Best non alcoholic beer

The Best Non-Alcoholic Craft Beers

Bravus Oatmeal Stout

Santa Ana, California
Getting in on a movement early on is one thing. But what about when you’re the ones who can lay claim to being the very first into the market? Bravus, which was founded in 2015, happens to be North America’s first brewery dedicated solely to the production of non-alcoholic craft beer. Since well before the idea of NA beer’s ascent was seen as inevitable, they’ve been perfecting a unique, secretive process that turns traditional production methods on their head.

While they’re pretty tight-lipped overall, they’ll admit a few things: “I can tell you that we don’t vacuum-distill or use reverse osmosis, as that tends to produce an inferior product,” says founder & head brewer Philip Brandes. One such result of this method is their prized oatmeal stout, which picked up the silver medal at this year’s GABF (just ahead of their bronze medal-winning bourbon barrel-aged stout, no less). With flavors of cocoa, coffee, chocolate, and just a subtle hint of smoke over a smooth medium body, it’s just the kind of comforting sipper you’ll want to reach for after a winter jog.

Brooklyn Brewery Special Effects

Brooklyn, NY
As one of the great originators of the craft beer movement in the United States, it’s hard to see Brooklyn Brewery passing up the opportunity to use their impressive brewing prowess to expand their already extensive offerings. Special Effects, their first non-alcoholic beer, does just that by using a specially developed fermentation method that limits the amount of alcohol created while still allowing more traditional beer flavors to develop. Here, you can expect bright, zesty aromas thanks to the dry-hopping that takes place, with a clean citrusy palate that balances subtly sweet malts. The best part? Even though the beer has only seen limited distribution throughout Europe and out of their main taproom in Brooklyn, the beer will roll out with nationwide availability as of January 2020.

Partake Brewing Pale Ale

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
After being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, Ted Fleming was left with a choice: Stop drinking beer, or take matters into his own hands. After opting for the latter, he founded Partake Brewing in 2017 with the aim to provide quality non-alcoholic beverages for people who love the taste of craft beer and were unsatisfied with the state of the market. Today, his lineup has made its way across Canada and the United States (with American production facilities opening soon), making it relatively easy to get your hands on any of his takes on traditional styles. The pale ale is a standout choice in their group of offerings, with bright aromatics and soft fruity notes, making it a solid, easy day sipper.

Surreal Brewing Juicy Mavs Hazy IPA

Campbell, California
Operated by a husband and wife team, Surreal Brewing was born on the heels of a diagnosis and successful treatment of breast cancer. When the only non-alcoholic beers available to celebrate with were deemed subpar at best, founders Tammer Zein-El-Abedein and Donna Hockey decided to develop their own homebrewing recipes in an attempt to solve their problem. The resulting beers have helped turn their operation into a multiple-award-winning outfit not even two years out of the gate, with offerings like Juicy Mavs offering a rare alcohol-free take on the oh-so-popular hazy IPA. The bright tropical and citrus aromas here carry over to the palate, with mango and passionfruit coming through before a soft hoppy finish that lingers long between sips. It’s a great hiking accompaniment, beach beer, or pairing with a cheeseburger.

You’ll Actually Want to Drink These Non-Alcoholic Beers

Over the last 40 years, I’ve tried almost every non-alcoholic beer that’s come on the market, and believe me, it was only out of a sense of duty.

It’s not a lot of fun drinking a beer knowing that the most likely result is going to be either “this is terrible” or “hey, that’s not awful.”

This is a fairly unique problem to the United States. In many places around the world, especially in big beer countries, like Germany and the United Kingdom, there are a range of impressive alcohol-free brands. In Spain, for instance, NA beers are around 12 percent of the total beer market.

So, it was an absolute eye-opener when I opened a cold can of Heineken 0.0, the Dutch brewer’s new non-alcoholic brew, which is now available in the U.S. It tasted a lot like regular Heineken. It was a bit thinner, but tasted much more like beer than any other NA I’ve ever had. How did the brand do it?

Making 0.0 started with 15 years of “understanding Heineken,” Willem van Waesberghe, Heineken’s Global Master Brewer, told me. (I was the brewery’s guest on a recent trip to Amsterdam.) He first had to explore every aroma, every flavor in the lager, and where they came from to successfully remove the alcohol. “You have to understand the beer fully before changing equipment, process, and so on.”

To illustrate his point, Waesberghe had me drink a whole glass of draft 0.0, then smell it, taste it and truly think about it. Then he served me a glass of regular draft Heineken. It was a bizarre experience: the only thing I smelled was grain alcohol! The taste was not as focused as the aroma, but it still tasted more of the sweet flavor of alcohol than Heineken (at 5 percent ABV) had any right to.

“The alcohol is the only difference,” Waesberghe explained. “Your brain is designed to notice differences, changes in patterns, so your ancestors could see the lion hiding in the grass. When the only difference between the two glasses is the alcohol, it pops out.”

I was dumbfounded. But Waesberghe declined to say much about the production process except that it is brewed, and it is fermented, and that some things are removed (mostly alcohol) while some natural flavorings are added. He didn’t confirm but did hint that the added flavorings are there to replace and boost aromas affected by the alcohol’s removal.

Waesberghe isn’t alone, you’ll find that brewers now keep their techniques for removing alcohol pretty secret. (For the record, American labeling rules say that any beer under 0.5 percent ABV can be labeled as “non-alcoholic.”)

It wasn’t always this way. I recall doing a story on NA beers quite a few years ago, and getting an overwhelmingly detailed description of the evaporation process used by Old Milwaukee to make its non-alcohol beer. Anheuser-Busch was similarly happy to explain to me how its reverse-osmosis process worked to make O’Doul’s. (Essentially the beer is run through a membrane filter that blocks the alcohol.) Vacuum distillation is another common method, which creates a suction effect over the surface of the beer, lowering the boiling point of the alcohol and allowing distillation without heat. Brewers used vacuum distillation to make near-beer (as NA was called at the time) during Prohibition.

You can tell what people thought of “near beer” by the way the term has disappeared from the market. Prohibition-era humorist Philander Johnson got a lot of mileage out of noting that “whoever named it ‘near beer’ was a damned poor judge of distance.”

“It’s hard to find out anything about making non-alcohol beer,” Bill Shufelt told me. He’s the founder of Athletic Brewing, in Stamford, Connecticut, a brewery that makes only NA beers. “Some methods have been out there for a long time: reverse osmosis and vacuum distillation. If it were possible to make good beer using those methods, more people would be using them.”

Shufelt, who didn’t tell me exactly how he makes his beer, tries not to remove any flavor. “We wanted to make true craft beer,” he says. “We don’t burn off the alcohol, don’t adulterate or harm the ingredient flavors, no chemicals or preservatives. It’s not any one step, it’s a mosaic of 12 or 15 changes that add up to a product that ferments to a lower level. That starts in the mash tun, with ingredient selection, time, temperature, pH, through fermentation where we have changes compared to traditional process.”

He sent me some samples of Athletic’s beer, and like the Heineken 0.0, they were a lot better than any NA beer I remember ever tasting. They had the additional lure of being in typical “craft” styles: blonde ale, copper ale, and stout. They had that same “differences” as 0.0, a bit watery, a bit thin, but if I hadn’t known it was non-alcoholic, I’d have written these differences off to the beer simply being a bit unusual. They were enjoyable.

Like Shufelt, Jeff Stevens, the founder of Wellbeing Beer, another NA-only brewer, no longer drinks. “I’ve been sober for 28 years,” he says, “and for most of my career I worked in the beer marketing industry where the only NA beverage options available were O’Doul’s, coffee, water, or soda. I knew from vast personal experience that non-drinkers always feel left out of social situations.”

Which begs the question, will these NA beers catch on in the U.S.? “The 0.0 is way ahead of its time in the U.S.,” said Bump Williams, the guru of beer retail sales information at Bump Williams Consulting. “The NA market is doing well in Europe, in Africa and parts of Asia. But it’s probably a decade away from getting any significant traction in America. There’s been a lot of money, and advertising, and merchandising behind the brand, and wholesalers have done a great job of filling the pipeline, and customers are trying it. But are they buying it again? I don’t know.”

Williams lives in Connecticut, not far from Athletic Brewing’s Stamford facility. “They’re in my backyard,” he says. And as you might expect from a guy who makes his living crunching beer sales numbers, he keeps his eyes open when he goes grocery shopping. So, what does he see?

“These guys are selling $20 six-packs,” he said, “and believe me, at all the placements in Connecticut, the retailers say they can’t keep it on the shelf. It offers any consumer, any age group, an alternative, after work, after a ballgame; it’s got regenerative abilities. The replenishment of essential vitamins.”

He was so positive, I had to double check that he still thought the success of NA was still ten years out. “I think we’re on the precipice,” he said, sticking to his guns, “but we’re not there yet.”

So, next time you want a beer with lunch, but have to keep working afterwards, try one of these new NA beers. You just might not realize you’re missing anything.

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As a country, we are drinking less often, so now seems like a perfect time to look at alcohol-free alternatives to beer. Some of these products really impressed me. Low-alcohol beers can be made in two ways: some are brewed using special yeasts and low-sugar malt to produce very little alcohol, whereas others have the alcohol removed. Alcohol doesn’t just affect you physically, it also acts as a vehicle for flavour and provides texture. To compensate for the lack of mouthfeel in alcohol-free drinks, brewers can add sweetness – some of the big brand 0% lagers tasted of popcorn – or turn up the hops. The latter can work to an extent, but bitter hops without the warmth of alcohol can quickly get too much. Read our review of the best non-alcoholic wines and spirit alternatives for more booze-free inspiration.

Heineken 0.0%

This was a real surprise – it’s fresh and clean, with no sweetness or strange flavours and tastes very much like the alcoholic version. It contains about 1g sugar per 100ml, which is less than some full-strength lagers. It’s the best of the big brands and I’d buy again.

Buy 6 x 330ml cans from Tesco (£4), Sainsbury’s (£4) and Ocado (£4)

Gadds’ No.11 (1.2%)

I’m cheating a bit here with this 1.2% ABV beer from Ramsgate Brewery. This is a pale ale with lots of zingy citrus hops flavour, but not too much. Thanks to that tiny amount of alcohol, you do have some body. My favourite beer in the test.

Buy from Eebria (£1.60 for 330ml can)

Related review:
Best non-alcoholic and low-alcohol wine

Adnams Ghost Ship 0.5%


This has a great malt character on the nose, something like digestive biscuits, then is citrussy and grassy on the palate. It actually tastes like an Adnams pale ale. I gave this to a friend, who didn’t realise it was alcohol-free.

Buy from Tesco (£1 for 500ml bottle)

Erdinger alkoholfrei 0.5%

This has that characteristic banana smell that you get in a wheat beer. It’s certainly sweet but carries the sugar really well, especially when served over ice with a slice of lemon. Erdinger is widely available, so it’s a good friend if you’re driving to the pub.

Buy 1 x 500ml bottle from Beerwulf (£1.25), Sainsbury’s (£1.20) and Waitrose (£1.30)

Big Drop Stout 0.5%

Lots of stout character on the nose, with notes of malt, dark chocolate and coffee, and nice and bitter on the palate with just enough sweetness to balance. This brewery is a master of low-alcohol beer, and its pale ale is also very good (for a low-alcohol beer).

Buy from Light Drinks (£1.89 for 330ml bottle)

Non-alcoholic drinks inspiration

Our best non-alcoholic drinks recipes
Mocktail recipes
Top 10 non-alcoholic drinks ideas
Non-alcoholic Christmas drinks ideas

This review was last updated in January 2019. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at [email protected]

What’s your favourite non-alcoholic beer? Share your suggestions in the comments below…

Non-alcoholic beer review – Heineken, Carlton and more

Australians have a well-documented love affair with the liquid amber better known as beer, from traditional mainstream brands such as Victoria Bitter to the more recent explosion in craft beers.

But whether it’s because you’ve signed up to Dry July, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or just want to cut down on the amount of alcohol you consume, you may have considered swapping your usual tipple for a non-alcoholic (also called no-alcohol or alcohol-free) beer.

These drinks look, smell, and taste like beer but they contain less than 0.5% alcohol.

And with more and more big-name breweries coming out with no-alcohol options – some of which can be found in Coles and Woolworths – it’s easier than ever to find no-alcohol beer.

But which tastes best? We put six no-alcohol beers to the test.

On this page:

  • Best tasting non-alcoholic beer
  • Other beers tasted
  • How we tested
  • Tasting notes
  • Is there any alcohol in non-alcoholic beer?
  • Are non-alcoholic beers healthy?
  • Can under-18s buy or drink it?

Best tasting non-alcoholic beer

Carlton Zero

  • Score: 52%
  • RRP: $0.49/100ml ($7.40 per 4-pack)
  • Alc/Vol: 0.0%
  • Weight: 375ml can

Carlton Zero, Coopers Ultra Light Birell and Heineken 0.0.

Other beers tasted

Coopers Ultra Light Birell

  • Score: 45%
  • RRP: $0.36/100ml ($8.30 per 6-pack)
  • Alc/Vol: Less than 0.5%
  • Weight: 375ml bottle

Heineken 0.0

  • Score: 45%
  • RRP: $0.66/100ml ($12.99 per 6-pack)
  • Alc/Vol: 0.04%
  • Weight: 330ml bottle

Erdinger Weissbrau Alkoholfrei, Erdinger Weissbrau Alkoholfrei and Holsteen 0.0%.

Erdinger Weissbrau Alkoholfrei

  • Score: 37%
  • RRP: $0.81/100ML ($15.99 per 6-pack)
  • Alc/Vol: 0.4%
  • Weight: 330ml bottle

Hollandia Non Alcoholic 0.0% Beer

  • Score: 32%
  • RRP: $0.76/100ml ($9.99 per 4-pack)
  • Alc/Vol: 0.0%
  • Weight: 330ml can

Holsten 0.0%

  • Score: 30%
  • RRP: $0.61/100ml ($11.99 per 6-pack)
  • Alc/Vol: 0.0%
  • Weight: 330ml bottle

Text-only accessible version

Which no-alcohol beer tastes best?

Carlton Zero

Taste score: 52%

Cost per 100mL ($): 0.49

Coopers Ultra Light Birell

Taste score: 45%

Cost per 100mL ($): 0.36

Heineken 0.0

Taste score: 45%

Cost per 100mL ($): 0.66

Erdinger Alkoholfrei

Taste score: 37%

Cost per 100mL ($): 0.81

Hollandia Non-Alcoholic 0.0% Beer

Taste score: 32%

Cost per 100mL ($): 0.76

Holsten 0.0%

Taste score: 30%

Cost per 100mL ($): 0.61

How we tested

Products

We tested six no-alcohol beers available from Coles, Woolworths and Dan Murphy’s. The price shown is what we paid in June 2019.

Tasting

We set up a blind tasting for 30 CHOICE staffers. Each product was assigned a code and its brand concealed. Our tasters sampled them in a random order. For each sample tasted, people decided if they disliked, liked or loved it. A total of 180 samples were tasted and voted on across the six no-alcohol beer products. A minimum of 30 taste tests were completed per product.

Scores

The taste score is calculated as an average of all responses, where ‘dislike’ is scaled at 25, ‘like’ at 70 and ‘love’ at 100.

For each sample tasted, CHOICE staff decided if the dislike, like or love it.

Tasting notes

Tasters described the most popular no-booze beer, Carlton Zero, as ‘mild’, ‘light’, ‘fruity’ and ‘drinkable’.

“Refreshing, I would drink this ,” said one of our testers. “A smooth taste, most similar to alcoholic beer”, said another. “Has a sweet aroma and pleasant taste… very light and easy to drink,” said another tester.

But not everyone’s a fan, with some commenting that it’s “bland and generic”, “watery” and even “tastes somewhat like cardboard”.

Overall, CHOICE staff thought the taste of all alcohol-free beer left much to be desired, with 69% of samples receiving a ‘dislike’.

Australians drinking less alcohol

According to a 2018 Roy Morgan report, there’s been more than a two percent drop in Australian adults drinking alcohol since 2013: the number of adults drinking at least one alcoholic drink in a four-week period has fallen from 70.1% to 67.9%.

This means that beer sales have been falling. The 2018 Ibis World beer market report shows that full-strength beers have reported the biggest decline in the $4.9 billion beer market, while the mid-strength section has grown.

More people are either giving up or cutting back on alcohol for their health

Responsible drinking advocacy group Drink Wise says that as Australians drink less, it’s paved the way for the non-alcoholic beer boom.

Drink Wise CEO Simon Strahan says more people are either giving up or cutting back on alcohol for their health.

“Australians are drinking in moderation more than ever before and these products very much seen as an alternative.”

A growing market

The no-alcohol beer segment has existed for some years but has remained extremely small until recently, when a slew of new drinks appeared on the market. The most mainstream of those is Carlton Zero, launched by Carlton United Brewery (CUB) in late 2018.

CUB believes non-alcoholic beers can be worth up to two percent of the Australian beer market, with that market already growing “12-fold” since Carlton Zero was released, spokesperson Chris Maxwell says.

Maxwell says the drinks are for adults who want to drink less alcohol: “It’s also unlocking occasions when people might not have even thought about drinking an alcoholic beer but because they love the taste of beer, they can, like at lunchtime or at work.”

Baby boomers have got to an age where they’ve had enough of alcohol … but they do enjoy the flavour profiles that come with beer and wine

Clinton Schultz founded non-alcoholic craft beer company Sobah two years ago and says it has experienced a 20% annual growth, thanks to two distinctive age groups – baby boomers and millennials.

“We found that baby boomers have got to an age where they’ve had enough of alcohol a lot of the time, but they do enjoy the flavour profiles that come with beer and wine,” he says.

“And a lot of young people are just choosing not to drink.”

Overseas, the market is far more advanced, especially in countries such as Canada, the UK and Belgium, where established brands such as Peroni, Kronenbourg 1664, Heineken, Budweiser and San Miguel all have their own non-alcoholic versions.

In the UK, the market has doubled in size since 2015, and in 2018 alone it grew by 37%.

Digital home test coordinator Scott O’Keefe during the blind tasting.

Is there any alcohol in non-alcoholic beer?

Like decaf coffee, which does in fact contain a small amount of caffeine, non-alcohol beers can include some alcohol, up to 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV), according to Food Standards Australia.

Under Food Standards Australia, labelling for alcoholic beverages must strictly match the (ABV) each drink contains.

Can I get drunk on it?

Patricia Hepworth, director of policy and research at the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education (FARE), says such small amounts of alcohol are processed almost as soon as it’s consumed, so people can’t get drunk.

It also means that it’s considered safe to drive after drinking, but fair warning – your breath may still smell like booze.

Are non-alcoholic beers healthy?

It’s not easy to compare no-alcohol beers to alcoholic versions in Australia, because alcoholic beverages with an ABV over 1.15% are exempt from labelling kilojoule content, or any other nutrients for that matter.

Some varieties may still have high levels of kilojoules from sugar, which can contribute to weight gain and problems with tooth decay.

But Schultz says if non-alcoholic beer is made naturally, it can be quite healthy.

“It has far less sugar than soft drinks,” he says.

CUB promotes the fact that Carlton Zero has 10 times less sugar than a regular soft drink. But that comparison has drawn criticism.

“Non-alcoholic beer, when it’s a substitute for alcoholic beer, is undoubtedly a good thing; it’s much healthier for someone who would have otherwise drunk beer,” says Hepworth.

“But from a health perspective, what’s particularly worrying is non-alcoholic beer positioning itself as a family-friendly healthy alternative and we’re particularly concerned with the fact that what is being advertised looks and tastes just like beer.”

She recommends current and recovering alcoholics avoid non-alcoholic beer as it could ‘trigger’ them.

“Alcohol-free beer, which often taste the same as standard alcoholic beer, can provide sensory cues that make the drinker want the real thing.”

Text-only accessible version

Non-alcoholic vs full-strength beer nutritional information

Carlton Zero

(per 100ml)

  • Energy: 118KJ
  • Carbohydrate: 7.0g
  • Sugars: 0.6g

Coopers Ultra Light Birell

(per 100ml)

  • Energy: 91KJ
  • Carbohydrate: 5.0g
  • Sugars: <1.0g

Heineken 0.0%

(per 100ml)

  • Energy: 89KJ
  • Carbohydrate: 4.8g
  • Sugars: 1.3g

Erdinger Alkoholfrei

(per 100ml)

  • Energy: 107kj
  • Carbohydrate: 5.3g
  • Sugars: 3.6g

Hollandia Non Alcoholic 0.0% Beer

(per 100ml)

  • Energy: 102kj
  • Carbohydrate: 5.8g
  • Sugars: 3.1g

Holsten 0.0%

(per 100ml)

  • Energy: 50KJ
  • Carbohydrate: 2.7g
  • Sugars: <1g

Full-strength beer**

(per 100ml)

  • Energy: 153KJ
  • Carbohydrate: 2.3g
  • Sugars: 0.1g

**Based on figures from the Australian Food Composition Database

Can under-18s buy or drink it?

It’s not illegal for under-18s to buy or drink no-alcohol beer, but some supermarkets and liquor stores may have their own policies when it comes to selling it to under-18s.

And even if they can buy it, doesn’t mean they should.

“It’s very easy for minors to purchase,” says Hepworth, adding that children and teenagers should “absolutely not” consume non-alcoholic beer.

“It could condition people from a young age to crave the taste of beer we can only see it further leading to more excess alcohol consumption in the future.”

Maxwell says Carlton Zero was “strictly designed and marketed” and that it abided by the same advertising standards for alcoholic drinks.

“It is absolutely not recommended for under-18s. It’s been over six months since we launched and we haven’t had issues with under-18s drinking it.”

10 best alcohol-free beers

Buy now

Harvey’s Low Alcohol Old Ale, 0.5%, £27.12 for 24 x 275ml, Harvey’s

A viable version of the full-strength classic, which won the Sussex brewery its first award in 1952; this iteration took silver at the International Beer Challenge 2018. It’s a chestnutty brown ale with a touch of toffee-apple and a whiff of roasted, toasted smoke that leaves a satisfying lingering aftertaste. It’s produced identically to its parent product (with the alcohol removed prior to bottling).

Buy now

FitBeer Lager, 0.3%, £4.99 for 2 x 330ml, FitBeer

Brewed according to German beer purity laws, with ingredients sourced within 20km of its 500-year-old Bavarian brewery, it’s a light golden lager that’s smoothly drinkable, with a full toasty and wheaty flavour. Possibly the perfect post-workout drink, as it’s isotonic, high in vitamin B12 and folic acid, and weighing in at only 66 calories per bottle.

Buy now

The verdict: Alcohol-free beers

Thornbridge Big Easy will satisfy those who like a lighter-style brew. Dark beer devotees should try Big Drop Winter Ale.

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4/5

Alphabet Brewing Company Small Packages (2.8%)

This is one of two low-alcohol so-called “table beers” I’ve tried. Strength-wise, these put me in mind of the Banks’s Mild I used to see on draught at the West Midlands pubs where I started my long drinking career. I’ve picked Small Packages because it is sold on draught at a place called the Dockyard next to the BBC in Salford. This Manchester-based brewery makes plenty of regular-strength beer, but this low-alcohol one is really good. At 2.8%, it’s a whole 0.7% weaker than Banks’s Mild and is a refreshing, citrussy pale ale.
3/5

Samuel Smith’s Alpine Lager (2.8%)

I liked this one so much I’m already searching for Sam Smith’s pubs around the country so I can drink nowhere else. It is a proper-tasting lager with only 2.8% alcohol. That is barely three units in two pints. I love it. I tried it in a pub near Blackfriars station in London. The bartender explained: “The City boys like it at lunchtime ’cos they can drink lots of it and still go back to work.” This is slightly missing the point but, frankly, who cares? Sam Smith’s, here I come. One day I hope that alongside the real stuff there will be low-alcohol beers like this on tap in every pub, next to coolers full of half-litre bottles of decent alcohol-free stuff. And then teetotallers, moderators and unreconstructed boozers alike can all drink together in perfect harmony.
5/5