We Tried 20-Plus Non-Alcoholic Beers to Find the Best in Every Style
You don’t have to compromise on flavor just because there’s no booze.
Non-alcoholic drinks have been gaining steam in the past couple of years as people increasingly look for alternatives to their favorite boozy beverages. Some are looking to cut alcohol completely, while others simply want a way to embrace moderation without compromising on taste. Producers have taken note, and the market is swimming in options. And those who crave beer sans alcohol are some of the biggest winners.
In 2022 alone, non-alcoholic beer grew 20% in purchase value in the United States (though is still many multiples behind the total value of alcoholic beer). Brands from macro breweries like Anheuser-Busch InBev have made massive investments in the category, but it’s on the craft side that drinkers will find options that match up to the flavor expectations modern beer drinkers have. Traditional craft breweries and breweries that focus solely on non-alcoholic options are increasingly putting out beers in a wide variety of styles. Better yet, they have come a long way from the obligatory handful of O’Doul’s that used to sit in the back of the fridge.
I tested every non-alcoholic beer I could get my hands on — more than 20 in total — to find the ones worth drinking in each style. Even though things are looking up in the space, there are still plenty of duds out there. Some styles are doing better than others. IPAs seem to have gotten better faster than stouts, for example, and companies that focus solely on the non-alcoholic sector vastly outperform the names people know in craft beer in most cases. Athletic Brewing Company and Bravus Brewing Company are clear leaders that are putting out a wide range of non-alcoholic beers that can compete with the flavor profiles of traditional beer.
Still, through the tasting, descriptions like “watered down” and “smells like beer before it’s beer” often came to mind. To find the best of the best, the brews below were judged on adherence to the beer style they emulate, balance of flavors, drinkability and an overall assessment of whether the non-alcoholic beer is something that could be swapped in for a full-strength beer of the same type without giving up on quality.
It doesn’t matter if you’re abstaining entirely, cutting back slightly or you’re just curious about this growing category — you’ll want to return to these refreshing non-alcoholic beers time and time again.
Flavored Dark Beer: Bravus Peanut Butter Dark
Dark beers that mimic stouts and porters tend to have a harder time matching their traditional counterparts. Lacking in flavor is not something to worry about with Peanut Butter Dark from Bravus. It has an aroma not too far from Captain Crunch with a touch of cacao. It also matches up to the weight of a typical dark beer (or, to keep with the cereal theme, like whole milk left in the bowl after the cereal is all gone, but with some refreshing carbonation). I wouldn’t mind cracking open a can for breakfast now and then or pouring a glass on a colder evening, though the bigger flavors would keep me from drinking them continuously throughout the day or night.
Traditional Dark Beer: Athletic All Out Extra Dark
Heavy peanut butter, chocolate and coffee flavors are a natural fit for stouts and porters. But sometimes I just want a standard, clean-drinking dark beer that doesn’t compete for my taste buds’ attention so much. All Out Extra Dark is the closest thing I could find to a non-alcoholic dark beer for fans of that ever-popular stout from Ireland. It has a hearty enough body without being a slog to drink multiple cans of, with a slightly grassy bitterness (in a good way).
Golden Ale: Athletic Upside Dawn
This was by far one of the top non-alcoholic beers in the bunch, regardless of style. It’s a light drinking golden with a nice peachy-apricot fruitiness that is clear from the first smell through the end of the sip. There’s little-to-no overpowering residual malty sweetness that plagues many non-alcoholic beers, and it has a pleasant hop bitterness that lasts through the finish — it made me want to keep going back for more.
Kolsch: Best Day Kölsch
Put down the non-alcoholic macro lager and pick up Best Day’s Kölsch instead. It’s brewed with Cologne and Pilsner malts, and Hallertau hops keep it tasting true to style. It’s crisp, clean drinking and has good carbonation like the best German lagers do. Honestly, if someone included a little glass of this on a serving tray with traditional kölsches, I wouldn’t even mind the break in the full-strength beers.
Juicy IPA: Untitled Art Juicy IPA
This isn’t a juicy beer in the sense that you could fill an orange juice container with it and not realize until you took a sip. Rather than the typical haze in a juicy IPA, it’s got a clear straw color and smells like a session IPA with citrusy hop grapefruit notes from Citra and Mosaic hops. Even though it’s not completely true to style in that sense, it’s definitely worth buying. It’s light without feeling thin — in fact, it has a better weight and body to it than some popular session IPAs I’ve had. In a sea of (often repulsive) non-alcoholic beer, this was among the ones that I wanted to go back for another can of. Added bonus: the can art on this beer, and all of Untitled Art’s options, is top of the line eye-catching design.
Classic IPA: WellBeing Intentional IPA
While I don’t love the tall boy can format for a non-alcoholic beer, I do love what’s inside this one. WellBeing’s classic IPA smells like fresh grapefruit and pineapple juices, another great breakfast option if you prefer to start off the day with juicy notes rather than heavier peanut butter stout flavors. The lasting bitterness from the Mosaic and Citra hops balance everything out perfectly, too, making that larger format not hard to finish before it starts to go warm and flat.
Honorable mention: Athletic Run Wild IPA. This beer can also stand up to any standard IPAs you find at your local craft brewery. It’s incredibly refreshing with fruity hops and bitterness.
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Pale Ale: Grüvi Pale Ale
The line between IPAs and pale ales has blurred pretty significantly in craft beer when it comes to bitterness and hop levels. Apparently that’s the case with non-alcoholic craft beer, too. But that’s fine with me when it comes to Grüvi’s pale ale. The lightly sweet malt notes rest in the background with Chinook, Cascade and Citra hops taking front and center. It’s not a full-on pine and fruit bomb and has just enough bitterness and body to where it’s hard to get tired of the flavors.
West Coast IPA: Best Day West Coast IPA
West Coast IPAs have evolved over the years. I, for one, am glad the bitterness arms race is over. Best Day West Coast IPA is like one of the style’s originals with a malty backbone and piney, just-right-bitterness from Cascade hops. Something about it brings to mind pumpkin flavors (as in the squash, not the pumpkin spice that passes for “pumpkin beer” these days). It would really shine on a fall day, but it’s equally refreshing on a hot summer day.
Flavored IPA: Bravus Blood Orange
Bravus has one of the best line-ups in non-alcoholic beer, and this is a standout even among the standouts. The typical citrusy hop notes in an IPA are pumped up with natural blood orange extract. Bravus doesn’t overdo it — something that’s all too easy when adding in extracts — and there’s a juiciness that comes together perfectly with some orange peel and hop bitterness. This is one to drink all day for anyone who appreciates a good citrusy, hoppy beer.
Amber: Brooklyn Brewery Special Effects Hoppy Amber
Comparing the output from breweries that focus solely on non-alcoholic options to traditional craft breweries rarely favored the latter throughout the tasting. Brooklyn Brewery had the exception with its Special Effects Hoppy Amber. It’s true to its name: a malty amber beer that’s dry hopped for a nice balancing bitterness that makes it an easy-drinking go-to.
Wheat: Ceria Grainwave Belgian-Style Wit
Wheat beers are the ultimate summer beer style. But long days in the sun can get pretty tiring when you’re drinking an endless lineup of full-strength beers, even if the full-strength beer style is on the lower side of the ABV spectrum. Ceria is an unfiltered white ale with blood orange peel and coriander that’s made similarly to how the Belgians do it. Ceria first came on my radar a few years back when they started making non-alcoholic beers with THC in them, but the zero-vice version is just as tasty. Which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Founder Keith Villa was also the person behind the creation of Blue Moon, which has long defined what Belgian-style wheat beers can be in the States.
German Beer: Clausthaler Dry Hopped
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a bit of a cop out to list “German beer” as a category. Germany’s history of non-alcoholic beer is much longer than that in the United States, and it’s a huge market today. It’s also not slowing down, with the German brewer’s association Deutscher Brauer-Bund predicting one in every 10 beers made in the country will soon be non-alcoholic. But I’d be remiss to not mention a clear leader here, even if I can’t quite put my finger on a named style. Clausthaler has been making non-alcoholic beer since the 1970s, and the Dry Hopped is one of the most balanced, delicious options regardless of style (it also claims to be the world’s first dry hopped malt beverage). The taste is similar to a pale ale with a strong, unfiltered, full-bodied caramel malty center. Cascade hops bring everything together with a lasting bitterness. Simply put, this is the bottle I’m reaching for on a hot day when I need a little break but still want the refreshing taste of quality beer.
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