Low- and non- alcoholic beers have a history dating back as far as medieval Europe: They offered both a more sanitary alternative to water as well as a cheaper substitute for the full-strength stuff. Fast forward to the 1920s and you have an entire country caught in the throes of Prohibition, craving the taste of beer but without the legal means to do so. Once again, NA beers were ready to save the day. More recently, booze-less brews have been popularized by way of greater accountability and increasingly active lifestyles. Even still, the offerings have always been a bit limited.
In any case, the uncertainty of the pandemic and the prevalence of WFH have made it pretty damn easy to drink nowadays. Whether you’re looking for a booze-free beer as a healthy alternative or simply as a way to mix up your routine, the recent explosion in the NA segment has lead to better beers with more variety. So just because a beer has low (or no) alcohol, doesn’t mean it has to taste horrible. Rather, nowadays, NA beer offers the same great taste of its boozy brother with none of the guilt. And you don’t have to be training for a marathon to appreciate the health benefits — with helpful isotonic properties and an abundance of vitamins and minerals, one of these might just be your next sports drink. As they say, don’t knock it till you try it. So read on to see our picks for the best non-alcoholic beers.
Mikkeller Limbo Raspberry
Upon its founding in 2006, Mikkeller started life as a “gypsy” microbrewery, meaning that it ditched the physical brewery model in favor of one-offs and experimental batches made in collaboration with other brewers. Although Mikkeller now has three brick and mortar locations (two stateside and one in Denmark), the experimental ethos is still very much alive. Coming out of Belgium’s famous De Proefbrouwerij, Limbo Raspberry uses Mikkeller’s special ‘mikkellensis’ non-alcoholic yeast to offer a booze-free take on the Flemish Primitive. Packed with intense raspberry and cranberry flavors, this NA option skews more towards soda than it does watered-down beer.
Style: Flemish Primitive
O’Douls is a name that needs no introduction — when someone mentions NA beer, it’s likely the first one that comes to mind. Brewed in much the same way as a traditional beer, O’Douls is first fermented and then aged until it reaches maturity. Afterward, the alcohol is removed through low temperature, low-pressure distillation, a process that allows the brew to retain most of its flavor without overcooking it. Though O’Douls isn’t one to scratch your curious itch, it’s a consistent performer offering a mild cracker-like taste with a dry finish.
Style: Macro Lager
Although this non-alcoholic beer bears the Heine’ name, it’s much more than a stripped-down version of the original; that approach would be easy, but it wouldn’t deliver the same flavor you’ve come to expect. Rather, with over two years of research going into its development, Heineken 0.0 is a proper lager in its own right (even if it is booze-free). It starts out with staple beer ingredients — water, barley, and hops — before being twice-brewed and fermented. Finally, it undergoes a unique alcohol removal and blending process in order to achieve a slightly fruity flavor with mild malty notes. As a true 0.0% ABV beverage, this non-alcoholic Heineken is no “near-beer.”
Style: Pale Lager
Erdinger offers a non-alcoholic riff on a full-flavored German weissbier. Such is the popularity of this NA beer that it’s actually touted as an effective isotonic recovery drink amongst top-tier German athletes. With vitamins B9 and B12, as well as a range of hydrating properties, Erdinger is not only a non-alcoholic alternative but also a capable recovery drink.
Style: German Weissbier
Partake Brewing PALE
When Partake Brewing Founder Ted Fleming was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, he could have walked away from craft beer altogether. But that would have been an unwelcome end to one of life’s simplest pleasures. Instead, he took matters into his own hands and launched Partake Brewing, an effort to bring the best of craft beer — variety and experimentation — to its non-alcoholic counterpart. Partake’s PALE fuses fruity and floral hops with flavors of orange, grapefruit, and pine. It doesn’t pack the hoppy punch of some beers, but it’s a solid session sipper for pale ale enthusiasts nonetheless.
Style: Pale Ale
Bravus Oatmeal Stout
As the first North American brewery dedicated solely to NA beer, it goes without saying that Bravus should make the cut. Although it’s kept pretty hush-hush, Bravus is known for using a very innovative production process that allows for an unrivaled variety of great-flavored NA styles. Lighter NA beers are a dime-a-dozen, but stouts are far harder to come by. This one offers a creamy, malty body with some light notes of sweet chocolate and coffee. It’s not your full-bodied 11%-er, but it’s about as close as they come for a booze-free option.
Brewdog Nanny State
Having brewed the strongest beer in history — an eye-watering 55% Blonde Belgian Ale dubbed “The End of History” — it might seem odd that Brewdog would also happen to make a quality non-alcoholic IPA. And you’d be right. So the story goes that Brewdog’s first foray into the world of NA beer was actually a response to the bad criticism surrounding The End of History. The numbers speak for themselves, though — as the fourth most popular product on the British market today, the Nanny State IPA has proven to be much more than a half-baked marketing tactic. Just goes to show that even bad press is good press, at least when you can make beer like Brewdog.
Athletic Brewing Run Wild
Marketed toward athletes looking for the great taste of beer without the performance compromises of alcohol, Athletic Brewing is consistently well-regarded, no matter the product. And it’s not just because their brews clock in at under 100 calories per can. Having first entered the NA beer segment in 2017, Athletic Brewing has turned the market on its head. Gone are the days of thin, watered-down booze-free beverages, because Athletic Brewing has managed to bring the craft boom to non-alcoholic beer. Although 2020 has made planning of any kind moot, Athletic was forecasted to have brewed upwards of 10,000 barrels, a figure that puts them in league with some pretty well-known regional craft breweries. Picking just one of their beers was a tough call, but their Run Wild IPA is a cut above. With aromas of citrus and pine, Run Wild offers a bright, hoppy NA beer that’ll have you doing double-takes.
Brooklyn Brewery Special Effects
Brooklyn Brewery is a great group with an even better social mission. As one of the drivers behind the American craft beer movement, they’ve honed their process to become one of the best in the biz. What’s more, they’ve taken their expertise to the NA beer world. So rather than removing alcohol post-batch like many of these other offerings, they instead use a special fermentation process that limits the amount of initial alcohol but still allows for solid beer flavors. Special Effects may be Brooklyn Brewery’s first attempt at a NA beer, but it’s a case in point that they’ve hit the ground running. Featuring great mouthfeel and a balance between malty and hoppy, Special Effects is a superb example of the potential to be had with non-alcoholic brewing.
Surreal Brewing Juicy Mavs
Following co-founder Donna Hockey’s diagnosis and successful treatment of breast cancer, there was an underwhelming amount of NA beers with which to celebrate. Feeling left out and wanting more from their non-alcoholic beer, Tammer Zein-El-Abedein and Donna Hockey decided to launch Surreal Brewing, an effort to spice up the world of booze-free brewing. After nine months of painstaking homebrewing experimentation, Surreal released its flagship Chandelier Red IPA. Since that time, they’ve rounded out their offerings with six further mainstays, one being Juicy Mavs. Think tropical aromas with a mild mango and passionfruit flavor. It’s a great option for those new to NA world if you’re coming from a craft background.
Style: Hazy IPA
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Sold on an NA beer but can’t find it locally? Check out our guide to the best alcohol delivery services to get the skinny on shipping beverages straight to your door.