11 Best Non-Alcoholic Beers of 2021

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Photography courtesy of Athletic Brewing Co. 

Many people kick off the new year with Dry January - thirty-one days of abstaining from alcohol. A term first coined by a group in London in 2013, Dry January is a chance for folks to adopt healthier lifestyle.s But nowadays with so many high-quality non-alcoholic brands and beers available, participating in Dry January doesn't necessarily mean that you can't drink beer. 

Can you imagine a beer without alcohol? Seems to be almost as crazy as a beer without hops, right? Well, both exist. And now non-alcoholic (NA) beer has become a growing trend in the U.S. and a popular one around the world, with many craft breweries brewing non-alcoholic beer. 

According to IWSR, a leading global alcohol industry market research firm, NA beer sales grew over thirty percent in terms of volume in 2020. And Drizly reported in its third annual BevAlc Insights by Drizly Retail Report that non-alcoholic products are up 120 percent on the platform since 2020.

As a result, over the past few years many craft breweries have added innovative, flavorful versions of NA beers to their portfolios. And entirely non-alcoholic beer brands are emerging in the market.

For instance, major established brands like Brooklyn Brewery, Boston Beer Co., and Dogfish Head have all crafted their own NA beers.

And solely non-alcoholic beer producers such as Athletic Brewing Co. and Rescue Club (one of Hop Culture's best new breweries of the year) are changing the status quo.

We predict this beer trend will continue to grow and that soon Americans will be drinking non-alcoholic beer all year round. Not just for Dry January. 

What Is Non-Alcoholic Beer?

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Photography courtesy of Athletic Brewing Co. 

Alcohol-Free beers are those that have 0.0% ABV. Non-alcoholic beers are those that fall under 0.5% ABV. So yes, technically some NA beers can still have a very small percentage of alcohol. But, you'd probably have to drink somewhere around nine bottles of alcohol-free beer to equal the ABV kick of a standard beer.

For that reason, the category has been growing. This is especially tree among Millennials, who are interested in a better-for-you, sober-curious lifestyle.

How Do You Make Non-Alcoholic Beer?

Some breweries have their own proprietary methods for making non-alcoholic beer. Such as Brooklyn Brewery that "uses a process that prevents alcohol from being created in the first place while still allowing many of the flavors we associate with beer to still develop," says Eric Ottoway, CEO at Brooklyn Brewery that developed its own line of non-alcoholic beers called Special Effects after about a year and a half of trials.

Generally though, a brewery starts with an alcoholic beer and then de-alcoholizes it.

This can happen one of a few ways.

Some producers heat uncarbonated beer to its boiling point and allow the alcohol to evaporate. Whereas, others decrease the pressure of an uncarbonated beer, allowing the alcohol to boil at room temperature.

Regardless, the goal is to create a beer that tastes like beer…just without an alcohol content above 0.5% ABV.

Europeans Enjoy Non-Alcoholic Beer

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Photography courtesy of BrewDog

For decades alcohol-free beer has been popular in Europe.

One driving factor behind this trend: tough drunk driving laws. In many European countries, consuming even one beer will put you over the limit. And the penalties for drunk driving are much more severe.

"Europeans have long had much more aggressive drunk driving laws than in the U.S., so people have gotten used to the idea of drinking NA beers when they are in situations where they have to drive," says Eric Ottoway, CEO at Brooklyn Brewery, which developed its own line of non-alcoholic beers called Special Effects. In fact, Brooklyn Brewery first launched its NA brand in Sweden (their biggest market outside of the U.S.) in 2018 before hitting the States in 2019.

"It's quite common to see colleagues getting together for afterwork drinks, and several of them have NA beers in their hands," says Ottoway.

Additionally, Europe has developed a NA beer culture: Europeans often drink very low-ABV or NA beers with lunch. "Europeans got used to NA beers being a part of everyday life, and therefore they focused on creating higher-quality offerings," says Ottoway. "As the craft beer movement in Europe matured, it was natural for European craft brewers to focus on NA beers as well."

Because of the popularity of NA beers in Europe, European Breweries like Mikkeller and BrewDog have been producing very successful full-bodied, flavorful non-alcoholic beer for years. 

BrewDog's Nanny State first came onto the scene more than a decade ago. But at the beginning of 2020 (pre-COVID), the brewery opened an alcohol-free bar in London, England, and expanded its line to include Punk AF, Elvis AF, Hazy AF, Wake Up Call, Lost AF, and Ghost Walker — all beers without alcohol.

According to James Hart, Head of Delivery at BrewDog, alcohol-free beers have been the fastest-growing category for BrewDog within their range, and he predicts that alcohol-free beers will continue to grow.

"In general, COVID-19 has made people think more about their health," he says. "Being at home means people can drink at home, but you can't do that every night (although it's tempting) because you'll feel and notice the difference."

Similarly, Mikkeller has been producing in the NA space for seven or eight years now.

Mikkeller's best-selling SKU is its NA wheat beer Drink'in The Sun, while the category as a whole happens to be its best-selling worldwide, making up close to thirty percent of its annual volume worldwide.

Whereas NA beer has flourished across the pond, alcohol-free beer has limped along here in America.

Americans Are Coming Around to Non-Alcoholic Beer

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Photography courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery

Eric Ottoway at Brooklyn Brewery cites American drink habits as one reason for the sluggish growth of NA beer.

"Virtually no one drinks at lunch in the U.S., so that's a whole NA beer occasion that's missing here," says Ottoway. "NA beer culture never really developed in the U.S. and therefore brewers never focused on it."

Now, however, as more and more Millennials crave beverages that are better-for-you, made for an active lifestyle, or lower in calories and lower in ABV, brewers have shifted attention onto non-alcoholic beverages. And they're making some pretty well-thought-out, well-crafted, and exciting iterations

Non-Alcoholic Only Breweries

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Photography courtesy of Rescue Club Brewing Company

Athletic Brewing Co., one of the most well-known completely NA breweries, has created several award-winning craft non-alcoholic options. "We wanted to break out of the cycle and make [non-alcoholic] beer something people were super excited about," says Bill Shufelt, co-founder of Athletic Brewing Co. "We use almost all organic malts, a great blend of hops, and I also think that there has never been anyone else as talented as John [Walker] and our brewing team focusing on it."

As a result, Athletic Brewing has one of the most diverse lineups, spanning from its flagship Run Wild IPA to its All Out Stout to more creative one-offs such as Thai IPA with coconut and Athletic ESB. And they're all alcohol free.

In January 2021, Rescue Club launched as an NA-only brewery. A project between Zero Gravity Craft Brewery in Burlington, VT, and former Citizen Cider Co-Founder Kris Nelson, Rescue Club strives to make high-quality, craft non-alcoholic beer.

"We want to chart our own course," says Nelson, current Co-Founder and Director of Sales for Rescue Club. "When people think of the best quality NA IPA, we want to be a part of that conversation."

Other notable North American non-alcoholic breweries that have popped-up on the radar include: WellBeing Brewing, Surreal Brewing Company, Partake Brewing, and Bravus Brewing Company.

But established American brands are also dipping their toes in the NA pool.

Big Craft Breweries Start Brewing Non-Alcoholic Beer

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Photography courtesy of Boston Beer Company

One of the first to release a non-alcoholic line here in the United States, Brooklyn Brewery set the tone for the potential of the NA category.

Brooklyn Brewery debuted Special Effects in Sweden on Dec. 1st, 2018. The hoppy lager had just a 0.4% ABV but huge flavor from a blend of pale, caramel, and dark roasted Munich malts. Plus, an intense hop character from dry-hopping with Mosaic, Citra, and Amarillo hops.

"Our goal is for Special Effects to allow you to do more without having to compromise. It used to be that flavor came with alcohol, so enjoying one meant having to deal with the other," says Ottoway. " That's great for many occasions, but when you don't want alcohol to be part of the equation, we want to give you the opportunity to still enjoy your favorite beverage. Do more, your way, on more occasions."

It's a philosophy other major brands have picked up on.

Sam Adams' NA beer Just The Haze NEIPA, which launched at the end of 2020 after two years of development, gives consumers transparency and allows them to drink one or two during the day without feeling guilty.

"We see Just The Haze as fitting into a beer drinker's life as a pacer beer, not sacrificing flavor or experience during a beer-drinking occasion," says Jim Koch, founder of Boston Beer Company. "It is a triumph of brewing technology and the brewer's art… We're defying the expectations and preconceived notions that come with yesterday's non-alcoholic beer."

Similarly, last May, Dogfish Head released its non-alcoholic wheat beer, Lemon Quest. Billed as a refreshing, active lifestyle-oriented, non-alcoholic alternative, Lemon Quest has real lemon puree, blueberry juice, acai berries, monk fruit, sea salt, and Hopsteiner Polyphenol-Rich Hop Pellets™. The beer clocks in at only 0.5% ABV and ninety calories per 12oz can.

What Is the Future of Non-Alcoholic Beer

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Photography courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery

The future of non-alcoholic beer comes down to one word: innovation.

Breweries focused solely on non-alcoholic beers continue to expand their portfolios. We've seen the styles of NA beer that include hazy IPAs, pale ales, blonde ales, wheat ales, kölschs, stouts, adjunct stouts, porters, and more.

Big breweries are also slowly growing their NA lineups.

So far, Brooklyn Brewery's Special Effects series has experienced success. According to Ottoway, Brooklyn Brewery's NA beers globally are now north of fourteen percent of the brewery's sales.

Based on the growth of Special Effects, Brooklyn Brewery announced two new additions to the series last month – Special Effects Pils and Special Effects Hazy IPA. Both new NA beers will be available alongside Special Effects Hoppy Amber and Special Effects IPA in the new Special Effects Variety Pack.

"We seem to have struck the right note," says Ottoway.

From an NA passionfruit gose from a European brewery to a hazy IPA from an all-NA American one, here are the current 11 Highest-Rated Non-Alcoholic Beers on Untappd in 2021.

1.  Free Gelato: Berries & Cream - Funky Fluid

2. Passion Pool Shallow - Mikkeller

3. Non-Alcoholic Juicy IPA - Untitled Art

4. Samuel Adams Just The Haze - Boston Beer Company

5.  Free Wave Hazy IPA - Athletic Brewing Company

6. Limbo Raspberry - Mikkeller

7. Intentional IPA - WellBeing Brewing

8. Limbo Riesling - Mikkeller

9. Holy Faith - Northern Monk

10. Run Wild IPA - Athletic Brewing Company

11. Ghost Walker - BrewDog USA

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Looking for more? Check out Hop Culture's 17 Best Non-Alcoholic Beers to Drink for Dry January.

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