Category Archives: NA craft beer

not an expert, just a lifelong craft beer lover who is now obsessed with non-alcoholic craft beer, my pandemic/post-surgery “hobby.” using it as an excuse to learn more and write about beer and the industry.

bravus – amber

it has taken me a long time to figure out how i feel about bravus‘ NA beers. at first, i really liked the oatmeal stout, the very first time i tried it. then i had some really off ones, returned them, received a sampler pack from them them to help make up for it, and realized there’s just a lot of inconsistency with bravus’ beers. (the replacement oatmeal stouts were fine, i liked the peanut butter stouts they sent, but did not enjoy the blonde at all. i have since then bought a case of oatmeal stout and peanut butter stout and after a few that again tasted weird to me, haven’t touched the rest of them and am now not sure i will.)

all of this backstory brings me to a recent total wine excursion when i bought this single of their amber – one of the only flavors of their beer i hadn’t yet tried and one i’d heard a lot of positive reviews about. so i just cracked it open, feeling a jonesing for an amber-like beer.

it certainly is the right color. didn’t have much of a head or aroma – a little caramel, a little malty, but once again that weird sorta sweet smell all of their beers have. i crossed my fingers and took a sip. it does indeed have that same sweet kinda flavor all their beers do too. great mouthfeel and the rest of the flavor is pretty good (caramel, nutty, malty) but i just can’t get past that weird taste. it’s not necessarily bad but it’s just not what i want. and it leaves an aftertaste that’s akin to an artificial sweetener, not what i want lingering in my mouth after a beer.

it’s a pity because without that weird sweet flavor, it would be really great. i am just still so perplexed about what it is. some in the facebook groups say it’s diacetyl; some think it’s a proprietary yeast strain or malt producing this taste. i don’t know what it is but i think i’ve now decided i won’t be buying anymore of their beer because i am clearly sensitive to it. (it apparently does not bother some people. some don’t notice it at all.)

i think this is one of those things that everyone will have to figure out for themselves. give a few of their beers a try – maybe they will work for you. maybe you will be one of the people who don’t notice this weird taste that a lot of us do.

(and if anyone wants a six pack or two of their oatmeal stout or peanut butter stout, just holler.)

athletic – run wild IPA

i know, i know – what am i doing drinking an IPA? well, i have heard from a few different folks that run wild isn’t all that IPA-like, more like a pale ale. and since i’ve been finding that i don’t mind some hops in my NA beers, i thought i’d give it a go. i was at total wine the other day and since they had it in the singles rack, i thought, why not? it’s good to know in case at some point more of athletic’s beers become available locally in bars, in case they have it and not one of the ones i like more. it’s good to know your options.

so what’s the verdict? perfectly drinkable. a little hoppy but not overly so, with a nice malty backbone. kinda reminded me of the big drop pine trail ale and a bit like partake’s pale ale, though with much more body. (this one has 70 calories vs. partake’s 10.) athletic refers to it as a session IPA with a blend of five northwestern hops. it pours a nice golden orange, good head, good medium body but still pretty light. not so bitter i couldn’t enjoy it and went down smooth. felt frankly refreshing with my veggie stir fry lunch.

i don’t really have a lot to say about it but i drank the whole thing and enjoyed it. i wouldn’t keep that stocked in my fridge but i liked it more than i thought i would! thumbs up!

paulaner – weizen-radler NA

i saw this a few weeks ago at dorignac’s and almost bought some, but was waiting to read some reviews first. i don’t usually go for the commercial import NAs but something about a lemony radler type brew sounded appealing, especially as we head into summer. in the following weeks i started seeing reviews online from folks saying it’s a little sweet but they really liked it. so i decided to give it a shot.

i went out to total wine yesterday after work to just check in and see if they had anything new. they had this paulaner NA and i was delighted to find they had wellbeing’s victory wheat in stock – something i hadn’t seen there at all since i started this journey back in the fall. (it had been on my list i’d given their beer buyer.) so i grabbed a 4 pack of the victory wheat and a few singles of things i’ve just never tried. (athletic’s run wild and bravus’ amber, reviews forthcoming.) i wanted to only buy a single of the paulaner radler but they didn’t have any up in the singles rack. i tried finding the guy who is usually working that area, but he was on lunch break. i took the six pack with me to check out to ask if i could just buy the single and sadly the kid working the checkout didn’t know how to price it if it wasn’t already in the singles rack and in their computer as a single. he tried calling someone but no one seemed to know how to do it. (this happened to me last time i was there too with a different beer – they have more NA beers for sale than they have slots on the singles rack to feature them.) so i just got frustrated and said what the hell, i’ll just buy the six pack. i just wanted to get out of there and go home.

well that was a mistake. i just tried one that had been chilling since yesterday. it’s not that i don’t like how it tastes – it is very sweet and a little lemony and overall tastes good. but it tastes like it has high frustose corn syrup in it. it has that really syrupy sweet taste that sodas have, which i used to be totally addicted to a few decades ago but went cold turkey and stopped drinking entirely in 2001. i found myself drinking the damn stuff like it was water. i drank about 2/3rds of it before i realized what was happening and poured the rest out.

it does not taste anything like beer or even really a regular radler/shandy. (paulaner does make an alcoholic version of this exact brew, though i’ve never had it.) it tasted like a sugary sweet soda with a little bit of a fruity lemon flavor. examining the bottle, i see that they say it is a “malt beverage with natural flavors.” “natural flavors” is never something you want to read on an ingredient list cuz it can mean anything, and usually means something not good for you.

so yeah. if you drink sodas and don’t have a problem with those kinds of sweeteners, then you’ll probably love this. i’m just really sensitive and can feel my glucose flipping out already from what i consumed. not sure what i’ll do with the rest of this six pack. (if you are reading this and want it, lemme know.)

guess i’ve learned my lesson – have more patience and make them sell you the single, even if it’s a pain in the ass.

big drop – galactic extra dark (milk stout)

this has been billed as the holy grail of dark NA beers, the most stout-like, by a lot of folks. so of course i had to try it.

big drop is a UK brewery that recently opened a brewery in chicago. so far the american HQ only offers this stout, their pine trail ale which i previously reviewed, and the most recently added paradiso IPA.

i had high hopes for this stout but my first impression is that it is lacking. not sure if i got a bad can or if this is how it always is, but there’s a weird metallic kinda taste to it that i just can’t get past.

the aroma is rather faint, a bit roasty, a little chocolatey. poured a very dark almost black with a small head that disappeared immediately. it is smooth but the carbonation is minimal, almost non-existent. i wouldn’t really say it’s “creamy” which is sad for something called a milk chocolate stout. and the flavor is kinda subtle, again roasty, almost burnt, nutty-chocolatey.

as i drink through the glass, i am getting used to the metallic taste and don’t notice it as much. it has kind of a dry finish and is almost light in a guinness kinda way, for a dark/stout. i like it more as i drink more of it. the chocolate comes out more too, the more you drink.

this brew does have lactose in it, in case that’s a concern. ingredients are listed as: water, lactose (milk), barley, malt, oats, rye, hops, yeast, cacao nibs, and the hops used is bramling cross. 99 calories and 21g of carbs. not bad for a stout. 36 IBU though honestly i don’t taste that. (i think the lactose balances out the bitterness.)

i dunno. i think the jury is still out. i like it ok, but not sure i like it as much as i thought i would or as much as everyone else seems to like it. don’t know that i need to keep it on hand but wouldn’t be sad to see it on a menu at a restaurant or on a bar beer list. i’m just a tad disappointed it didn’t knock me over. maybe i need to give it another go another time.

mikkeller – drink’in the sun

i’ve wanted to try this one for a long time as it gets consistently good reviews from folks who like wheat beers, so thanks NAbrews for offering singles so i could check it out.

mikkeller was founded in cophenhagen and now has breweries and brewpubs in multiple locations around the world. in 2016 they opened a brewery in san diego, and they’ve since also opened a spot in new york city. they make several different NA beers – i got this one and the raspberry limbo series which i think is like a sour/gose style but i’ll let you know when i get to it. today felt like more of an “american style wheat ale” kind of day.

it pours a nice light golden yellow with a small fluffy head that dissipated quickly outside on the back porch. (it’s really humid today, maybe that affects it?) nice compact carbonation though.

my nose is pretty stuffed up (thanks allergies) so can’t really say much about the aroma except that it’s a little funkier smelling than most NA wheats i’ve had, and i don’t smell much in the way of hops. though most wheat beers aren’t very hoppy so i guess that tracks for the style. i’m just not getting much aroma at all. maybe a little citrus. a little bready.

the taste is pretty unique. it’s got a slightly sweet malty background that most of the other NA wheats i’ve tried don’t have, with a little funky bitterness on the backend as it goes down. it has almost a sort of wortiness but not really; and it’s not off-putting. (mikkeller developed their own yeast named “mikkellensis” in order to make their NA beers, one that basically does not produce alcohol in the fermentation process and is responsible for their signature flavor not attributed to hops or malts.) mouthfeel is pretty great, a little light but creamy smooth. definitely feels like a beer in my mouth.

i like it but i think honestly i’d have to drink a few more to know if it’s the kind of beer i’d want to have on hand all the time. i do think it’s interesting and if it was offered at a bar or restaurant i’d be inclined to order it. seems like it would pair well with food. it’s a little more mellow than some of the brighter citrusy wheats that i’ve had (like rightside), but i think mikkeller did a good job naming this one cuz i could see it being a great lazy summer beer.

apparently over the years different varieties of this beer have been brewed, with different low ABVs. the current incarnation says .3% – more specific than most NA beers in the US which usually just generically say “less than .5%.”

i also love the can artwork and the overall branding of their beer. here’s a great article about their art director, philly-based designer keith shore. the 80s retro color palette and goofy illustration on drink’in the sun would make me pick it up off a shelf even if i didn’t know anything about it. a lot of their other beers have similarly great artwork.

i look forward to trying more of their beers and i will definitely need to have a few more of this one.

brew dog – faux fox sharp raspberry

i have not historically been a super huge fan of sours or goses but in the spirit of trying to widen my palate and be adventurous, i’ve been trying a few here and there and actually liking some of them. i’d never had anything from the british-born brewery-of-the-people brew dog before, and usually you can tell from drinking one NA flavor from a brewery if it’s worth trying their other flavors – you can get a general sense of style. i’d seen a few good reviews of this one so i thought i’d give it a try. i figured, i like raspberries.

brew dog, while born in britain, is now an international beer conglomerate with breweries in both england and the US, with plans to expand in other countries. in addition, they have 29 brewdog bars serving their beers in the UK and 17 more around the world, with their flagship US outpost in columbus, ohio called the doghouse – a craft brewery/hotel combo complete with a craft beer museum. they have crowdfunded all of their capital so far, are planning an IPO soon, and they claim the entire company is carbon negative. so they seem pretty interesting on paper. i had high hopes.

well sadly, i’m disappointed. as you can see by the head on this, it’s pretty carbonated, with big fat bubbles and lots of them. it feels much more like a soda in your mouth than a beer. this to me tastes more like a beer-flavored seltzer. and while that is a thing now and lots of folks like that concept, it’s not what i was expecting and not what i personally enjoy.

it’s tart for sure – they weren’t kidding about it being a sharp raspberry. but it’s so thin and bubbly i can’t even really enjoy it. it’s got 29 calories and 4g of carbs, putting it in the “diet beer” category with brands like grüvi, partake and surreal. if you are a fan of bubbly waters and fruity sodas, you might like this. but i don’t. as pretty as it is in the glass – and it smells pretty great too – i’m not even gonna finish this one. sorry brew dog.

i have one of their coffee beers in the fridge from my recent sample order, so i guess i will give them another try another day. but this one is definitely not for me. maybe their leaded beers are better?

athletic – first ride coffee porter

i don’t really know the relationship between athletic‘s pilot program brews and their very similar full releases – like is this beer, the first ride coffee porter the same thing as the pilot program coffee porter i had a few months ago? it’s been long enough now that i don’t really remember exactly how that pilot brew tasted, but according to that review i wrote, i really liked it!

this one poured very dark brown almost black with a small tight tan head that did not stick around very long. it is thinner in body than i want it to be but still has a smooth mouthfeel due to very compact carbonation. it has a roasty coffee aroma but it’s kinda subtle. athletic’s website says it’s a mix of medium and dark coffee roasts, and that is basically what it tastes like. a slightly sweet (but not overly so) malty backbone, a little nutty, and kind of a burnt coffee worty flavor.

i like it OK but i think i like their smooth ascent coffee brew better. (which was probably a one-off production.) I will happily drink the rest of this six pack but i would not ever need to order it again, even if it was available. (it’s currently out of stock.) sometimes it’s nice to have a little caffeine in your NA beer so this will serve that purpose for me i guess til it runs out.

two roots – enough said helles

so after a brief break wherein i tried hard to drink up some of the stock of NA beer that was overtaking my fridge, i got a shipment from NAbrews yesterday with six singles of new-to-me beers.

NAbrews is a reseller that has alternating stock of lots of the popular and limited release craft NA beers in the US. i am learning that it’s just not worth buying a whole six pack of something you’ve never tasted before, especially if you are paying for shipping, so sites like NAbrews let you buy singles for a premium price so you can try stuff out. (you can also buy full four or six packs too.) it’s hard to pay so much for a mixed six pack of beer, but i rationalized that if i was buying these one at a time at a bar i would have paid more. and this is really the only way for me here in new orleans to get to taste some of them, since total wine hasn’t ordered (or maybe can’t order) any of these, which were all on my list i sent to their beer buyer.

(NAbrews also has an affiliate program which they offer to anyone who makes a purchase, so, ya know, if you decide to check them out you can use my code MARGARET893 for 10% off and i get a little kickback.)

i learned a new trick for beer photos from the beer geeks in the NA beer facebook groups!

it was sweaty and hot out today walking dogs, so when i got home i wanted to try one of my new brews. i chose two roots brewing’s enough said helles, which was a fine choice to accompany my veggie burger lunch. i had to actually look up what a helles lager was to make sure i knew what it was supposed to taste like: a helles is a german-styled malty, bready beer that has a little sweetness balanced with a spicy hops that’s only mildly bitter. i’m sure i’ve drunk many in my time but it’s not a style i would necessarily think to order on the regular.

as you can see by the pic, this two roots NA version pours really nicely, a beautiful golden yellow color with a great head that lingered and laced nicely along the edge of the glass as i drank it. it has an herbal and bready aroma, and great light body – it really feels like a regular beer in my mouth. and i have to say, it is text book helles. everything i said above about what a helles should be, this is. it’s delicious, refreshing, smooth, light but complex in flavor. i don’t know how they did this but it’s no wonder they won a gold medal at the 2019 great american beer festival for this brew. and as they tout on their site, it has only 80 calories and is rich in vitamin B12 and electrolytes.

so yeah. i would drink more of this if total wine ever started carrying it, making it easier (and cheaper) to procure. aside from this helles, they have two different IPAs and just this week released their version of an NA michelada. (not something i’m interested in but definitely adventurous in the NA beer world.) i’m glad i finally got to try this and now know what the hype about this san diego-based brewery is all about.

finding NA beer in new orleans – an update

in my fridge right now!

if you’ve been following my adventures in #NAcraftbeer over the past few months, you’ll know my biggest complaint is how hard it is to find any of this stuff locally here in new orleans. total wine is pretty much it right now, in terms of buying any of the smaller craft NA breweries, though the more commercial craft and macro NA options are getting easier to find. (i.e. sam adams just the haze, brooklyn brewery special effects and lagunitas IPNA are regularly carried in local grocery stores now, next to all the heineken 0.0, bud zero, coors edge, odoul’s, sharps, buckler, etc. and heineken 0.0 and lagunitas IPNA are starting to pop up on restaurant menus and bar beer lists too. so if you like any of those, then i guess it is getting easier to find NAs. but i’m a craft beer snob and want the good stuff from the smaller indie craft breweries, so i won’t be happy until NA beers from breweries like athletic, wellbeing, bravus, rightside and ceria can be found readily around town.)

i’ve been reaching out via email and fb messenger to a bunch of the local craft breweries to find out if anyone has an NA in the pipeline. most haven’t responded to me but the few who have did indicate they are aware of the trend/buzz in the industry and are intrigued by the idea but due to equipment costs and other additional costs of brewing an NA, don’t have one scheduled anytime soon. but it was at least nice to hear it’s on their radar. (zony mash and faubourg were the two who have responded to me so far; nothing from the rest of them. as i start to make my way back out into the world, now that i’m vaccinated, i will try to stop by places in person and ask.)

earlier today i sent emails to pelican craft brands and crescent crown, two of the biggest craft beer distributors in the city. i’m not alcoholic beverage industry savvy, though, so if there are other local beer distributors i should be reaching out to, please let me know in the comments. (as far as i can tell, glazers only does wine & spirits here in new orleans, but correct me if i’m wrong.) i don’t really know any other ways to lobby those in the industry here to make more good craft NAs available to consumers, and i don’t have any clout whatsoever – i’m just a random NA beer drinker who writes a blog that no one reads – but i’m doing what i can. maybe if we all start requesting our favorites everywhere we go, we’ll make some headway.

i have however been pleasantly surprised since i started writing about NA beer how many friends and social media contacts have reached out privately or commented publicly that they too are refraining from or cutting down on alcohol and are either interested in or are already drinking NA beer! i really thought i was alone in this when i first started and i just decided to write about it to document my journey mostly for me. but i was also hoping it might be helpful to others – and maybe it has! definitely gives me a little inspiration to keep going.

but, come on y’all, do chime in and tell me what YOU are drinking? what NAs are YOU enjoying?

wellbeing hellraiser amber + surreal brewing 17 mile porter

i have a habit of compulsively checking the total wine app for non-alcoholic beer at my local metairie store, to see if they have added anything new, and yesterday i saw surreal brewing’s 17 mile porter and a few other new things pop up so i decided it was time to trek out to the burbs again to check it out. (i hadn’t been out there in many weeks.)

and sure enough, they did have the 17 mile porter in stock. the other things i’d seen on their app with “limited quantities” – ceria grainwave and wellbeing victory wheat, both beers i like a lot and would have bought – were not there and there wasn’t even a shelf tag for either of them so i realized those were probably just errors on the website. but i was able to snag a single of the 17 mile porter to test it out and picked up a 6 pack of wellbeing’s hellraiser amber, one of my favorites that i was out of at home, so it wasn’t a wasted trip at all.

(pic below is from last night after they’d gotten cold enough to enjoy. i think i realized it is probably my most “perfect” NA beer i’ve tried so far, the one that most closely mimics the experience of drinking an alcoholic beer and like those i enjoy drinking, as ambers are usually my favorite. i really wish i could go out to a bar and drink this somewhere in new orleans. so good!)

i also finally met the assistant manager of that total wine store who happens to be the NA beer buyer and was able to ask her to order ceria’s beers as well as a few other things. she gave me her card so i later emailed her a much longer list of craft NA brews i really want to try and that i’ve seen being carried at other total wine stores around the country. we’ll see if she can get any of them, as distribution down here really sucks for craft NA beer. but she seemed happy to look them up and try so i’m hopeful.

i am at my pet sit for the weekend and am just now cracking the 17 mile porter open while i enjoy some netflix with the pets. i didn’t really have high hopes for this one as i recognize (and from prior experience with their beers) that surreal is one of the “diet” NA beer companies, like partake and grüvi – their beers tend to be lighter, thinner and have much lower calorie and carb content than many of the other NA breweries. not that that is necessarily a bad thing, and i have liked some of those breweries’ beers, but i’m finding for my own palate, i prefer a fuller body and flavor experience than what i’ve tasted from them so far. but lots of folks in my NA beer facebook groups have raved about the 17 mile porter and i don’t have a lot of darker beers in my regular rotation so i was interested to try it.

it pours a very dark brown with a pretty good tan-colored head, though that dissipates fairly quickly. the first aroma i get is dark chocolate and a roasty nuttiness and a little coffee. it is as i suspected fairly thin but has a good mouthfeel nonetheless, due to tight uniform carbination. sadly i don’t taste as much of the chocolate and roastiness that i smelled. flavor is fairly subtle but it does go down easily with a dry finish. for 50 calories and 10g carbs, i’d say it’s pretty good. i like it a little better than grüvi‘s stout though i can’t quite put my finger on why. but they are definitely in the same general ballpark. i like this fine but probably won’t buy it again.

i think my search for my go-to dark beer continues. so far athletic’s all out stout is probably the one i like the most, in terms of non-coffee darks. there are several more on my wishlist to try though, so i’m holding out hope that the perfect NA dark beer for me exists.