Overseas, the low- and non-alcoholic beer market looks drastically different than it does in the States. Walk into an average American grocery store looking for non-alcoholic beer and you’ll find the same dusty, mass-produced NA lager brands you would have found on that shelf 30 years ago. (I know this, sadly, from experience.)
Abroad though, the options are richer, and consumers actually buy them. Euromonitor International data shows that between 2011 and 2016, German consumption of non-alcoholic beer jumped 43%, even as overall beer drinking declined. And China is actually the country with the greatest momentum when it comes to NA beer innovation; there, nearly 30% of new beers launched in 2016 were non-alcoholic.
Jacob Gram Alsing, chief operations officer for Copenhagen, Denmark-based craft brewery Mikkeller, says Drink’in The Sun, a wheat ale that clocks in at just 0.3 percent ABV, was the brewery’s highest-grossing beer last year. But you won’t find it at Mikkeller’s San Diego outpost, or anywhere in the U.S. -- for now.
“I think that our non-alcoholic beers would do great in the U.S.,” Alsing says. “I know there is a big craving for NA beers in the U.S. because not many breweries do them well. Brewing ours is a technical type of brewing that we don’t have the ability to do in San Diego right now, but we are looking at producing them in the U.S. at some point.”
Alsing says America is ready for non-alcoholic beers, and data would, theoretically, back him up. Government statistics found 44% of U.S. adults report not drinking alcohol in the past month; put that together with all the people who do drink but are trying to drink less, and that’s a decent-sized base of people who might consider very-low-ABV or non-alcoholic beers… if most of the prevailing options didn’t suck. And if people’s friends stopped giving them shit for drinking them.
Those are the two main stigmas non-alcoholic beer needs to overcome, says Bill Shufelt, founder of Stratford, Connecticut’s Athletic Brewing Company, which makes exclusively non-alcoholic beer in styles like gose and IPA.
“Nothing has changed on that NA shelf in 30 years, so just getting people to walk back there is the goal,” Shufelt says. “They’ve been treated like a penalty box beverage that no one would drink willingly, so it’s just about getting people to try it. Once they try it, they get it. They’re like ‘Yeah, I’d drink that sometimes.’”