Sobriety is cool again—and the craft beer industry has answered by nixing the alcohol from a few of its most popular brews.
Non-alcoholic beers have the advantage of not getting you drunk, if you’re not into that, and often have fewer calories, if you’re into that. When done well, they taste just like the real thing, which makes some rehab centers advise against them. But NA beer isn’t just for people who consider themselves “sober.”
NA brews fit nicely into a world where lots of folks are dialing back their alcohol consumption for a number of reasons—their health, or avoiding hangovers, or just being able to drive home legally after having more than a couple.
Sales surged 38% in 2020, and they’re only expected to keep growing. Athletic Brewing, out of Connecticut, and Lagunitas, out of California, have been early players and therefore dominate the national scene. But here in Minneapolis, most breweries have been slower to can and distribute their non-alcoholic varieties, even if they offer them as one-offs in their taprooms.
Minnesota is known for its handful of addiction treatment programs, and is consistently ranked as one of the healthiest states. In true Midwestern fashion, we also like beer (though not nearly as much as Wisconsin). So it feels like only a matter of time before we see more non-alcoholic local varieties.
Personally, I’m a big fan of beer, the full-alcohol kind. But I’m staying sober for a few months for health reasons. Thanks to non-alcoholic beer, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything, and that’s pretty cool. I ranked five non-alcoholic beers, sold in liquor stores, from local breweries.
As Racket has reported, 30 Minnesota breweries use ABV Technology, a St. Paul company that removes the alcohol from beer. But I could only find NA beers from three local breweries in liquor stores I visited. NA beer is slightly more plentiful in local taprooms (Fair State, Ursa Minor, Fulton, to name a few), but it’s just not everywhere yet. To be technical, I stuck with the truly NA beers—by definition, that means less than 0.5%. And I rated only beers, not beer-flavored seltzers.
Bauhaus Non-Alcoholic Pink Guava Sour
Score: 4.5 out of 5
Cost: $13 for a six pack
This beer is fun in a way most non-alcoholic beverages aren’t. Let’s be real, nothing about O’Doul’s screams “fun.” But with this sour, a variety that’s still trendier in the craft beer scene, non-drinkers can’t help but feel included. (Still waiting for a NA cold IPA, though). This sour is perfectly light and crisp, an easy drinker with a nice tart kick. It’s a bit on the sweeter side—that guava is fragrant—but feels balanced. More great work from the respected, 10-year-old northeast Minneapolis brewery. Keeping this one stocked in the fridge.
Bauhaus Non-Alcoholic Helles Lager
Score: 4.2 out of 5
Cost: $13 for a six pack
This is the kind of beer that, for former drinkers, might bring back memories of tipping back a few too many at some dimly-lit bar. It’s light and drinkable, and almost indistinguishable from its alcoholic sister. Non-alcoholic beers are still overwhelmingly lagers, and this is a really good one. You get the sense that this place gets it. And that’s because they absolutely do: Head brewer Matt Schwandt had to reduce his own alcohol consumption due to a medical issue, a likely motivator to enter the NA scene. They released their first NA beer back in 2018, claiming to be the first local NA beer since prohibition.
Untitled Art Non-Alcoholic Juicy IPA
Score: 3.5 out of 5
Cost: $13.99 for a six pack
Technically this one is from Wisconsin. Since there are so few local options, though, it’s close enough. I love a juicy IPA. This beer is nice and hoppy and dry, a little bitter and a little citrusy. It’s on the lighter side, though, thinner and more watery than a standard juicy IPA. I wish it was all around juicier, as advertised, with a stronger citrus flavor, but it’s drinkable. If you miss IPAs, it’ll fill that gap—if I were served this at a bar, I’d have no idea it’s NA. Bonus: The five-year-old Waunakee brewery contracts artists for gorgeous can designs.
Hairless Dog Non-Alcoholic IPA
Score: 2.5 out of 5
Cost: $12.99 for a six pack
Founded in 2018, Minneapolis-based Hairless Dog made headlines for brewing truly non-alcoholic beer—that’s 0.0 percent. While other breweries brew beer normally and use a process to remove the alcohol, Hairless Dog never has any alcohol in the first place. That is attractive if you really need to avoid any and all alcohol. The process, which is somewhat controversial among brewing purists, means fermenting wort isn’t part of the formula. Hairless Dog’s IPA is certainly malt-forward in smell and taste, which I suppose is a result of their no-alcohol-ever method. It tastes sweet and foamy, like how the equipment at a brewery smells. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a little off compared to a standard IPA, and people probably have different philosophies about just how much NA beer should taste like “real” beer. Personally I’d like them to taste the same! I’m not sure I could drink multiple of these in a sitting—I nursed my first can—but with NA brews there’s a lot less of an urge to do that, anyway.
Hairless Dog Non-Alcoholic Citra Lager
Score: 2 out of 5
Cost: $12.99 for a six pack
On the first sip, it’s citrus-forward, which is nice, but there’s another malty aftertaste here that’s just off compared to a full-alcohol beer. It’s also hoppier than I’d expect from a lager. I like how the beer has some body to it, compared to other NA lagers I’ve tried, but the malty taste is pretty overpowering.