It’s a question I’ve pondered occasionally: Would I still love beer as much as I do if it didn’t contain alcohol?
I truly believe that if it tasted the same, I would.
I love beer for the flavors, the variety, the anticipation of trying something new from one of my favorite breweries. I don’t drink beer to get smashed. That was high school, but I left that — and the feeling of walking around like a Hell’s Kitchen trash can the next day — in the rearview mirror. My faith also helps me stay motivated to remain in control while I’m out with friends having a beer.
I’m not alone. In fact, check out social media this time of year and you’ll run into a friend proclaiming about how they’re giving up alcohol for Dry January. They do it dry out after the holidays, for health benefits and just to get off the booze train for a while. After a month of the parties and big Belgian Christmas beers, I’m with them.
But how to slake that thirst for beer if you’ve given up booze? O’Douls? Please. Thankfully, craft breweries are starting to release non-alcoholic beers that taste like, well, craft beer.
Locally, Bellingham’s Aslan Brewing has been producing its Don’s N/A since its earliest days. The beer is modeled after an English brown ale and brewed at normal strength with a unique yeast that creates a low-alcohol beer after fermentation. The rest of the alcohol is then evaporated. It tastes like a regular ale, with a solid malt backbone and slight hop profile.
“You know we find that people come in and want to have a beer with lunch instead of a soda, but don’t want the alcohol,” said Andy Allen, Aslan marketing director. “U.S. consumers are starting to come around to non-alcoholic beer, and we feel it’s an important thing to be a part of.”
Non-alcoholic beers have a strong history in Europe, but beer drinkers in the U.S. have been slow to adopt them. Most of that has to do with taste. Aslan’s Don’s N/A — and its other non-alcoholic beer, Pete’s N/A — is an outlier. Most non-alcoholic beers are under-carbonated, thin and too cloyingly sweet.
I found three other canned non-alcoholic beers at a local bottleshop and the tastes were OK, but nothing to make me think about switching forever. California’s Bravus Brewing and Missouri’s Wellbeing Brewing, who both claim to be the first American craft brewery to be solely dedicated to producing non-alcoholic craft beer, and Connecticut’s Athletic Brewing have a diverse lineup of beers.
Of the three, I found Athletic Brewing’s IPA the best tasting. All three reminded me of gluten-free beer, slightly thin and muted flavors, but Athletic’s IPA reminded me the most of a solid ale. It had a nice hop finish and full mouthfeel. Bravus’ IPA was a bit too sweet and a little flat, while Wellbeing’s amber had a solid maltiness but lacked flavor.
Non-alcoholic beers from all three breweries can be found at Total Wine & More and some can be ordered directly from their websites.
Maybe the answer isn’t non-alcoholic beers, but rather low-alcoholic beers, another category in craft beer that is expanding. Likely in response to Michelob Ultra (95 calories, 2.6 grams carbs), breweries have began producing and aggressively marketing low-cal beers, including Dogfish Head’s Slightly Mighty Lo-cal IPA (95, 3.6), Lagunitas’ DayTime IPA (98, 3) and Ballast Point’s Lager (99, 3.5).
I always point to North Coast Brewing’s Scrimshaw Pilsner (100, 2) as the best counter to high-ABV, calorie bombs. Scrimshaw is beautifully crisp with a solid body, and is light years better than Michelob Ultra.
Locally, Foggy Noggin’s English-style beers are often below 4% ABV, including its flagship Bit O’Beaver at 3.4%, and Skookum recently released a British Dark Mild that is just 3.9%. English beers generally use less malt, which means less sugar, lower ABVs and lower calories.