Why sales are going up as ABV goes down
written and photographed by Jackie Dodd
The question for years wasn’t if you could brew a nonalcoholic beer (NA beer), it was why you would want to. The idea of a “near beer,” defined as any beer with less than 0.5% alcohol-by-volume, conjured up images of an overly malty, quickly flattening, poorly bodied O’Doul’s your weird uncle would bring to family cookouts. Over the past few years, the category has moved from the little ventured side of the beer case, to front and center in the industry.
The non-alcohol category at GABF was vacated for fifteen years after lack of interest and brought back in 2019 to become a category that has grown in entries every year since. As a category, nonalcoholic beer is up 20 percent in sales over the past twelve months while the craft segment as a whole is down almost 8 percent, a strong indicator that the teetotaling beer buyer should be taken seriously.
This brings us back to our original question: why? The answer is as diverse as the drinkers themselves, but can be contained in three categories: health, sobriety and necessity. Health-conscious beer lovers look to NA beer as low-calorie alternative to traditional beer. Sobriety, whether it be a permanent state or a temporary one due to pregnancy, Dry January and Oct-Sober, or just a break from the beverages, leads people to look for a tasty alternative to alcohol. Others have sought the necessity of NA beer because of a medical issue hindering the processing of alcohol, or because they’re the designated driver.
Whatever reason has led the ABV-avoidant drinker to the NA section, there’s great news: It actually tastes good now. Like most segments of the craft beer market, the Washington beer community is innovating and pushing the category forward. Three Magnets Brewing in Olympia launched a line of NA beers called Self-Care with the tagline, “Because sometimes you want a beer, but also don’t.” With its line of beers featured in the coveted fresh hop category last year, Three Magnets is leading the category with award-winning NA beers that have nuanced flavors and a mouth feel that makes you forget there isn’t a buzz on the horizon. Fremont Brewing has also thrown their hat in the ring with their Nonalcoholic IPA brewed with the well-loved Citra hops and a familiar Fremont taste. It’s well reviewed and hard to find, selling out quickly when it hits shelves.
This brings us back to that question of why. Why? Because it tastes good. The point of craft beer is the flavor, the interplay of hops, malt, water and yeast, and we love it. NA beer is like sparkling water for beer people.
NONALCOHOLIC BEERS TO TRY IN THE PNW
- Scoot Scoot Italian Pils, Three Magnets Brewing Co. Self Care
- NA Brown, Figurehead Brewing Co.
- Nonalcoholic IPA, Fremont Brewing
- Don’s Nonalcoholic, Aslan Brewing Co.
- NØ MØ IPA, Crux Fermentation Project