’s also an opportunity to ditch the hangover.” And with their crisp German-style lager, Enough Said, earning their first GABF gold medal for non-alcoholic beer in 15 years, it’s clear they’re on to more than something than just a healthy alternative to traditional brews. “Our brewers are big fans of German-style beer and were happy to see that they aren't the only ones to recognize how great of an achievement our NA Lager is,” says Barnes.
The big difference here between this and anything else on this list? In addition to their non-alcoholic line (which they are careful to clarify is separate from their brewing operations), Two Roots has also developed a THC-infused non-alcoholic beer, which is one of the first of its kind in the craft industry. While these will only be available in California, it’s already helped establish the brewery as a household name in the cannabis industry as well.Columbus, Ohio
Some call them the punk rock stars of the brewing world. Others call them deft marketers with a tendency towards gimmickry. However you choose to see them, there is no denying the global massive appeal of BrewDog and their ability to build themselves up as one of the strongest brands on the market. So it’s funny that what first brought them into the non-alcoholic beer world with Nanny State back in 2009 was actually a response to criticism over making “the strongest beer in British history.”
The result wasn’t just a soft media reply, but rather the creation of the fourth most popular product on the British market today, and their first non-alcoholic offering, which continues to add depth to the brewery’s lineup. With soft floral hop aromas and a fragrant citrusy kick of orange zest on the palate, Nanny State drinks like a nice session IPA with a clean, dry finish.
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While most of the breweries listed here have been in business for a few months to a couple of years at most, Einbecker can claim to have sold their first barrel of product in 1378. Of course, it was over half a millennia before their now world-famous Alkoholfrei would first start rolling out of the brewery, but the late start is no indication of how good this non-alcoholic import actually is. As one of the original options for those looking for a delicious booze-free beer on the shelf, this saving grace from abroad has a bright, light flavor profile that’s balanced with a minty German hop bitter finish. Nothing about this classic feels outdated: In fact, the recent switch from bottles to cans makes it an even fresher tasting one if anything.Maryland Heights, Missouri
One of the biggest audiences for non-alcoholic beer comes from the running and endurance sports community. While the idea of skipping out on the booze makes enough sense for anyone training to run a marathon, there are also those who claim drinking a beverage that’s loaded with B12 vitamins, electrolytes, and potential anti-inflammatory properties is a great way to cap off a workout.
Enter WellBeing Brewing, whose Victory Wheat not only sees this potential but also helps bring it to the next level by fortifying it with Buoy (a formula of electrolyte supplements developed to meet the hydration standards of the World Health Organization), adding a touch of orange zest, packaging it in a thirst-quenching 16-ounce can, and laying claim to this being “the world’s healthiest beer.” The bright citrus flavors here do help create a refreshing flavor profile on the palate, finishing dry and long—just like the kind of beverage we’d reach for after a sweat session.Santa Ana, California
Getting in on a movement early on is one thing. But what about when you’re the ones who can lay claim to being the very first into the market? Bravus, which was founded in 2015, happens to be North America’s first brewery dedicated solely to the production of non-alcoholic craft beer. Since well before the idea of NA beer’s ascent was seen as inevitable, they’ve been perfecting a unique, secretive process that turns traditional production methods on their head.
While they’re pretty tight-lipped overall, they’ll admit a few things: “I can tell you that we don’t vacuum-distill or use reverse osmosis, as that tends to produce an inferior product,” says founder and head brewer, Philip Brandes. One such result of this method is their prized oatmeal stout, which picked up the silver medal at this year’s GABF (just ahead of their bronze medal-winning bourbon barrel-aged stout, no less). With flavors of cocoa, coffee, chocolate, and just a subtle hint of smoke over a smooth medium body, it’s just the kind of comforting sipper you’ll want to sip on after a winter jog.Brooklyn, NY
As one of the great originators of the craft beer movement in the United States, it’s hard to see Brooklyn Brewery passing up the opportunity to use their impressive brewing prowess to expand their already extensive offerings. Special Effects, their first non-alcoholic beer, does just that by using a specially developed fermentation method that limits the amount of alcohol created while still allowing more traditional beer flavors to develop. Here, you can expect bright, zesty aromas thanks to the dry-hopping that takes place, with a clean citrusy palate that balances subtly sweet malts. The best part? Even though the beer has only seen limited distribution throughout Europe and out of their main taproom in Brooklyn, the beer will roll out with nationwide availability as of January 2020.Toronto, Ontario, Canada
After being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, Ted Fleming was left with a choice: Stop drinking beer, or take matters into his own hands. After opting for the latter, he founded Partake Brewing in 2017 with the aim to provide quality non-alcoholic beverages for people who love the taste of craft beer and were unsatisfied with the state of the market. Today, his lineup has made its way across Canada and the United States, making it relatively easy to get your hands on any of his takes on traditional styles. The pale ale is a standout choice in their group of offerings, with bright aromatics and soft fruity notes, making it a solid, easy day sipper.Campbell, California
Operated by a husband and wife team, Surreal Brewing was born on the heels of a diagnosis and successful treatment of breast cancer. When the only non-alcoholic beers available to celebrate with were deemed subpar at best, founders Tammer Zein-El-Abedein and Donna Hockey decided to develop their own homebrewing recipes in an attempt to solve their problem. The resulting beers have helped turn their operation into a multiple-award-winning outfit not even two years out of the gate, with offerings like Juicy Mavs offering a rare alcohol-free take on the oh-so-popular hazy IPA. The bright tropical and citrus aromas here carry over to the palate, with mango and passionfruit coming through before a soft hoppy finish that lingers long between sips. It’s a great hiking accompaniment, beach beer, or pairing with a cheeseburger.Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
Zach Mack is Thrillist’s contributing beer writer, the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. and Governors Island Beer Co. in NYC, a Certified Cicerone®, and absolutely nothing else. Follow him: @zmack.