Like many people these days, we are trying to reduce the consumption of alcohol in my house …
It’s been about five years since I decided to limit drinking to the weekends, an obligation that I was largely able to stick to because while I was giving up the booze, I didn’t give up the ritual. I still make a point of pouring myself something to drink every week – it’s just not a drink. I like things to prepare like a bush cocktail or a seltzer with a generous squirt of fresh citrus, but on occasion I join my husband who has discovered an affinity for non-alcoholic beers.
We are not alone either. In 2020, sales of non-alcoholic beers rose 38 percent despite the world’s jokes about being quarantined. I think it also helped that supermarket shelves suddenly became options beyond O’Douls – from both the commercial giants (Bud, Heineken, etc) and the smaller artisan cans businesses (like Athletic Brewing Company).
Of course, figuring out which NA beer is the best was critical to our mission. So I reached out to Kate Bernot, certified beer judge (!), Beer reporter and Good Beer Hunting employee, and asked her to be the judge of an official, if decidedly uncertified, Cup of Jo taste test.
Since Kate lives in Missoula, Montana and does this on her own, we’d loosen the usual strict rules. The tasting wouldn’t be blind; I wouldn’t scribble notes and study the expressions on her face while she sipped. They tested a total of six brands that represented a good spectrum of the current market for non-alcoholic beer. In her words, “O’Doul’s is the old school offering; Heineken is one of the best-selling NA beers in the country. Athletic Brewing Co. is NA’s most popular craft brand. Samuel Adams is brand new and widespread. Brooklyn was one of the first craft breweries to bring out an NA beer. and Two Roots NA beer comes from a craft brand and has won medals at the Great American Beer Festival. I thought it would be helpful to include an award-winning example. “
During the tasting, Kate focused on some predictable scientific factors (color, aroma, texture, fizz), as well as some less scientific ones (is it good for drinking while watching the game?). I only had one requirement: however personal the decision may be, choose a winner!
Here she went down on everyone.
Special Effects (Brooklyn Brewery)
Price: $ 12.99 / six pack
Flavors: This “non-alcoholic hop brew” is the darkest of the whole range – caramel-colored like an amber beer. The aroma initially offers many nutty, black bread-like scents, but these are quickly dominated by woody, earthy hops. Unfortunately, the taste is less rich and malty than I’d hoped based on that nutty, preexisting aroma. The sip has a bit of caramel sweetness, but the most noticeable taste is the slightly pine-like hops. The texture is a bit thin for me – it comes closer to a light beer in the body, but without the significant carbonation of a Coors Light, for example. Overall it’s fine. It reminds me of an old school amber beer. It is certainly drinkable, but not something I would look forward to drinking over and over again.
Total points: 3/5
Price: $ 7.99 / six pack
Flavors: This looks like the version of Heineken you already know: brilliantly clear and straw-colored. It exudes a very malty-sweet aroma, similar to Kix muesli with an aroma of red apple peel – I am surprised at how sweet and fruity it smells. This follows in the sip; It’s the sweetest and fruitiest of all beers I’ve tried. Although it does not contain any fruit, it has a strong pear or apple note with just a little bit of bitterness at the end. If you’re used to drinking mass-market lagers or even light Mexican imports, this beer would likely taste pretty familiar. The texture is very light, but with good fizz and a snappy, crunchy finish. This is one of the most “chugging” options – you can easily have a few while watching football and not feel overly full.
Total points: 2.5 / 5
O’Doul’s golden non-alcoholic brew
Price: $ 6.79 / six pack
Flavors: This straw colored, super clear beer doesn’t smell like much at all. I have to stick my nose really deep into the glass to even find an aroma. Finally, I choose a light Cheerio scent, but not much else. Although people like to make fun of O’Doul, it tastes better than I remember. It’s smooth, with a simple, Cheerio-like taste. This is the least aromatic and easiest to drink beer that has ever existed. It’s pretty nondescript and harmless; It probably tastes what most people would consider “beer”. I do not like that; it’s extremely smooth and straightforward.
Total points: 3/5
Upside Dawn (Athletic Brewing Co.)
Price: $ 12.99 / six pack
Flavors: This golden ale is light golden in color and is quite clear. It has a fairly calm aroma; a bit lemony, a little soft bread crust underneath It’s subtle but fresh and ready and inviting. These already painted malts definitely assert themselves in terms of taste; The sip is really elegant and not too heavy. It tastes like a slightly richer blonde ale or a light wheat beer, with a hint of lemony tartness at the end, soft and subtle. This beer is accessible and simple, with a smooth, medium-light texture. You could serve it to your friends who aren’t sure they like beer and I bet they’d be happy.
Total score: 4/5
Enough said light (two roots)
Price: $ 11.99 / six pack
Flavors: When I pour this slightly cloudy, golden lager, I can really smell the Pilsner malt! To me it smells like brioche or challah bread – soft and rich and elegant. There is hardly any hops in the aroma, just a slight earthiness. The Pilsner malt continues up to the taste that tastes like straight white bread or some kind of unflavored cracker. Woody-spicy hops arrive at the end and close the sip with a firm bitterness. The best is the texture! It’s fuller than most of the non-alcoholic beers I’ve drank and offers real substance to the sip, not just hop water. This is the beer to buy if your biggest complaint about non-alcoholic beer is that it is too watery or too thin. Overall, I like that very much. I would love to drink this over a barbecue with burgers or tacos. I understand why this won a Great American Beer Festival gold medal in the non-alcoholic beer category.
Total points: 4/5
Just the Haze (Samuel Adams)
Price: $ 8.79 / six pack
Flavors: This cloudy IPA has a mimosa-like color and even an aroma. It has a big, citrusy, light scent that I can smell when I pour it in. It reminds me of orange creamsicles, more like a cocktail than a beer. It’s the same in taste – the IPA is orange, juicy, lemony, a bit tropical, and delicious. (Brunch mood!) Soft malts underneath ensure a really smooth, cohesive sip. The texture is smooth and velvety with a good weight. This is a very well done IPA! If a brewery served me this and didn’t tell me it was alcohol-free, I would have no idea.
Total score: 5/5
Thank you Kate! Do you have a favorite non-alcoholic beer or other drink? Please tell us about it.
PS More taste tests, including dark candy bars. And “why I stopped drinking and how it changed my life.”
(Photo by Kate by Brandon McMahon.)