If there is one thing that almost all non-alcoholic beers have in common, it is the fact that, to use the lexicon of the professional food and beverage critic, they suck. Sorry. But not actually, because I’m just the messenger here, it’s not my fault. As with a diet soda, a non-alcoholic beer tends to both lack full flavor and also have notes that make you wonder why you didn’t just go with a fine seltzer water, instead. (Like maybe Käter Wingman seltzer, which in fact comes in brown bottles and beer-style six packs and has more flavor than some of the non-alcs I’ve tried, frankly.)
But don’t write off booze-free beers just yet, gents! There are a few shining stars out there. Whether you’re sitting at your desk at 10 a.m. (like I am) and you want a beer, or if you want to enjoy multiple brews this evening without consequence tomorrow morning, or if you and booze just don’t see eye-to-eye but your palate still loves a fine beer, there are a few breweries who have managed to get it almost right.
Have I yet to taste a non-alcoholic beer that’s as good as a decent regular ol’ beer? No. But these here are pretty close.
If you want to go bold, but not boozy, go with Surreal. From the brand’s Chandelier Red IPA to its Milkshake IPA to its 17 Mile Porter, these near beers are big on flavor. And zeroing in on the 17 Mile Porter, my favorite from these guys, you will not only note a flavor that’s just a bit lighter than, say, a Deschutes Black Butte Porter, but there is a mouthfeel that genuinely suits the style. And you could suck down a 12-ounce can of the brand’s Kolsch in one pull after a good run or lawn mowing session. The biggest problem with this brewery is that many of its more popular beers are often out of stock.
This Calgary-based non-alcoholic beer brewery was started by a craft beer lover who had to give up alcohol for medical reasons. But Ted Fleming, founder and CEO of Partake, didn’t want to give up on beer. So he started brewing it himself, and the result is super low ABV beer that actually tastes like beer. As I write up this article, I’m shamelessly sipping a Partake Blonde. And it tastes so close to what I expect of a light blonde ale that I’m not sure I’d think twice were it served to me blind. None of the beers in Partake’s lineup are anything crazy — no milkshake this or hazy juicy that — but that’s rather the point. The Pale tastes like a pale ale. The Stout, a stout. And so on.
With the exception of the brand’s Smooth Ascent Coffee Stout, most beers from the Athletic Brewing Co. are, as you might guess from the name of the company, light and refreshing. There’s the Upside Dawn Golden Ale, the Cerveza Atletica, and the Run Wild IPA to round out the current lineup, and not only does each beer go down easy, but they also have an average of 60 calories, so you can quaff a few without losing the benefits of that workout.
Another all NA brewery that’s got some out-there “beers,” Bravus Brewing Co. deserves a try if you are looking for beers that mimic popular brews sans booze. Bravus’ White Ale is a decent stand-in for Blue Moon, for example, while the Oatmeal Stout gives Guinness a run for its money, flavor wise. And Bravus’ Raspberry Gose is just wild on its own, with raspberry tartness balanced by salt.
This brewery makes a lot of beers and six of its offerings are non-alcoholic, like the New England-style HAZY AF and quaffable PUNK AF. But there’s one NA beer from BREWDOG that you should very much try first: Ghost Walker. Made in partnership with metal band Lamb of God, this IPA-style beer features crazy artwork on the can and impressive flavor inside. It’s juicy and a bit piney and has a solid malt presence, too. And it clocks in a less than 0.5% ABV and just 45 calories per 12-ounce serving.
Now we’re moving away from whole breweries making NA beers and focusing instead on specific brews. Eridnger’s Non-Alcoholic “MALT BEVERAGE” is brewed with hops, wheat malt, and barley malt (and yeast and water, of course) and is brewed much like a normal beer and then has the alcohol removed. (Well, all but 0.5% at most, anyway.) Fortunately, most of the flavor remains, and this beverage really does taste like a German beer.
I’m no great fan of Heineken, frankly (though I did have some pretty great times at the brewery in the years where they still served endless rounds of beer and cheese plates at the end of the tour), but the brand’s NA brew, Buckler, is pretty damn refreshing. This Dutch beer is another non-alcoholic brew that simply tastes like beer. Accompanying a burger, sipped after sports, or quaffed at the campsite, it will serve you well. And you can order it off Amazon.
Put away the pitchforks and actually try an O’Douls Amber before you light up the torches, because this near beer from Anheuser-Busch’s booze-free division is legitimately good. Well, pretty good. It’s malty and has toasted caramel and bread notes and the mouthfeel is spot on for an amber. It’s a perfect fall beer for Sober October. Try one, and you’ll join the ranks of people who left Total Wine reviews with headlines like “Shocked” and “Real Taste!” and the slightly less effusive but entirely accurate “Tastes Like A Decent Amber Beer!” And what more can you ask for than that?
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