Drinking Without Drinking: The Rise of Nonalcoholic Beer

By: Dylan Rodgers

Nonalcoholic beer; sounds like an oxymoron. Beer without the alcohol is like cereal with no milk, an ugly kitten, or Benny without the Jets; there's just something missing... or so I thought. The more I mull over the idea of nonalcoholic beer, the more respect it demands.

Beer drinkers, like me, often scoff at the idea of nonalcoholic brews, leaving them for the poor saps whose alcohol-consuming days are a thing of the past. If we wouldn't drink a beer without alcohol, are we really beer drinkers? If someone is willing to suffer through a skunky lager because they want a beer no matter the experience, maybe I am not as adamant about brewskies as I had thought.

Until recently, the methodology behind nonalcoholic beer has been to brew it regularly and strip it of its intoxicating liveliness through a process of filtering and evaporation. Such an approach results in a bland fabrication only resembling what it once was (similar to that liquid cardboard called decaf coffee). As a beer lover, the thought of ruining a good brew like that hurts deep. Thankfully though, the nonalcoholic brewing industry is one of the few that figured out "less is more".

Nowadays instead of brewing beer only to steal its excellence and throw it away, is a thing of the past. Some beer companies have started simply brewing beers with less fermentation time. Less fermentation equals less alcohol and less calories (an added bonus). This method results in a full-bodied, generally sweeter brew that leaves little to be desired.

But as they say, "the proof is in the pudding". Throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa nonalcoholic beers have been on the steady incline since 2003. In fact in 2008 they made up roughly 1% of Europe's beer consumption, which definitely doesn't seem like much, but when that 1% stands for about 140 million gallons, it puts that figure into perspective.

Nonalcoholic beer is gaining momentum with all different types of people whether avid non-drinkers, health nuts, religious devotees, etc. The real test is whether or not beer connoisseurs could be coaxed into drinking them and admitting they enjoy them. But until I have Cobra Zero, Clausthaler, or St. Pauli, I will reserve my judgment and instead nod respectfully to nonalcoholic beer drinkers, because you can take the alcohol out of the beer but you can't take the beer from their sober grip.

Photo: Adam Fagen