If you’ve ever worked in a bar—or sat in one long enough—you’ve likely heard a patron or two ask if the bartender has any non-alcoholic beer. With less than .5% alcohol by volume, it’s drunk by folks who like the premise of a cold one but, for any number of reasons, want to avoid its buzzy effects. Well-stocked bars can oblige, often offering a bottle of Kaliber (owned by Guinness), O’Doul’s, or St. Pauli Girl (both owned by Anheuser-Busch). These beers taste relatively terrible compared to, say, a nice glass of Georgetown Brewing’s Bodhizafa IPA—so one wonders why no craft brewery has cornered this unclaimed market by attempting its own tasty n/a.
“Non-alcoholic beer,” says Fremont Brewing top dog Matt Lincecum, “is primarily created by brewing a low-alcohol-based beer and then either heating the beer in a series of steps to boil off the alcohol, vacuum distillation, or a reverse-osmosis filter.” It is an arduous and flavor-killing process, for sure. He continues: “Why no craft n/a beer exists right now is a combination of the fact that processes involved are too expensive for the small return, craft brewers aren’t interested in n/a beer, and the flavor suffers irreparable harm through the steps required to remove the alcohol from beer.”
Reuben’s Brews’ owner Adam Robbings, for one, says there is no chance he and his shop would ever think about undertaking the task. “I understand that the process of [separating the brew from the alcohol] is very difficult and takes a lot of expensive equipment,” he says, “far beyond what small family-owned brewers can afford.” But Lincecum doesn’t shut the door on the possibility, even taking a jab at a local competitor. “However,” he says, “with faux craft breweries proliferating—Elysian, Lagunitas, Wicked Weed, 10 Barrel, Blue Moon, Shock Top—I wouldn’t be surprised to see one put out an n/a beer soon, perhaps with grapefruit or orange.”
Speaking of Elysian, CEO Joe Bisacca says that while creating a non-alcoholic beer is arduous, expensive, and time-consuming, he too hasn’t ruled out the possibility. “Non-alcoholic beer is a pretty niche market,” he offers, “which makes it less attractive for us since there’s a bigger market for [alcoholic] craft beer.” But, he continues, “if we were to go the non- alcoholic route, we’d go all the way and do it right. We’d probably make sodas or something else non-alcoholic versus doing non-alcoholic beer.”
That doesn’t bode well for people who want to drink a golden-hued, fizzy pint of something without the buzz. They may have to look to a new craft soda pop, or to the old standbys, to quench their thirst, because it doesn’t seem that the experts of the craft ales, pilsners, or stouts you’ve come to know are interested.