We Tried a Bunch of Non-Alcoholic Craft Beers and Found a Few That Are Surprisingly Good
If you're looking to cut back on booze, you've got plenty of options beyond O'Doul's
Maybe you’ve been overdoing it a bit in quarantine and need a breather. Maybe you’re training for a marathon or some other endurance sport and have recently learned about how non-alcoholic beer’s anti-inflammatory properties and high electrolytes make it the perfect recovery drink after a grueling workout. Maybe you’ve decided it’s not in your best interest to drink anymore, whether it’s for health reasons or a lifestyle choice.
Whatever the reason, we all need a break from booze sometimes, and as more and more craft breweries dip their toes into the non-alcoholic waters, we’ve got more options than ever. Gone are the days when nursing a watery O’Doul’s was the only way for alcohol-free drinkers to get some sort of beer-adjacent flavor.
It’s worth noting, however, that most non-alcoholic beers still contain trace amounts of alcohol. (Legally, in order to brand themselves as non-alcoholic, they have to have an ABV of 0.5% or less.) It’s a miniscule amount, and it certainly won’t get you drunk — an average-sized man would have to drink about 40 NA beers to hit the legal limit — but it can be enough to be triggering if you’re in recovery. So if you’re sober or have an alcohol allergy or health condition that means you need to stay away from the stuff entirely, these brews may not be for you.
But if you’re just looking to cut back a bit while still enjoying some great craft-beer flavor, you’ve got plenty of options. We taste-tested close to 20 non-alcoholic beers, and found these to be the most noteworthy.
Surreal Brewing Company Juicy Mavs Hazy IPA
ABV: Less than 0.5% Calories: 25
Surreal Brewing is a brewery devoted entirely to non-alcoholic craft beer, founded by Tammer Zein-El-Abedein and Donna Hockey, a husband-and-wife team of former homebrewers, after a breast cancer diagnosis and successful treatment left them disappointed with the NA beer on the market. They decided to take matters into their own hands, and the results are tasty, creative beers that stay in line with the latest craft beer trends. Their Juicy Mavs Hazy IPA tastes just about as hazy as non-alcoholic beer can, and we also recommend their Milkshake IPA (<0.5% ABV, 65 calories), crisp Natural Bridges Kolsch (<0.5% ABV, 17 calories) and surprisingly rich Pastry Porter (<0.5% ABV, 72 calories).
Two Roots Brewing Co. Enough Said
ABV: 0.5% Calories: 80
This non-alcoholic golden helles lager is brewed with Pilsner Malt and Hallertau Hops, and it’s got a clean, refreshing taste that will make you want to throw back several in one sitting. (Fortunately, with no booze and just 80 calories, you can do that guilt-free.) It took home the gold medal for non-alcoholic beer at last year’s Great American Beer Festival, and if you happen to live in California and are feeling a little more adventurous, they also make a THC-infused version of the brew (pictured above).
Partake Brewing Pale
ABV: 0.3% Calories: 10
If you’re calorie-counting, this pale ale from Partake Brewing is the non-alcoholic beer for you, at just 10 calories. But even if you’re not, it’s a solid option. Despite being so low-calorie, the brewery — founded by Ted Fleming after he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and had to give up alcohol — doesn’t sacrifice flavor. And if pale ale’s not your preferred style, they’ve got plenty of other options, including their Red (0.3% ABV, 25 calories), Blonde (0.3% ABV, 15 calories) and IPA (0.3% ABV, 10 calories).
BrewDog Nanny State
ABV: 0.5% Calories: 26
Created as a way for BrewDog to thumb its nose at critics who claimed the brewery made too many strong beers, Nanny State is way more flavorful than you’d expect anything with only 26 calories to be. It’s made from eight different malts and five types of hops, and it’s got a nice rich color that’ll almost make you forget you’re not drinking the real thing. If anything, it’s proof that “strong” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “boozy.”
Mikkeller Limbo Raspberry
ABV: 0.3% Calories: 112
I was hoping this would be a non-alcoholic version of Mikkeller’s incredibly delicious Raspberry Blush, a Berliner Weisse brewed with raspberries and coffee, but Limbo Raspberry is a completely different brew. There’s no coffee here, and the predominant flavor in this non-alcoholic fruit beer is the raspberries. That’s not a bad thing, per se — who doesn’t love a nice tart raspberry drink? — but aside from a faint graham cracker taste, it’s pretty much all you get. It’s extremely tasty, but it doesn’t necessarily taste like a beer.
Bravus Brewing Co. Oatmeal Stout
ABV: 0.5% Calories: 110
As you might imagine, non-alcoholic dark beers can be difficult to pull off effectively. It can be tough to capture the complex flavors of styles that are more traditionally high-ABV, but Bravus Brewing Co. has absolutely nailed it with their Oatmeal Stout. The brewery — which, founded in 2015, is the first North American brewery devoted solely to non-alcoholic beers — remains tight-lipped about how it packs so much flavor into its NA offerings, but regardless of how they do it, the general consensus is that this is the best non-alcoholic stout around. (Don’t just take our word for it: the beer took home the Silver Medal at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival.) And if dark beers aren’t your favorite, we can also recommend Bravus’s citrusy White Ale (<0.5% ABV, 98 calories) or their tart Raspberry Gose (<0.5% ABV, 102 calories).
Brooklyn Brewery Special Effects
ABV: 0.4% Calories: 102
Special Effects is this beloved craft brewery’s first non-alcoholic concoction, and to make it, they developed a special fermentation method that — along with dry-hopping — makes it taste pretty damn close to a real beer. The hoppy amber lager flavor is strong, and somehow they’ve even managed to nail the aroma with hints of grapefruit zest on the nose. It looks like the real thing, it smells like the real thing, and most importantly it tastes like the real thing. A must-try for craft beer fans looking to cut back on booze.
Athletic Brewing Co. Run Wild IPA
ABV: Less than 0.5% Calories: 70
Athletic Brewing Co. is another brewery that specializes entirely in non-alcoholic beers, and their Run Wild IPA is easily the most convincing-tasting NA beer I’ve had. Had I not known I was drinking a non-alcoholic beer, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference; Run Wild has the perfect amount of bitterness to it thanks to being brewed with five Northwestern hop varieties, and it’s got a nice hint of citrus to it as well. Their Upside Dawn Golden Ale (<0.5% ABV, 50 calories) is another strong offering worth trying — it’s crisp, with some floral notes that make it perfect for a day spent out in the sun.
ABV: 0.0% Calories: 0
Technically, this one is not a beer, but a “sparkling malt and hops beverage.” The Japanese distillery and brewery has removed the fermentation process from its recipe entirely in order to achieve a “beer-like” drink that contains absolutely no traces of alcohol, zero sugar and zero calories. Unfortunately, that means they’ve essentially cut out everything that would make it taste like a beer, and the flavor — how do we say this politely? — leaves a lot to be desired. It kind of tastes like a beer-flavored seltzer, and it’s got a bitter, hoppy finish that’s kind of jarring in a drink so thin.
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