Is Alcohol-Free The Next Big Thing for #CraftBeer?

2017 was the year of the murkbeer, much to my chagrin. But, I think this year may be the very year non-alcoholic (NA) beers from craft producers will appear in larger numbers. The signs are there. Diageo/Guinness releasing ‘Pure Brew‘ may prove to be the tipping point for craft brewers to try take their ability to really innovate on flavour into this space that atypically is bland, uninteresting & often utterly dissatisfying.

Over the last week, I spent some time at BrewDog as I started my new role with them as my ‘day job’. TL:DR, this is a long standing dream come true for me. But I’m not here to discuss that. But, what I will discuss is the fact that while there I managed to try one of their latest bar-exclusive seasonals doing the rounds in their bars, ‘Raspberry Popsicle Parade‘. This beer, a pink-hued Raspberry, Lactose Berliner Weisse coming in at 0.5% ABV (yes you read tha right),was not only visually different, but so stylistically different from other non-alcoholic beers, it may set a trend.

Now, it would be easy to take what I’ve said there as ‘bumpf’ given I work for them, but given I had my choice of countless beers in their bars while I was there, THIS was my constant choice. Me. Mr HopHead. I don’t often find beers like this I wanted to drink as much of as this one. And in thinking about my enjoyment of it, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a non-alcoholic beer as much. Bear in mind, I didn’t have to drive anywhere. This was an unaffected choice I made. In fact, I’d go so far as I’d love to see this as a canned permanent option, & not just a bar-exclusive, seasonal one-off.

Given the choice for NA beers is usually insanely sweet weissebiers from Paulaner, Schneider Weisse, Maisel, or Erdinger. Or worse still, the abomination that is Becks NA. Which, in all frankness  should be avoided at all costs as it is a persistently skunky beer that shows how you do NOT do a beer, let alone a NA beer.

Sure, there’s the likes of Clausthaler, Bavaria, Krombacher, Veltins, or Jever NA lagers, but every single one of these isa beer where the alcohol has been evaporated off & they taste like it, with a grossly unpleasant & intolerable astringent aftertaste.

On the craft side of things, there’s the rarely seen BrewDog Nanny State in Ireland (which I & many others actually like as an NA option but rarely find in bars outside craft ones), & that’s it for anything resembling an option outside of the inspid NA lagers or diabetic-inducing weissebiers.

Andwhen you see Diageo/Guinness, Carlsberg, the Big Green Machine known as Heinneken & AB-InBev go into this space with aplomb, there is a market there. And in the light of some of the shady-as-shit practices The Big Machine has been accused of in Ireland, craft beer growth could find itself in further trouble to get fridge or tap space.

Breweries like BrewDog don’t keep brewing beers like Nanny State if they weren’t as popular as they are. And that should be an indicator to many craft breweries as a market to be in. And with the Big Green Machine estimating this particular market segment alone in UK (which tends to be mirrored here in Ireland)  will grow by 9% year on year, that’s a revenue potential in the midst of scant choice for craft beer consumers that is going begging.

Sure, never try to fill a gap market. But it shouldn’t be seen as a gap. Instead, it shuld be seen by craft beer producers as yet another opportunity to crash the big-boys market with their own spins, & to show that NA beers needn’t be insipid, boring or down-right fucking horrendous. The question is; is the lack of attempts a way of hiding brewing insecurity by craft beer producers, a lack of foresight, or alack of aggressiveness to take a stab at this space?

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