Non-alcoholic beer is quickly shedding its reputation as a flavorless brew. Here are the ones worth drinking, and why you won't regret the choice.
Recent research has shown us that no amount of alcohol is healthy, which is disheartening news for health-conscious (raises hand) beer fans (raises other hand). However, there’s a rising trend in beer that can still deliver that hoppy, fizzy fix without the negative health effects: non-alcoholic beer.
Non-alcoholic beer? You may be tempted to ask, what’s the point?
Well, for starters, it's healthier: Non-alcoholic beer packs significantly fewer calories than traditional beer (which can top out at nearly 400 calories per pint). That's pretty attractive if you’re watching your waistline. On top of that, one recent study hinted that non-alcoholic beer may even help athletes recover from tough workouts.
What Exactly is Non-Alcoholic Beer?
Compared to traditional beer, non-alcoholic beer typically contains 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) or less—compared to between 3% and 13% for traditional beer. The majority of the alcohol is removed during the brewing process, but a small amount is retained to keep a “beery” taste.
It turns out that alcohol really does add a lot of flavor, which is why NA beer has a reputation for being weak and flavorless. And even though newer brews have come a long way, you shouldn't expect a non-alcoholic beer to replicate your favorite IPA, stout, or pale ale.
Luckily, we found that, when you stop worrying about making one taste exactly like the other, (some kinds of) NA beer can make for a pleasant, refreshing drink all on their own. And there are plenty of options out there that are worth cracking open when you’re trying to cut back, whether it’s during your lunch break, after work, or midway through a hike.
To find the best non-alcoholic beer, we rounded up mass-produced, imported, and smaller craft varieties. Two of the breweries represented, Connecticut-based Athletic Brewing Co. and Clausthaler from Germany, only brew non-alcoholic beer. Read on to find out our top picks—and which ones you should avoid.
Overall Winner: Athletic Brewing Co. Run Wild IPA
Hands down, Athletic Brewing Co.’s Run Wild IPA is our top pick for the best non-alcoholic beer. With only 70 calories per 12-ounce can, this is a beer you could easily kick back with at the office (which a few of us have) or by the pool on a hot day. A double dose of citra and mosaic hops makes this beer citrusy and pleasantly hoppy—and while it doesn’t pack quite as much bite as traditional IPAs, it damn well tries. Our comments ranged from “Crisp, bitter, and refreshing—just like an IPA should be,” to “I love IPAs and this is pretty close to it!”
Available from athleticbrewing.com, $13 for six 12-ounce cans
Love this beer? Try Athletic Brewing’s Upside Dawn, a golden ale that’s well-balanced by crisp citrus notes and subtle bitterness.
Second Fave: Clausthaler Dry-Hopped Non-Alcoholic Beer With Cascade Hops
Like Athletic Brewing Co., Clausthaler deserves a shout-out because of its commitment to brewing exclusively non-alcoholic beers. Founded in 1972, the German brewery pioneered an innovative brewing process called controlled fermentation. Essentially, this method significantly reduces the amount of alcohol while maintaining the flavor of the beer. The dry-hopped variety we tried was reminiscent of an amber beer—and it was actually quite enjoyable. We enjoyed its predominantly malty, caramel profile, and one of us even likened it to a Negro Modelo.
Available from Total Wine & More, $7 for six 12 oz. bottles
Best Import: Einbecker Brauherren Alkoholfrei
If you’re a fan of crisp German pilsners like Bitburger or König, then Einbecker’s non-alcoholic brew is probably right up your alley. No, it’s not quite as good, but it’s a perfectly acceptable alternative if this style of beer is your jam. The flavor is dry and a touch bitter. In fact, bitterness was the primary flavor that most tasters noticed. Some appreciated it, while others did not enjoy it.
Available from Total Wine & More, $12 for six 11 oz. bottles
Best Domestic: O’Douls Premium
This category should be taken with a grain of salt, as it’s tough to call any of these beers good. However, they’re not necessarily terrible either—it’s more that they lack any flavor whatsoever. In addition to O’Douls, we tried two other domestics: Miller Sharp’s and Coors Non-Alcoholic. We found the Miller and Coors beers (which are coincidentally brewed by the same company: MillerCoors) to be weak and watery with hints of corn flavor. O’Douls, from Anheuser-Busch, was smoother, crisper, and even a touch on the dry side—which we appreciated.
Available from Total Wine & More, $6.50 for six 12 oz. cans
Perfect for Cold Weather: Athletic Brewing Co. All Out Stout
Athletic Brewing Co.'s All Out Stout smells like fresh coffee—and looks a lot like it too. Like the Run Wild IPA, this is a non-alcoholic craft beer that packs plenty of personality without the boozy punch. Low bitterness and richness from roasted malts combine for a smooth, well-balanced beer. We especially enjoyed the notes of bittersweet chocolate, toasty caramel, and even a touch of vanilla. If you’re looking for a cozy booze-free beer to sip during chilly months, this is your brew.
Available from athleticbrewing.com, $13 for six 12 oz. cans
Best Party Beer: Kalibur Premium Beer
Kalibur, a European pale lager from the makers of Guinness, was the Cooking Light digital editor’s beer of choice when he was the designated driver at college parties. “It’s still my favorite old-school non-alcoholic beer—it’s malty, wheaty, and flavorful,” he says. With notes of caramel and a bready, biscuity taste, it’s actually pretty drinkable. Even better, there are only 66 calories per 12-ounce bottle. However, if you’re someone who prefers hoppier beers, Kalibur may not be for you. Nonetheless, it’s not bad at all for what it is—and if you’re not into mocktails, this would be the perfect easy sipper at a party when you’re staying sober.
Available from Total Wine & More, $7.50 for six 12 oz. bottles
Skip It: St. Pauli Girl Non-Alcoholic
St. Pauli Girl is a decent European pale lager, but the German brewery’s non-alcoholic version speaks otherwise. Our comments ranged from “Oddly sweet,” to “My mouth is full of bad tastes.” Most of us felt the same way about Beck’s Non-Alcoholic, a German pilsner that we tried. However, we noticed that both beers come in green-tinted glass bottles, which can make your beer taste skunky if they’re exposed to sunlight for too long. Either way, there are much better non-alcoholic beers out there.
The Verdict on Non-Alcoholic Beer: We’re all about healthier ways to enjoy the things we love, and non-alcoholic beer is a trend we fully support. Would we drink one after a run? By the pool? After a bike ride? Absolutely.