National Beer Day USA: The best non-alcoholic craft beers
This week’s guest blog on alcohol-free beers made in the USA was researched and written by our wonderful beer-loving NYC-based buddy Joe.
Advent of non-alcoholic craft beer
It’s been years since I’ve attended a good old-fashioned beer festival. As a craft beer personality, I had spent a lot of time working in and attending beer festivals. Given the US’s general focus of mid-high ABV products in social craft beer circles, I made the choice to significantly cut back my craft beer consumption. From that point, I consigned myself to an occasional session-able ale at home or on vacation if and when I could find them. In the convening years, I have missed the people, the community, and many of the flavors.
With the advent of the US non-alcoholic (or NA) craft beer scene, my mindset toward approaching and engaging in the US craft beer industry and community has shifted. So much so, that when I learned that Athletic Brewing would be appearing at a traditional, well-attended East Coast beer festival, I decided to attend. I approached it as an experiment to gauge how low I could stay within an average ABV range and then retreat to the Athletic Brewing booth a couple of times in order to moderate my overall intake. While I was largely able to remain mostly between 4 – 5% ABV, it was no easy feat finding the lowest ABV beers at the booths. Festivals simply are not yet there as far as coordinating or curating sober or moderation experiences.
So as a practitioner of sobriety or moderation, if and when you decide to engage the overwhelmingly higher ABV-oriented US craft beer market, it can be hard to deploy a reasonable strategy. Hence, when I was invited by Club Soda to provide an overview of the US NA craft beer scene, I decided to approach it as a comprehensive source on the breadth of opportunities to find our great NA craft beer products in your travels to the US. Unfortunately, access via shipping remains very costly.
First, let’s clarify the US designation of “nonalcoholic” for beer.
What’s in the US designation of “nonalcoholic?”
Before jumping into the breweries and the brews, it’s important to understand the US “nonalcoholic” designation. Some have expressed some confusion with it. Technically…and legally, the US alcohol authority considers any beer at or below 0.5% to be “nonalcoholic.” The reason for this designation is because unbeknownst to many people, there are everyday food and drink products that contain levels of alcohol below 1.0% but are not regulated from an alcohol content standard. Certain fruits, syrups, extracts, and concentrates contain levels of alcohol but are considered nonalcoholic.
Now that we’ve cleared that hazy designation up, let’s get to the brews!
The Four Core US NA Craft Beer Brands
Athletic Brewing Co.
Athletic Brewing launched in May of 2018 and has made short work of diversifying its portfolio in less than a year. Athletic Brewing is heavily involved in the outdoors sports community, often sponsoring various long-distance, multi-disciplinary sporting events. They have recently begun moving heavily into the social drinking scene throughout New England, greater New York City metro, and soon into New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia.
Brewed with organic grains. Light bodied ale featuring a floral and earthy flavor.
Single / session IPA hoppy flavor profile. A very popular US NA IPA.
Traditional stout flavors of coffee and chocolate, with a hint of smoke.
Limited Experimental Brews / Seasonals:
West Coast IPA
|Aromatic, bold hop-forward IPA with residual piney and resinous flavors.|
|The newest seasonal. A malt-forward, bready lager with hints of caramel.|
|Gose||A thirst-quenching tart warm weather brew with a hint of lime.|
|Traditional malt-forward flavors of caramel, biscuit, and perhaps a bit of toffee and coffee.|
How you can get these brews onto your tastebuds:
Around town: https://www.athleticbrewing.com/where-to-find-us
If you are visiting NYC, get it on tap at the source! Weekend tasting room hours are posted on social media accounts weekly, and it is just an hour long ride up I-95 north from New York City. It is that easy!
Personal Impression: The most experimental and consistently buzzworthy US NA brand. I drink more Athletic beer than any other brand, perhaps due to local availability, but also because it’s just great tasting NA beer. My favorite from Athletic is the Double Hop because it delivers an experience more in line with Double IPAs, one of my favorite styles from my past craft beer life. I expect the Cerveza Athletico to become a Summer of 2019 hit!
Newport Beach, CA.
Bravus Brewing is the earliest nonalcoholic craft brewer, having been established in 2015. They offer three core styles at this time but report that a new style is coming soon! They are also planning a series of limited releases throughout the coming months.
|India Pale Ale (IPA)
The IPA features an earthy / piney hop profile supported
by a single IPA malt body
Delivers a caramel / coffee flavor with a hint of smoke
on a lighter stout body and mouthfeel.
Delivers a biscuity flavor with hint of toffee or caramel on a light Amber body.
How you can get these brews onto your tastebuds.
Around town: (click on Where to Buy in the header): http://www.bravus.com/
Total Wine: https://www.totalwine.com/search
Personal Impression: Bravus’ Oatmeal Stout was my first NA Stout and it delivered the traditional Oatmeal Stout flavor I love. It vastly increased my confidence that a tasty, nonalcoholic Stout was possible! I have not tried the IPA or the Amber, but they are equally well-liked by users in a nonalcoholic Facebook group.
Surreal Brewing Co.
Surreal Brewing consists of a husband and wife team who decided to pursue nonalcoholic brewing after a health scare and a subsequent traveling experience made them realize a gap in nonalcoholic beer products. They offer 2 core styles and the lowest calorie NA beers available thus far. The 17 Mile Porter is the only US NA Porter at this time. Two new styles and two new retailers are coming this spring!
|Chandelier Red IPA
Citrus and tropical hoppy flavor profile
with a significant amber malt backbone.
|17 Mile Porter
Traditional chocolate and roasty coffee
bitterness and malt backbone.
How you can get these brews onto your tastebuds.
Around town: Available nationally at https://www.totalwine.com/ locations and at bars and restaurants around the San Francisco Bay area.They offer a hyper local free delivery for residents and travelers to the SF Bay area.
Maryland Heights, MO.
Wellbeing Brewing is a St. Louis area nonalcoholic brewer. Another husband and wife team, their success story developed from quitting drinking while still longing for the flavors. Wellbeing offers three styles, two of which that are vegan, that are widely available across the US. Of note is that they are the first US NA brewery to produce a dessert / pastry stout. Two new styles are in the works for the coming months!
A crisp, full-bodied ale featuring a classic wheat flavor with a
hint of citrusy hoppiness. Vegan.
A hop forward amber with
a solid dark amber malt backbone.
Coffee Cream Stout
A “dessert” or “pastry” stout featuring locally roasted coffee, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and flaked oats for extra body. *contains lactose
How you can get these brews onto your tastebuds:
Around town: https://wellbeingbrewing.com/#find-a-store
Total Wine (Nationwide): https://www.totalwine.com/
Bevmo (CA): https://www.bevmo.com/
Specs (TX): https://specsonline.com/
Personal Impression: A solid lineup! The wheat and amber deliver the taste experience you expect for well-brewed traditional styles. The Coffee Cream Stout does a wonderful job of delivering a balanced taste experience across all of its additive ingredients. It really fills the dessert or pastry stout bill and it paired well with Challah French Toast or sweet crepes for breakfast.
There is one other US NA craft brewer that we consumers are anxiously awaiting to taste:
Hairless Dog Brewing Co.
Hairless Dog is a newer NA craft brewery with a creative name and a passion for the health benefits of reducing / removing alcohol from one’s lifestyle. They are actively working on getting into distribution channels beyond their immediate local area. If you happen to make it to Minneapolis or other Midwest areas, they offer a Black Ale and a recently announced Coffee Stout. A few local reviews look promising. In America, we are all awaiting progress on the distribution so that we can get these brews onto your tastebuds. They reportedly hope to be exporting to the UK toward the end of 2019.
You can learn more at https://www.drinkhairlessdog.com/.
There’s an NA craft brewer located in Eastern Canada that is also distributing to the US:
Partake Brewing was born out of the need to give up alcohol due to a medical condition, but the desire to not miss out on the social connection that beer provides. According to Partake, their products are available in the US via their website and Total Wine & More website and locations. They are also available in Canada via their website and at over 1,500 retail stores including the LCBO, the Beer Store, Whole Foods, Co-op Wine & Spirits, and Sobeys Liquor. Their products include an IPA, Pale Ale (which won the Gold Medal at 2018 World Beer Awards), Blonde, and a soon-to-be-released Stout.
You can learn more at https://drinkpartake.com/.
The Sober Summary
It appears that we have quite a lot to look forward to on the US NA craft beer scene in the coming months. What’s being produced thus far holds a lot of promise for where NA craft beer is and where it can go.
As far as acquiring any of the US NA products in the UK, shipping remains an expensive order. Most US brewers will likely ship to the UK if you so desire, but you can expect a 12-pack with shipping to land at or around $100 USD (approximately 76 GBP as of 3/31/19) to the greater London area.
So I say to our UK NA craft beer community, put that money toward a business or pleasure visit and slake your thirst closer to the US sources. If you’re coming to the NYC area, be sure to let me know. I’ll meet you for a pint or two…or three…or four. Afterall, it’s NA all day! You can find me @NoBuzzJoe on Twitter or @noandlowjoe on Instagram.
If you are an American reading this, what are you waiting for? Get to ordering online, visiting the retailers, and finding great NA craft brews locally. The no-buzz buzz is building. Put aside any preconceived notions about NA craft beer and join us! And don’t forget to ask your smaller local retailers to start stocking some of the great NA craft beers that already exist. Now to figure out how we can get all of that wonderful UK NA craft beer over to the states.