These Are the Best Alcohol-Free Beers—I Know Because I Tried Them All
Hoping to cut back on booze? Curb your cravings for a cold beer with these non-alcoholic stouts, IPAs, and other delightfully foamy alternatives.
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Alcohol sales rose in 2020
If you want to drink less alcohol because it feels like you’ve been reaching for a nightcap more often than usual this year, you’re certainly not alone.
A study of self-reported assessments, published in September 2020 in JAMA Network, suggests that 75 percent of adults are drinking at least one day more per month than they did in 2019. Women, in particular, report more heavy drinking. A May 2020 report from The Nielsen Company, an international market research firm, shows that online sales of alcohol tripled between the end of February and mid-April.
As the days get shorter and the cold drives everyone indoors, you may be thinking about resetting your drinking habits during month-long challenges like Sober October and Dry January.
“The fatigue of Zoom happy hours and quarantine has caused an obvious uptick in consumption habits,” says Mascha Davis, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Eat Your Vitamins. “Now, with the holidays approaching and indulgence likely to continue, it’s a good time to consider cutting back and prepping for something like a dry week or fully committing to a dry stretch like Dry January.”
Ditching alcohol for health reasons
Though you might be considering a dry month for the first time, many Americans have participated in “dry month” challenges for years. There are obvious health benefits to nixing alcohol for a season. Davis lists several: smoother skin, better sleep, even higher energy levels and a better mood.
Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Total Body Diet for Dummies, says that many of her clients have noticed that all the summer virtual happy hours and glasses of wine to signify the end of the workday triggered weight gain or worsened anxiety and depression.
“If you drink too much or are addicted to alcohol, cutting it permanently is a must for your overall health and well-being,” she says. “It’s better for sleep, metabolism, mood, and digestive health.” Participating in a no-alcohol challenge with friends can build camaraderie from afar, she adds. (Here are some Dry January tips.)
Reasons to drink alcohol-free beer
In October, I noticed how alcohol was negatively affecting my own health. After a night of drinking wine, I didn’t sleep well. I woke up with dry skin and dry eyes. Sometimes a glass of wine made me feel irritable or anxious. Like many of Davis’ and Shanta Retelny’s clients, I had participated in more than a few virtual happy hours over the summer. When Sober October challenges rolled around, the timing seemed perfect for a reset.
But I wanted a replacement for my glass of wine at dinner. Some of the best mocktails fit the bill most days. But not everyone enjoys mocktails or mixed drinks. Some friends who joined my no-alcohol evenings preferred a zero-proof beer or wine. And so the quest for a tasty, refreshing alcohol-free beer began. (Here are 8 ways beer is good for you.)
Finding the best non-alcoholic beer for you
There are dozens on the market, so I can’t claim to have sampled every last one. Instead, I sought a variety of brands and types, then taste-tested with beer-loving friends. As is the case with food or wine, everyone’s tastes and opinions on beer are different. In all, we tried 14 alcohol-free beers. We ultimately found five clear winners and a couple of clear runners-up.
Gruvi Stout Non-Alcoholic Beer
$10 for a 4-pack
If you’re a fan of Guinness or other chocolatey, malty stouts, this will step in as a convincing replacement during Dry January—or however long your booze-free season lasts. Though Gruvi’s stout is slightly less foamy than hearty alcoholic stouts on the market, it quickly emerged as the most delicious stout in our taste test. Even non-beer drinkers found this stout surprisingly smooth, complex, and tasty.
Clausthaler Dry Hopped Non-Alcoholic Beer
$28 for a 6-pack
Clausthaler isn’t your run-of-the-mill traditional German brewery. No, it’s a decades-old German brewery that is 100 percent alcohol-free. While many breweries remove alcohol from brewed beers, Clausthaler interrupts the fermentation process before the alcohol begins to develop. The result? A delightfully never-alcoholic beer. This Dry-Hopped variety pours like an amber ale and balances honeyed sweetness with bitter, dry hops. It’s one of the most well-rounded beers we tried.
Athletic Brewing Co. Run Wild Non-Alcoholic IPA
$28 for a 12-pack
Are you looking for a tasty, trendy beer without the buzz? Athletic Brewing Company delivers in spades. Run Wild IPA offers the full package: a frothy head, pleasant hoppy taste, perfect balance between bitter and sweet, and a thoroughly convincing non-alcoholic beer. As the name suggests, the company markets its non-alcoholic beers toward active, athletic drinkers. The U.S.-based brewery’s goal is to “stand shoulder-to-shoulder with full-strength alcoholic craft beers.” It did just that in our taste test.
Partake Non-Alcoholic IPA
$55 for 24 cans
Looking for a bold, citrusy IPA without the hangover? Look no further. This IPA was approachable enough even for those of us who don’t typically reach for bitter hops. If you’re ditching the alcohol for health reasons, it might help to know that Partake Brewing uses an entirely vegan, natural brewing process. With just 10 calories and 2 grams of carbohydrates per can, this IPA is also a great choice if you’re trying to lose a beer belly or drop a few excess pounds. The foamy body and dry finish will satisfy most drinkers’ beer cravings.
Gruvi Non-Alcoholic Pale Ale
$30 for a 12-pack
My group was somewhat split on whether Gruvi’s Pale Ale was the best or mildest of the bunch. This pale ale has a decent foamy head that helps trick the tongue into thinking it’s tasting a fully alcoholic ale. The mouthfeel and body were incredibly beer-like. On the other hand, the flavor was a bit thinner than some of Gruvi’s other offerings—somewhere between a light, low-carb beer and earthy, spiced ale. This should be a great crowd-pleaser for friends craving a beer during Dry January.
Bonus beer-like beverages
Let’s be honest: Not all alcohol-free beers taste like beer. Some are flat. Some are too sweet. Others miss the mark in terms of complexity or quintessential bitterness from the hops. In our quest for a refreshing alcohol-free beer, we came across a few zero-proof beverages that weren’t quite beer-like enough—but that could still quench our thirst for something crisp and refreshing.
My bonus picks for fizzy thirst-quenchers are HopTea’s The Citra Bomb One ($35 for 12) and Clausthaler’s Santa Clausthaler ($8 for six). They land at opposite ends of the spectrum, but they’re both a tasty alternative to cracking open a boozy cold one. Grab a can of HopTea for a bright, light tipple that marries the bitter tannins of tea with a punch of hops (precisely as the name implies). Reach for Santa Clausthaler when you’re in the mood for an alcohol-free spiced cider or a chilled version of your favorite Christmas wassail.
- Mary Gollan, MS, RDN, CDN, CLC, a dietician, certified lactation counselor, and board member on the Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Mascha Davis MPH, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Eat Your Vitamins
- Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, LDN, author of Total Body Diet for Dummies
- Jama Network: "Changes in Adult Alcohol Use and Consequences During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US"
- The Nielsen Company: "Rebalancing the ‘COVID-19 Effect’ on Alcohol Sales"