For the most part, drinking a nonalcoholic beer is like being handed RoseArt crayons instead of Crayola: You're left craving the real thing. That's likely because the most common way for brewers to get the ABV down below 0.5 percent is to reheat the beer, which destroys much of the complex flavors, heady aromas and tingly bubbles beer drinkers love.
But big macrobrewers are going all in on booze-free beverages: According to The Wall Street Journal, Anheuser-Busch is predicting that by 2025, 20 percent of its global volume sold will be low-alcohol beers, the idea being that beer drinkers are moving toward healthier habits. Thanks to advances in brewing techniques, nonalcoholic beers are also starting to shed their stigma of watery one-note wonders. So we set out to taste-test six brands of nonalcoholic beer to see which one is worth reaching for the next time you need a low-buzz brew.
With it's labeling, which coins it a malt beverage versus an outright nonalcoholic beer, Labatt Blue has a flavor more akin to seltzer, with a caramel corn-esque aroma and mild malt flavor. But this lightness means it's incredibly easy to drink, and is a nostalgic reminder of the beers of college years' past (without any of the recklessness).
Genesee's brew has a more noticeable taste of mild grassiness and toasted cereal. Crisp, refreshing and slightly sugary, we can see the appeal of drinking this on a hot summer's day; though if you're looking for a full-on beer experience, you'll find better alternatives below.
A more pronounced flavor of roasted honey puts the Clausthaler ahead in this tasting, with a hint of foam around the glass resembling the "experience of a better beer," according to one TT editor. Although there's room for improvement when it comes to body, Clausthaler at least has a subtle grassy and peppery finish—a welcome change to flatter options.
With its stronger flavor profile, tasters enjoyed how Beck's didn't remind them of drinking a nonalcoholic beer. It has the most pronounced nose, like dark rye bread with a breath of fermented barley, and enough body to take it to the level of a regular beer.
A pioneer in the nonalcoholic beer segment, O'Doul's tastes like, well, O'Doul's in the same way Bud Light has become synonymous with its own flavor. In this case, a hint of mustiness and a touch of bitterness makes this a respectable near-beer.
If you wanted to play a practical joke on someone, this would be the beer to do it with. The amber color reminds of actual beer, and the resiny smell of roasted pine rather than maple syrup is a welcome difference. Editors described the taste as "the best they could expect from a nonalcoholic beer," with an upfront bitterness and slight citrusy finish rounding out a reasonably complex profile. It might not pass as a fully fermented beer to the more discerning, but in a roomful of impersonators, this is the closest you'll get to the real deal.
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