Non-alcoholic beer is a global trend that – much like hard seltzer – has really been embraced by Australian brewers in 2020. Scroll past the commentary for the latest non-alcoholic beer reviews by James Atkinson.
The world’s biggest brewer, AB InBev, believes 20 per cent of its sales volumes will come from low or no alcohol beer by 2025, up from eight per cent in 2019.
Local subsidiary Carlton and United Breweries launched Carlton Zero in 2018, selling 3.2 million litres of the stuff in its first 12 months.
“Research shows the most common reason people drink non-alcoholic beer is because they’re the designated driver, and we’re seeing this predominately in people aged 18-34,” commented CUB’s Chris Maxwell.
Spying the trend, smaller brewers are beginning to try their hand at non-alcoholic beers that still deliver on flavour.
Melbourne’s Dainton Brewery recently launched the New Age IPA, which at 0.9 per cent ABV is legally considered a non-alcoholic beverage in most of Australia.
“It sold out pretty quick, so we’re remaking it,” says founder Dan Dainton.
“I think there’s a gap in the market. There’s lots of reasons why people may not want to drink alcohol, but they still want to enjoy a good craft beer and feel like they are part of the social occasion.”
Dainton has twice won the coveted trophy for Champion Australian Indie Beer. On both occasions, it did so with beers in excess of eight per cent ABV.
But while he may be better known for brewing higher alcohol styles, Dainton says he is increasingly finding occasions where low alcohol beers are better suited to his lifestyle.
“If I’ve got to study or work or I’ve got the kids in the morning, it’s great to be able to enjoy a drink without having to worry about it,” he says.
Dainton says he would love to produce a zero per cent ABV beer, “but from the research I’ve done you need a fair bit of equipment, which costs a lot of money”.
“I don’t know how big the market is yet,” he says.
Scottish craft beer company Brewdog, which recently opened a brewery and taproom in Brisbane, is banking that the market potential is significant.
Early in 2020 Brewdog held an alcohol-free beer and spirits festival in London. It now has two alcohol-free beers in its range, Punk AF and Nanny State.
“We’ve got a couple more coming; an alcohol-free hazy [ale], and then a coffee stout as well,” co-founder Martin Dickie told the Drinks Adventures podcast.
“It’s quite a tricky thing to make a really drinkable non-alcoholic beer, so we’ve been working super hard on that. It’s really exciting.”
Nort Refreshing Ale, meanwhile, is a new non-alcoholic beer created by Jaz Wearin of Sydney’s Modus Operandi Brewing Company.
“After a big day, I wanted to be able to sit down and relax over a frosty and flavourful beer with family and friends and still get up and get on with my life the next, that’s why I created Nort,” says Wearin.
Non-Alcoholic Beer Reviews
Clearly this is a new frontier for brewers, and the name of the game is to produce a beer that looks, smells and tastes like the real thing, sans alcohol.
It will probably win me no fans to say that the best non-alcoholic beer I have tried to date is Heineken 0.0. It looks and tastes very much like full-strength Heineken; I found that it wasn’t until my third beer that I started noticing the lack of alcohol.
Clearly, brewing a more flavoursome alcohol-free beer is a much bigger challenge. Here are some non-alcoholic beer reviews; two lagers and a pale ale that should be fairly easy to come by in Australia.
Bridge Road Brewers Free Time Pale Ale
Beechworth, Victoria’s Bridge Road has made a solid entrance to the alcohol-free arena with this pale ale generously hopped with Citra, Simcoe and Enigma. It pops with tropical and confectionary hop character and succeeds in providing nice roundness and depth on the palate. It could do with a tad more bitterness for a crisper finish. (Tasted June 2021)
Big Drop Brewing Uptown Lager
UK-based non-alcoholic beer company Big Drop has made a bit of a splash in the Australian market this year. Its lager pours an attractive amber colour, and biscuity toffee malt character dominates the aroma and flavour. It’s good on entry to the palate but then it just falls away, seeming quite watery and lacking the desired bitterness on the finish. (Tasted October 2020)
Nort Refreshing Ale
Modus Operandi is known for its hoppy beers, and it has done a great job of packing this non-alcoholic variant full of appealing fruity hop character. On the palate it is extremely dry, with a bit of a hole in the mid-palate, and the bitterness is a little too bracing for my tastes. It’s nearly there, but there’s work still to be done on the drinkability. (Tasted October 2020)
UpFlow Brewing Ultra Pale Lager
A “rehydration hypotonic beer” from Melbourne-based AF craft beer start-up, UpFlow Brewing. It pours straw-coloured and cloudy, with an initially foamy head that dissipates very quickly. After that however, it smells and tastes very much like a pale European lager. What I’m most impressed with is the palate weight of this beer, it doesn’t have that watery sensation in the middle. The bitterness is a little rough, but overall the drinkability is impressive. (Tasted November 2020)