Beer buzz—minus the buzz
How one woman’s hunt for drinkable non-alcoholic beers helped two small breweries
Drinking a nonalcoholic beer sometimes seems like the right thing to do. But consuming something called beer that doesn’t include alcohol and doesn’t taste like beer is problematic. It’s an insult to beer.
Jessica Lahey, mother, wife, journalist, educator and New York Times best-selling author, was in the legion of frustrated former beer drinkers. She wrote an essay about the lack of nonalcoholic beverages that are beer-worthy of the designation primarily for three reasons. Lahey loves beer. She was raised in a family where beer was important. And she’s an alcoholic.
The essay, published in April in The Washington Post titled, “The search for a non-alcoholic beer that’s actually worth drinking,” was republished in many newspapers.
Lahey not only discussed her alcoholism, but how in her quest to discover a drinkable, nonalcoholic beer, she provided a boon to two small breweries now besieged with business.
About two years ago, Bravus Brewing Company in Santa Ana and Wellbeing Brewing Company in Maryland Heights, Miss., became the country’s first craft breweries making only nonalcoholic beer.
Lahey and her husband, both home brewers, rejoiced. They’d found nonalcoholic beer drinkers’ nirvana—on tap and in bottles and cans.
Low-alcohol beer is defined at 3.5 percent or less alcohol by volume (ABV). Nonalcoholic beer has less than 0.5 percent ABV.
Sacramento’s Capitol Beer and Tap Room in University Village has among the most diverse beer selections in the region. It’s a rare combination of a tap room and a retail sales location.
“From what I’ve seen, people who drink [nonalcoholic beers] are usually pregnant ladies who come in, or it’s older people who can no longer drink,” said Capitol Beer bar manager Nik Cvetich, whose only nonalcoholic beer is the bottled Erdinger, the German wheat beer. “It’s just a comfort thing. I would say we don’t sell a lot of them, but it’s enough to keep bringing them back.”
Lahey’s forthrightness prompted vast and varied reactions.
“I received a lot of email … from readers with opinions of every sort,” she said via email. “I got lots from people who do not drink but, like me, miss beer and have been desperate for better non-alcoholic options that allow them to be at a party and not have to explain why they are not drinking.”
Bravus Brewing has also been bombarded with phone calls, letters and emails—and demand for its nonalcoholic beer.
While still only available regionally, brewery owner Philip Brandes says he believes Northern California distribution will begin by the end of the year, most likely in BevMo! or Total Wine & More.
“I think the article struck a chord with a lot of people,” said Brandes, whose brewery offers an Oatmeal Stout and India Pale Ale. “Our demographic tends to be older people who can no longer drink alcohol for one reason or another, maybe it doesn’t mix well with their medication or some other health reasons.”
Despite the quickly rising interest in his beer, Brandes said he has received complaints.
“There are a certain number of people who still have this vitriol,” he said. “People come in and say, ‘I’m drinking this, I still have to go the bathroom and I don’t get a buzz. Why are you doing this?'” Ω