My Discovery of Non-Alcoholic Craft Beer - Doug Barnes

Saturday, June 6, 2020

My Discovery of Non-Alcoholic Craft Beer

Beer cans and bottles on black background
Non-Alchoholic Craft and Traditional Beers
(Photo: Doug Barnes)
I have had a skipping heartbeat since my 20s. The doctors were never concerned, so I always brushed it off. During a recent physical, my doctor called with the results which were all good, except... She blurted out, “Your EKG shows you have Afib.” If your heart is ever going to flutter, it surely is when your doctor confirms your malady.

I have ridden a bicycle for over 60 years, so I never expected to have a problem with my heart. The irregular heartbeat sent me on a round of cardiologist visits. It was discovered that I have what’s called paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (Afib), a condition that is not uncommon among endurance athletes. I am not an endurance athlete, but I have been riding a bike, running, and walking regularly for my whole life.

The practical consequence is that once every 3 to 4 days, my heart is irregular for a long period of time. It is quite annoying, but not a life-threatening condition. To my surprise, my doctors tell me that I can even ride a bike when my heart is beating like a tom-tom drum. Still, no one likes to have their heart beating wildly because it quickly brings you to the realization that you are not going to live forever.

One consequence of having Afib is that you must take a blood thinner to avoid having a stroke. Also, the cardiologist stressed that excessive alcohol consumption can initiate episodes of Afib. Strokes have been common in my family, so I took this warning seriously. My parents and grandparents probably had the condition without even knowing it. Many people never know they have Afib until they have a stroke with of course awful consequences. Taking the blood thinner is not a big deal, but one side consequence is that you must abstain or significantly reduce alcohol consumption.

Like most people, I had seen the destructive impact of excessive alcohol consumption in my family. I have always been a moderate drinker. I like the taste of craft beers, so giving up beer consumption would be a challenge.

Discovering Non-Alcoholic Craft Beers

I first discovered the usual non-alcoholic beers such as Becks, O’ Doul’s, and St. Pauli Girl. The O’Douls lager is very light and somewhat watered down, so I did not like it much. Their amber is much better. The German lagers were quite good. But for a lover of craft beer, they have no pizazz.

I started to do some research on craft non-alcoholic beers and discovered that they were increasing in popularity over the last few years. Some of the major sites such as Beer Advocate even review them, but my experience is that such sites often give high ratings to the strongest offerings. Praise often means unusual or even undrinkable beer, except for the most adventurous.

The non-alcoholic craft beers are mostly geared towards Millennials who are tired of drinking too much, so I was going to be ahead of the curve as an aging Baby Boomer. I discovered that like the craft beer industry from several decades ago, non-alcoholic beers have become not only acceptable but quite trendy.

Convinced that I would not have to give up beer completely, I decided to explore some of the most recent offerings. I am located in the USA, so my sample is mostly US domestic varieties. To my surprise, the quality and variety of the craft non-alcoholic beers are quite extensive. Perhaps because I was sampling so many different types and varieties of non-alcoholic beer, for some reason I quickly forgot the strengths and weaknesses of particular brands. As a result, I decided to write down my preferences to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

The Craft Beer Rating System

I prefer beer that is not too strong (think stout) and not too weak (think light beer). I decided on a rating system from one to ten. One note of caution is that my preference may not be the same as others.
  • One: Poor: I would not buy it again.
  • Two: Below Average: The beer is barely acceptable and there would be a low likelihood of repurchasing it.
  • Three: Above Average: The beer is quite acceptable with a high probability that I would repurchase it from time to time. 
  • Four: Great: The beer is a favorite and I definitely would repurchase it on a regular basis.
  • Five: Outstanding: The taste and appearance are terrific and I would go out of my way to find and purchase it.
I could have created a scoring system that was used for several different dimensions as some of the rating websites, but in my opinion, that is going too far. This is not exactly science or even social science.

I also have tried not to compare these non-alcoholic beers to their alcoholic brethren. To turn a phrase, you might say they are fish of a different kettle. My caveat, of course, is that others may have different taste preferences. So if that is the case, I would just say, “Do your own tests!”

I am not particularly interested in an overall winner, as I like variety. In terms of quality, my main measure is whether I would purchase the craft beer again. I have organized the non-alcoholic beers below by type, but besides that, they are in no particular order.

So, cheers, salute, brost, goenbae, prost and with no irony intended, “to your health.”

Craft Non-Alcoholic Beers

I have been buying and tasting a wide variety of craft non-alcoholic beers for the last several months. The list below contains those that I have tested to date. Not all craft non-alcoholic beers are available in my area, so I am sure some are missing from my deliberations. I will keep this page updated and will add new offerings once I have sampled them.

The non-alcoholic craft brewing craze should have happened sooner. But I am glad it is finally beginning, allowing patrons to enjoy a high-quality beer at any time of day without the aftereffects. These beers are not available in all markets, and in some instances I had to order them directly from the brewery.

Before turning to the ratings, my final thought is that this was definitely too much fun! Who says that research is boring?

Athletic Brewing Run Wild IPA.

Brewery website: Run Wild is the ultimate sessionable IPA for craft beer lovers. Brewed with a blend of five Northwest hops, it has an approachable bitterness to balance the specialty malt body. Always refreshing and only 70 calories.

Athletic Run Wild IPA
Run Wild IPA, Athletic Brewing
Beer Advocate: 85 based on 52 ratings. Notes: Calories: 70 ABV: < 0.5% IBU: 35 Malts: Premium organic malts from US & Germany. Hops: Blend of Northwest hops with Citra and Mosaic at the forefront. Tasting Notes: The ultimate sessional IPA. Subtle yet complex malt profile.

My Rating: 4.5 of 5.

This is one of the better non-alcoholic IPAs. The beer has quite a few citrus notes. It does not taste watery. This is more like a strong version of citrus wheat (like Blue Moon or Spotted Cow) rather than a bold IPA. The main difference is that it has a strong, hoppy flavor. The flavor is very good but a bit on the light side. This is a very nice change from the traditional non-alcoholic lagers.

Athletic Brewing Free Way Double Hopped Freeway IPA

Website: This seems to be a special or seasonal beer so there is no information on the Athletic website.
Athletic Free Way IPA

Beer Advocate: Not rated.

My Rating: 3.5 of 5.

The beer pours with a cloudy golden color. The head it not excessive and reduces to a nice level that stays on the surface of the beer. The flavor is excellent and reminiscent of its alcoholic counterparts. This beer is a double hopped IPA and it very much tastes like it. For the hop lover, this would be an excellent beer. The flavor is quite good, but the excessive hops leave a bitter aftertaste that spoils the overall experience of this non-alcoholic beer. I tasted it at a cool but not cold temperature, and this enhanced the taste of this IPA. I would recommend this beer for its full flavor, but it also is excessively hoppy for my taste.

Athletic Brewing Golden Upside Dawn

Brewery website: Classic non-alcoholic craft golden ale. Refreshing, clean, balanced, light-bodied. Aromas are subtle with floral and earthy notes. Brewed with premium organic malts from US & Germany along with a combo of English and traditional American hops. Crafted to be nearly gluten-free (lab tested to under 5 ppm).
Athletic Brewing Upside Dawn Beer Can
Upside Dawn, Athletic Brewing

Beer Advocate: 82 (12 Reviews)

My Rating: 3 of 5.

The beer pours as a golden color. The carbonation is medium and the head is nice but disappears quickly. The flavor hits a happy median, as it isn't extremely strong and it also isn't watery. It has a medium body. The taste is slightly floral and is fairly dry. The aftertaste is a very mild bitterness that is not unpleasant. This is a very easy beer to drink and would complement food very well.

WellBeing Intentional IPA

WellBeing website: Intentional IPA delivers the distinctly and delightfully bitter characteristics of Mosaic and Citra hops, refreshingly punctuated with pineapple and peach notes. This session's IPA offers a full-flavored, alcohol-free experience for any intentional occasion.
(Photo: WellBeing)
WellBeing Intentional IPA
WellBeing Intentional IPA

Beer Advocate: Rating: Not rated.

My Rating: 4.5 of 5.

This IPA is quite flavorful with a strong hop taste and some floral notes. The color is a dark golden and a bit cloudy. The carbonation is well balanced and the bubbles in the head do not disappear quickly. The overall look of this beer is quite pleasing.

The taste is more like a normal IPA, but of course, the lack of alcohol does give it a different flavor. The hops seem to have imparted a slightly bitter taste, and the aftertaste is rather dry. I have rated it very highly because many other non-alcoholic IPAs tend to taste more like fruity ales. This Intentional IPA is more like the real thing.

Surreal Brewing Juicy Mavs Hazy IPA

Surreal Juicy Mavs Hazy IPA
Surreal Website: This Hazy IPA bursts with tropical fruit and citrus character, accentuated by fruity yeast esters & a subtle, clean malt finish. The artwork features an epic Maverick wave at Pillar Point just north of Half Moon Bay. The perfect summer beverage, this juicy brew pairs well with almost any summer treat including spicy eats, grilled meats, seafood, salads, pizza, and adventure!

Beer Advocate: No Rating.

My Rating: 1 of 5

This IPA is very light and watery. The beer is too highly carbonated and the bubbles in the head reduce quickly. The beer does have a citrus taste but it also is thin with little body. It may appeal to those wanting watered-down IPA that is easy to drink. My caveat is that as I previously indicated I am not a big fan of light beers. The best thing about this beer is the artwork on the can.

Partake Brewing IPA

Brewery website: Made with citrusy bold, fruity Cascade, Amarillo and Citra hops, this IPA pours a brilliant gold with a bouquet of sweet florals, grapefruit and honey on a light, effervescent body with a lingering grapefruit pith bitterness after the swallow.
Partake Brewing IPA

The zingy hops can take on a kale Cesar salad and hold its own against aged cheddar and gouda, while its bubbly body will refresh your palate after a bite of a loaded chicken, veggie or beef burger. At the lower end of the bitterness scale for IPA's, clocking in at 26 IBU's, this beer balances the citrusy hops with a sweet malt backbone. Its light and bubbly body and dry finish make it an all-day sipper that packs a lot more flavor than most non-alcoholic beers on the market.

Beer Advocate: No rating

My rating: 1 of 5:

The beer does not taste much like an IPA. It pours well into the glass and has a nice head. The color is attractive and in between bronze and amber. The problem is the taste. Despite what is said on the brewery website, I found that both the taste and the aftertaste are quite bitter overpowering any flavor. It is quite dry and does remind me of grapefruit that is not at all sweet. I would not recommend this one unless you are a fan of bitter beer.

WellBeing Heavenly Body Golden Wheat

WellBeing website: Miraculously balanced between flavor and lightness. Near Beer from Heaven. Heavenly Body NA Golden Wheat is the first offering from the WellBeing Brewing Company. It is based on a Great American Beer Festival award-winning recipe!
WellBeing Golden Wheat

This American-Style Wheat has more flavor than its light lager cousins. We add a hint of Cascade and German Traditional hops for a slight citrus character that balances the lighter malts. This is a great beer for after sports, yoga, or anytime you are taking care to watch what is going in your heavenly body.

Beer Advocate: 68.

My rating: 1 of 5.

The beer has a citrus taste that that is light and might even be called watery. This does not taste that much like a traditional wheat beer, but rather is heavily favored. It is a golden color and a bit cloudy. The taste is not bad, but the aftertaste is somewhat bitter and this takes away from its flavor. This is not among my favorites.

Bravus Brewing Company White Ale

Brewery Website: For those of you that are Blue Moon and/or Shock Top fans do we have a style for you! We brew this wheat beer using coriander and both sweet & bitter orange peels. The resulting beer provides a fair amount of orange citrus followed by that typical Belgian yeast flavor (banana/cloves). An absolutely delightful easy drinker we must say!
Bravus Brewing White Ale

Beer Advocate: No reviews

My Rating: 4 of 5

This beer has the taste of summer. It pours well with a nice white head that reduces nicely. The color is a cloudy light yellow with a hint of orange. The Bravus description of this beer is pretty accurate. This beer has a not so subtle lemony-orange flavor, with a greater emphasis on the orange. The aftertaste is pleasant and does have a hint of cloves. My only criticism is that this beer tastes more akin to a very pleasant carbonated fruit drink but I also have to admit it that would make a nice companion on a summer afternoon. I do not prefer this style of beer so I would probably give it a score of 3. My wife is a fan of both Shock Top and Blue Moon and it is a favorite for her. The compromise is a score of 4. I must admit even for me this would be a great drink after mowing the grass or just back from the beach on a hot afternoon.

Bravus Brewing Company Amber Ale

Bravus website: If you love Fat Tire you'll love this beer! Our Amber Ale features biscuit, raisin, and caramel notes and is perfectly balanced with earthy and citrus hop aromas.
Bravus Brewing Amber

Capped by a very clean bitterness, it’s incredibly versatile with food while being extremely enjoyably on its own.

Beer Advocate: Not rated.

My rating: 4.5 of 5

This is a strong-tasting beer with a pleasant after taste. The smell has a bit of a caramel tone to it and the taste is on the earthy side. It has a burnt malt flavor and it is much stronger than Fat Tire.

The carbonation is pleasant but on the light side. It pours with an average head. Despite the advertising, this beer does not seem to be trying to imitate other amber ales and this is not a bad thing. The color of the beer is more brown than amber. The earthy flavor leaves a pleasant, dry aftertaste. People who like light beers should stay away from this strong tasting beer.

WellBeing Hellraiser Dark Amber

WellBeing Website: Hellraiser Dark Amber is the beer to drink when you are out with your friends ready to have a great time. This hop-forward amber has the perfect balance of floral aroma and spicy hops to delight the palette of craft beer enthusiasts everywhere.
WellBeing Hellraiser Dark Amber

Beer Advocate: 80

My Rating: 2.5 of 5.

The beer is an amber or copper color. It pours with a high level of carbonation but a nice head. The aroma has citrus notes that are neither pleasant nor unpleasant. The taste is somewhat dry and fairly weak, with a bit too much carbonation. For an amber, in my opinion, this beer has too much of a hoppy taste. This seems to give this beer it a hint of lime, unexpected and out of character for an amber. I might have expected such a taste in an ale but ambers generally tend to be smoother, somewhat complex with a slightly malty flavor. Because of the somewhat average taste, this is not my favorite amber beer. I expected much more from this craft offering. I would not go out of my way to buy it again.

Brooklyn Brewery Special Effects

Brooklyn website: Brooklyn Special Effects tastes similar to a regular beer, but therein lies its special effect. It's not. We use a special fermentation method that develops the flavors, aromas & character of beer with none of the alcohol, and a generous dry-hopping resulting in lively hop notes and a clean finish. a delicious alcohol-free beer.
Brooklyn Special Effects

Brooklyn Special Effects is a hoppy lager with an unexpected piney aroma and pleasantly bitter finish. The beer gets its golden, bready sweetness from dry-hopping with Citra and Amarillo hops-- a technique rarely used in alcohol-free brewing. We use a specially developed fermentation method that limits the amount of alcohol that is created while allowing more traditional beer flavors to develop.

Beer Advocate: 73

My rating: 5 of 5

This is my favorite non-alcoholic beer. It has an amber color and great taste. It is not sweet or bitter. It has a good aroma and a pleasant aftertaste. It is a complex taste similar to Sam Adams Boston Lager. The flavor is well balanced with has just the right level of carbonation. The aftertaste is quite pleasant. Special Effects strikes a nice balance between beers that have a quite strong flavor and those that are very light.

Bravus Brewing Oatmeal Stout

Bravus Website: The Bravus non-alcoholic Oatmeal Stout is the perfect companion during these cold winter months. With hints of chocolate, caramel and roast, it is extremely smooth and delightfully refreshing. Silver medal winner at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival.
Bravus Oatmeal Stout

Beer Advocate: 71. Note: This delicious oatmeal stout has a wonderful mouthfeel and a velvety head. The undertones of chocolate and caramel give way to a slightly smoky finish. Absolutely delightful!

My rating: 3 of 5

The Bravus Oatmeal Stout has a very strong and complex taste. The beer pours well with a nice light brown head that lasts for an above-average amount of time. The color is a deep brown, almost black. The beer has a rich smell and the taste is not sweet. The flavor is quite strong, both rich and roasted. It is quite reminiscent of Guinness but it is much smoother and less dry. It has a pleasantly dry chocolate-like flavor in the mouth. The after-taste is distinctive but not strong and it does not linger. The only reason I don’t give it a 10-10 rating is that oatmeal stouts are not my favorite style of beer. Although I would not have this stout every day, I would drink it when I want the taste of a truly distinctive non-alcoholic beer. This beer is not for the faint of heart.

Athletic Brewing Cerveza Atletica

Atheltic website: The perfect complement to summer comes in a can… and it’s called Cerveza Atletica. Welcome to the Summer! A deliciously refreshing Mexican lager. This beer also has been called a Mexican style copper lager. It is a seasonal beer and it may not be widely available.
Athletic Cerveza Atletica

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The beer pours a nice copper color with a nice head. The brown color makes it look like it will be a rather strong beer, but the taste is surprisingly not strong at all and mimics a traditional Mexican lager. It is smooth, light, and refreshing with a slight hint of sweetness. This beer does not have any citrus flavor but it would go well with lemon or lime. The aftertaste is quite pleasant and not at all bitter. This smooth and crisp beer would be a perfect companion for a hot summer day and it would be an excellent choice for those who like Mexican lagers.

Bravus Brewing Cerveza

Bravus Website: Our take on a Mexican Lager. Similar to Corona and Modelo, this super crisp and refreshing beer will transport you to the warm beaches of Mexico. Cerveza pours with a pale straw color and a medium white head. The flavor starts off with a slight maltiness, followed by some lingering hops and a subtle lime finish. Delicioso!
Bravus Brewing Cerveza

My rating: 2.5 of 5

The beer is a nice light yellow color and has a good head that lingers. I was expecting the taste of a Mexican lager but instead, the beer has more of a fruity flavor. The smell is mostly of weak lime. The taste is refreshing, more like taking a drink of a nice lemonade. However, it is not sweet and the lemon-lime flavor is quite strong, suffocating the taste of the actual beer. The aftertaste is a bit bitter with more than a hint of lime. I would not call it pleasant. This would be best for a summer day, but the Bravus White Ale has a similar and much better taste than this Cerveza.

Mass-Produced Non-Alcoholic Beer

St. Pauli Girl N.A.

Website: St. Pauli Non-Alcoholic offers the pleasant hop aroma, crisp finish, and well-balanced malt flavor of an imported beer without the alcohol. ItÍs brewed from the finest spring barley, ice-age glacier water, hops from the famous Hallertau Hop Gardens and a special variety of yeast.
St Pauli N.A.

To achieve St. Pauli N.A.'s unique product specifications, the brewmasters stop fermentation before the alcohol begins to develop. St. Pauli Girl is brewed in Germany in strict accordance with the Reinheitsbegot (purity order of decree).

Beer Advocate: 56

My Rating: 3 of 5

St Pauli Girl NA is a traditional German-style lager. It pours into a glass with a good head and has a light golden color. The level of carbonation is surprisingly similar to many alcoholic beers. It also is not too light and has a clean and pleasant finish. St Pauli Girl beer is not sweet and has no offensive taste. This allows for the flavor of the lager style to come through without the distraction of any citrus flavors. This is not an adventurous non-alcoholic beer but it may appeal to those who appreciate the taste of lighter lagers. With all the new non-alcoholic craft beer offerings, I wouldn’t purchase this beer for myself, but my wife likes it and would rate it higher than my score.


Acknowledgments: All the images of individual non-alcoholic beers are from the websites of the breweries. The quotes from the brewery websites have sometimes been edited to conform to the style of this article.

Note: Most of the non-alcoholic beers reviewed above do have a small amount of alcohol in them. The highest amount of alcohol is about 0.5% by volume compared to 5% in most typical beers and 6% in IPAs.

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