5 Good NA Beers
And 8 NA Beers that Fall Short
Credit: cory stophlet, 2014Non-alcoholic beers, also called NA beers, have been around since before the Prohibition period in U.S history (1920-1933). They increased in popularity briefly during the early 1970's and early 1980's; however, until recent years, their popularity waned. Since the year 2000 these NA beverages have found life renewed as an alternative to regular alcohol drinks. With concerns of alcohol related accidents, complications from adverse medicine interactions and for promoting the use of a designated driver, these NA beers offer a reasonable alternative to intoxicants. Folks that just want to avoid any level of intoxication can enjoy a NA beer during social occasions, relaxing with friends, watching the big game or just when sitting around the house enjoying life.
These reviews and opinions are those of this author and not a nationwide survey. I have enjoyed and taste tested more than a dozen NA brews over the past 15 years. The following rankings and comments are my own from personally experience. Here you will find my list of 13 NA beers starting with the very best to very worst. Rankings are based on appearance, taste, and aroma. Cost and availability are not considered here because, frankly, the better the NA product, the harder it is to find. I will make a few suggestions as to the common stores where I found these brews selling. In most stores, all NA beers are generally grouped together on the same store shelf.
NA Impact on Taste
NA brews go through distilling and filtering processes necessary to reduce the alcohol level in order to meet the U.S. standards of a maximum of .5% alcohol content. This cannot help but to affect the beer's taste. However, for those of us trying to stay away from the alcohol while still being able to enjoy a beer taste from time to time, NA beers are your best bet. Any pricing information is based on stores here in Tennessee as of 2014.
So Starting From the Top:
Credit: cory stophlet, 20141 - Rating of Excellent and BEST CHOICE: Becks NA Beer, the German Import, is hands-down my favorite. It’s also the most expensive choice in this review. This liquid gold in a green bottle has the fullest flavor of all the NA beers taste tested. Although, in a mug, the color appears more like a light beer, it is also one of the few that, when poured in a glass, will foam-up just like a regular full bodied beer. This might sound a bit odd, but cheap NA beers have very little frothing when poured; they tend to be a bit flat. Becks NA is a German import by Brauerei Beck & Co. and usually found in PUBLIX grocery stores at a price of approximately $6.89 a six-pack.
2 - Rating of Excellent and Second Best Choice: Clausthaler Premium, a German import made by Binding-Brauerei AG. For some critics, it's one of the best flavored NA beers. In my book, it’s a toss-up as to which is better – Becks over Clausthaler or vice versa. Clausthaler has the expected bitter taste of more expensive beers and a price to go with it. PUBLIX grocery store is approximately $6.89 a six-pack.
Credit: cory stophlet, 20143 - Rating of Very Good: St. Pauli Girl NA has a lot of NA beer admirers; however, although it is arguably one of the better tasting NA beers, it's hard to give it a rating above “very good” due to many varying opinions by other taste testers as to whether it's too bitter or has too much of an aftertaste. Personally, I still make it one of my top three choices. The down-side is that it is hard to find. A German import made by St. Pauli Brauerei C.L. Wilh. Brandt Gmbh & Co. Local PUBLIX grocery store price is approximately $5.99 a six-pack.
4 - Rating of Good: O'Doul's Amber made by Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Better than I expected the first time I drank it. It's missing that malt aroma usually found with truer dark or amber beers; however, the flavor presents a taste not all that unlike a beer from a wooden keg. It has one of the best golden brown appearances in a glass. This attractive amber-brown liquid with its hops taste is one of my two regular purchases in the NA category. It is also more readily available in small town USA versus higher priced beers with equal or higher ratings for taste. Kroger’s, PUBLIX, some Walmart stores carry this brand. Kroger’s cost $5.49 and PUBLIX cost $5.99 a six-pack.
5 - Rating of Good: Gerstel NA (German Import): Good taste and appearance. However, it's another beer that takes some searching to find a place that keeps it in stock.
Eight Less Than Good NA Brews
6 - Rating of Fair or Acceptable: Kaliber NA: This Guinness Beer product (Ireland) does not live-up to the company's reputation for producing quality tasting brew; however, it does have a good golden color as viewed in a clear glass and it will froth-up like Becks NA. When the 1-5 options are not available you might find Kaliber an adequate alternative. PUBLIX grocery store is approximately $5.99 a six-pack.
7 - Rating of Fair: Buckler NA: I'm fond of Heineken (Netherlands) products but this one does not live up to the brand name.
8 - Rating of Fair: Coors NA (Colorado USA) tastes like watered down Coors Light. It falls well short in the taste department. This is a beer more for the excessively hot day when you are only looking to cool off and taste is not a concern. PUBLIX grocery store is approximately $5.99 a six-pack.
9 - Rating of Fair: O'Doul's regular in the green bottle, (Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, Missouri, USA) is one of the most common NA beers sold in the U.S. You can find it just about anywhere. The taste is nothing to brag about, although it is a good choice if you're drinking several beers during a hot afternoon and want to avoid some aftertaste common with other NA beers.
10 - Rating of Poor: Sharp's (Wisconsin, USA) gets a lot of varying opinions by other raters from low to average, with many placing its rating as less than adequate. Most grocery stores carry Sharp at around $5.00 to $5.49 a six-pack.
11 - Rating of Poor: Pabst NA (California, USA), another watered down less than adequate tasting beer is a little worse than Sharps but not as bad as Old Milwaukee. This brew usually costs approximately $5.00 or less for a six-pack at many grocery stores.
12 - Rating of Poor: Busch NA (Missouri, USA) is also a very watered down Busch beer flavor. It is somewhat seltzer tasting with a hint of beer flavor. On the other hand, the price can't be beat at around $6 or more for a twelve-pack.
13 - Rating of Worst: Old Milwaukee NA (California, USA) is hands down the most watered down beer tasted. Pretty much a seltzer water with a teaspoon of beer flavoring added. It is usually found very cheap at most grocery stores.Credit: U.S. Treasury, uploaded by Hohum, 2014
If You Want Cheap
If all you are looking for is something cold to drink while keeping your fluid intake up on hot days, the cheaper low-end NA beers like Buckler NA, Sharp's NA, or Pabst NA may serve that purpose, but don’t expect much on the taste experience.
If You Want Better Taste
If you are looking for a better beer taste experience, I highly recommend Becks NA, Clausthaler Premium NA, St. Pauli’s Girl NA, and O'Doul's Amber. With the exception of O’Doul’s’ Amber, it’s an unfortunate truth that Germany has the best non-alcohol brews I have tasted. And, if you were to check more reviews on NA beers, you are likely to find similar results. Again, remember NA beers are real beers; they just don’t have the fullness of flavor you would expect to find in their full alcohol siblings.
There are many non-alcoholic beers on the market; far more than I can cover. So don't pass up an opportunity to try other brands.