Nonalcoholic beers are the offal of the beverage world. Or at least that’s the premise of today’s post, the first to feature a ‘guest’ foodstuff. I plan to feature foods from time to time which have reputational problems similar to blood sausage. NA beer certainly fits the bill.
And for many years, that reputation was deserved. Low, and especially no-alcohol beers were pretty terrible. Most were lager wannabes, but usually ended up too sweet and/or really chemical-tasting. In many countries, however, NA beers have improved dramatically in the last 5 years. Lots of people have adopted Dry January, (hence the timing of this post), and while we’re not so strict at our house, we’ve started drinking a lot more low and no-alcohol beers over the last year. For us, the trend actually started during vacation lunches. NA beers with, for example, my lunchtime morcilla plate = a dramatically higher chance of actually seeing something in the afternoon. And we’ve just kept on drinking them at home.
It has reached a point where many low/no-alcohol beers are a pleasure to drink, so today I’m highlighting six favorites from here in the Netherlands. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that none of these beers are modeled on generic pilsners. It makes sense that more strongly-flavored beer styles would lend themselves more readily to low/no-alcohol versions, as there is just a lot more going on, flavor-wise.
While there are a few 100% alcohol-free beers around, most are 0.5% or less, and should be clearly labeled as such.
Van De Streek Playground Non IPA. <0.5%
There are a number of NA IPAs being produced in the Netherlands, but Utrecht’s Van De Streek Playground Non-IPA is the clear winner. Nice and hoppy, you probably wouldn’t know it was non-alcoholic unless somebody told you.
Brothers in Law Hoppy Lager. 0.5%
A bit hard to find in Amsterdam (which is why it missed the photo shoot), but well worth the search. It tasted to me much like a good pale ale, which I do love.
Van De Streek Non-Bock. <0.5%
On a cold winter evening, when it looks like a Rijksmuseum painting outside, a nice dark bock beer is the perfect thing to warm up with. Brewing up an NA Bock is such a good idea, perfect for dark winter months when you’re trying to reduce your intake. Strongly flavored, another winner from Van De Streek.
While the UK has a long tradition of low-alcohol beers, until recently the Dutch efforts were not very successful. But I am happy to share these three standouts with you:
Uiltje Habbekrats Session IPA. 1%
This Haarlem-based brewery has really done wonders with this cloudy, citrus-style IPA that comes in at only 1% ABV. Habbekrats translates as ‘pittance’, which is a pretty perfect name. Delicious, and it reduces the risk that you will walk into one of the infamous Amsterdam iron streetposts. Unlike Uiltje’s poor mascot….
Van Moll Wanderlust IPA. 2%
From Eindhoven comes this excellent, balanced 2% IPA, which also has all the flavor of a more traditional-strength IPA. The backpacking kiwi label art is an extra bonus!
Brouwerij de Molen Hugs & Kisses. 3.5%
De Molen is one of the oldest and most respected small breweries in the Netherlands, open since 2004. While well-known for their experimental and often very strong (10%+) beers, Hugs & Kisses shows how proficient they can be at the other end of the spectrum. Described as a ‘Session IPA-ish’, it is reminiscent of De Molen’s well-loved Vuur & Vlam IPA, but at half the alcohol.
And if you don’t live in the Netherlands?
I have seen several of these breweries stocked in specialist beer shops around Europe, so you might get lucky and find them nearby. If not, here are a few imports that we also enjoy, that may be more readily available near you:
Brewdog Nanny State 0.5% (UK): a hoppy, dark IPA, beloved by my wife.
Brugse Zot Sport Zot 0.5% (Belgium): So far the only NA Belgian-style blond I’ve found. Impressively close to the original.
Mikkeller Drink In The Sun 0.3% (Denmark/Belgium): Bright & citrusy, apparently designed as a hot-weather beer, but also nice in winter