Flavorful Nonalcoholic Beer Catches on in North America

News by | Nov 2017 | Issue #130

Since early 2017, several new beer brands devoted to nonalcoholic products have launched in North America, including Bravus Brewing Co. in California, Wellbeing Brewing Co. in Missouri, and Partake Brewing in Ontario, Canada. The companies aim to fill a small but unsatisfied niche: drinkers looking for more flavorful nonalcoholic beers (usually defined as beer below 0.5 percent ABV—a lingering definition from the 1919 Volstead Act).

Most commonly, nonalcoholic beer goes through the traditional brewing process before the beer is heated or filtered to remove alcohol, both of which affect how the beer tastes—especially when it comes to delicate hop aromas and flavors. When Santa Ana, Calif.-based Bravus released its IPA in February, founder Philip Brandes says it was the first such beer on the market. After a year of research with “very bright and innovative scientists in the field,” Brandes settled on a proprietary process that allowed him to retain the hop flavors with less than 0.5 percent ABV. Using wort that’s contract brewed by another Orange County brewery, Bravus produces about 30 barrels of its IPA a month, distributing to regional accounts and shipping nationally via its website. It plans to add a Stout in November, and a Red Ale in early 2018.

Long popular in Europe, nonalcoholic beer represents a tiny sliver of the overall beer market in the US—just 0.31 percent of sales by volume, according to research firm IRI. While he admits it’s a niche audience, Brandes sees room to grow. “Restaurants and bars just don’t move a lot of N/A beer because, up until now, the space has been dominated by extremely poor-quality choices,” he says. Insights firm GlobalData confirms that potential, showing that low- and no-alcohol beer sales grew 5.6 percent between 2010 and 2016, while the overall beer market grew just 1 percent during the same period.

Nonalcoholic beer makers hope that the product resonates with customers focused on wellness or battling health concerns. In August, Toronto-based Partake brewed its first commercial batches of Partake IPA. (With Cascade, Amarillo, and Citra hops, it clocks in at 49 IBU and 10 calories.) Founder Ted Fleming created the product after a Crohn’s disease diagnosis prevented him from drinking the full-flavored beers he loved. Currently, the IPA is contract brewed at Factory Brewing in Vancouver, BC, and distributed in four Canadian provinces. Fleming plans to roll out the product in the rest of Canada and the US next year.