Though alcohol seems to be intrinsically woven into every holiday, social gathering, and celebration here in the States, there are, in fact, occasions when you might not want to imbibe. Seriously: There are plenty of times when boozing isn’t in order. Perhaps you just don’t want to drink for a night, or you don’t drink at all, or you’re trying to cut back on calories—you know what, it really doesn’t matter why you’re not liquoring up. What matters is that you have options to drink what you like, when you like, and for nights when I’m off the sauce, my go-to is the wonderful world of non-alcoholic beer.
Not all non-alcoholic beer is created equal; for context, I am a discerning beer drinker to begin with. But after years spent drinking too much in college and during the pandemic, I’ve decided to cut back a bit. I can only pound so much LaCroix before I end up craving malty goodness, so I chose to forget the years I spent laughing off NA beer as something I’d never try, and bit the bullet. And folks, I’m glad I did—it slaps.
Let’s get a few things straight: First, these aren’t your parent’s NA beers. They’ve come a looong way from the bland, flavorless, near-beer brews of yesteryear. They’re also, well, actual beer! Technically, you can call something non-alcoholic in the US if the beverage has an alcohol by volume content of less than 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). In the States, “the term 'non-intoxicating' was applied to all beverages with less than 0.5% ABV during Prohibition and has since morphed into “non-alcoholic,” according to Craft Beer & Brewing. “The term 'alcohol-free' may be used in the United States only when the product contains no detectable alcohol.” So, while most NA beers still have trace amounts of alcohol, it’s nearly impossible to drink enough, fast enough, to even catch a slight buzz, which can make them a safe choice for people who are in recovery or are designated drivers. But, because these beers are still mashed, fermented, and packaged in the same way as regular, full-strength beers are, you can still get many of the same flavors, aromas, and body—just sans booze.
Beer isn’t the only drink with low- to no-booze options, either. There are plenty of NA aperitifs, liqueurs, and even wine out there for your drinking pleasure. But before you write off the NA booze trend as millennial nonsense, you should know that no- and low-alcohol beers have been around since beer itself was created around 8,000 years ago. Small beer was traditionally drunk in the morning and even given to children, and Trappist monks typically drank a low-alcohol beer made from the “second runnings” of beer made for selling to support their church’s missionary efforts. (Imagine steeping a tea bag, selling that cup of tea, then reusing the same bag once or even twice again, with new cups of continually weaker tea being made with each reuse.)
No matter the reason you’re looking to get into the NA beer game, the companies who brew it and the communities surrounding it are happy to have you. That’s why we pulled together a list of a few of our favorite NA beers—so kick back, crack a non-alcoholic cold one, and peruse.
Athletic Brewing Co.
Even if you know nothing about NA beer, you’ve probably heard about Athletic. Ever since the brewery sprung onto the scene in 2017, the team at Athletic has been cranking out some of the most delicious NA beers on the market, with a mission of letting drinkers “enjoy the taste and experience of refreshing craft beer without sacrificing your performance, passions, health, or good taste.” Basically, they’re brewing for folks who wanna drink great beer, but still be able to get up and take care of business in the morning. This pack of sixers will help you figure out which of the brewery’s flagship styles you like best, whether it's the Run Wild IPA (my personal favorite), the Upside Dawn Golden Ale, the All Out extra-dark, or the light copper Cerveza Atletica.
Bitburger Drive Non-Alcoholic German Beer
From the makers of delicious German pilsner—and the third best-selling beer in Germany—comes Bitburger’s Drive Non-Alcoholic German Beer. This full-flavored foray into the NA space is completely alcohol-free and naturally brewed following German Beer Purity laws of 1516 (or Reinheitsgebot for my fellow beer nerds out there) and has a deliciously subtle bitterness, a malty backbone, and just a whiff of noble hop aroma.
If stouts are your thing, don’t feel left out—Bravus has your back. The brewery’s Oatmeal Dark is a smooth, well-balanced, stout-style NA beer that won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2019, which is one of the beer industry’s highest honors. “There aren't a lot of NA stouts,” one reviewer writes. “But this one is just right. It is low gluten and low calorie but packed with flavor. Very smooth and enjoyable. Well done!"
Perhaps you’ve seen the ads for the latest NA offering from Heineken N.V.—one of the biggest multinational brewing companies in the world—and thought, Huh, maybe I’ll give that a try. Well, here’s the sign you’ve been waiting for: If you like Heineken, you’ll like Heineken 0.0%, because it tastes just like the full-strength stuff. “The flavor is there and it is delicious,” one reviewer writes. “A family member had a taste and remarked how it tastes just like a Heineken.”
If you’re a beer person, chances are you’ve probably picked up a few cases of Lagunitas in your day. The suds sultans from California have entered the NA beer game with their NA IPA, and drinkers can’t get enough. Full-flavored and hop-forward, the most impressive aspect I got from this was a surprisingly strong and sharp hop bitterness, which I like in an IPA. “[I’m] cutting back on alcohol,” one reviewer writes, “and this is delicious!”
This example from Suntroy strays from the rest, since, according to the description, the brewery “removes the fermentation process entirely to deliver a beer-alternative with 0 calories and 0.00% alcohol. It contains no sugar nor any artificial sweetener/flavors.” Which, if you’re really looking to cut back on carbs or calories, is a plus. “If you're about that low carb life, then you NEED to know about this product!!!” one reviewer writes. “IT ACTUALLY TASTES LIKE BEER!”
Proßt, and zum wohl!
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story.