Best alcohol-free beers: From sophisticated IPAs to craft ales

<p>An increased shift by drinkers towards moderation has spurred more brewers to get creative</p>

Alcohol-free beers have had a mixed reputation over the years – accused of being bland, tasteless or, at worst, darn-right unpalatable. But new and constantly improving brewing techniques, and the eagerness and skill of the craft brewing scene, continue to move things forward.

The truth is, there’s long been a number of great options on the market. But now, those abstaining from the sauce have their pick of most beer styles, from porters to sours. And no longer are your choices limited to low- or no-alcohol versions of existing full-strength beers, as there are now entire craft breweries dedicated to making only alcohol-free brews.

How are they made? The most common way to make an alcohol-free and low-alcohol beer was to brew a beer as normal, then extract as much of the alcohol as possible.  However, this process can adversely impact the taste. Many brewers are now brewing with “lazy” yeast strains that don’t produce alcohol in the first place, meaning that, in theory, less flavour is stripped out.

In our taste test, we looked for beers that actually tasted like beer, and which give you the enjoyable experience and satisfying depth of flavour that you’re used to, minus the alcohol. Though it should be noted that many in our list contain trace alcohol content, up to 0.5 per cent.

Body is important too; we’re looking for lively beers with a full mouthfeel – a task many alcohol-free beers aren’t up to. We’re also looking for great options beyond the most commonly available styles, such as lager, to give you a wider choice. That said, accessibility is important. Among the craft brews, you’ll also find a number of mainstream beer brands in our list.

All this means that if you’re looking for an alcohol-free beer, things have just got a lot more interesting. Here is our round-up of the best.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Brooklyn special effects alcohol free lager, 0.4%

A stand-out brew – and not just because of its vaguely hypnotising packaging. The authentic taste of this alcohol-free lager from Brooklyn Brewery is down to a special fermentation method using a “lazy” yeast that develops the full aromas and character of beer, but with none of the alcohol. 

Made using a blend of pale caramel and dark-roasted Munich malts, it’s also dry-hopped – a technique seldom used in alcohol-free brewing – with mosaic, citra and amarillo. Exceptionally smooth, with a full, foamy mouthfeel, solid body, and a beautifully hoppy flavour, there are some bright citrus notes and just a touch of pine. Fulsome and fragrant, we think it’s exceptionally close to the real thing. A pack contains four 355ml bottles.

Big Drop galactic milk stout, 0.5%

One of the originals, and still one of the best. The Big Drop Brewery, which opened in 2016, was one of the first to specialise exclusively in low- and no-alcohol beers, made by brewing to 0.5 per cent ABV rather than taking the alcohol out. And that means flavour. Though the range has since been extended considerably, with some very decent beers including a sour, a pale ale, a hazelnut porter, and even a pumpkin spiced, we’re huge fans of one of its original brews. In a sea of lagers and wheat beers, here is a non-alcoholic stout. 

There’s a rich coffee, toasted, malt nose, and a warmth you usually don’t find in alcohol-free products. Slightly nutty with a generous, thick body, chocolate is followed by vanilla, without it taking over. Exceptionally close to the “real thing”.

Leffe blond Belgian beer, 0%

This non-alcoholic version of Leffe blond is refreshing and moreish. This abbey beer has much of the flavour of the original and crucially – yes, we’re sticklers for it – that all-important thick body. But the first thing we’re struck by is the beautiful aroma of clove, banana and a little coriander. To sip, it’s a little sweet, but not excessively so. And there are some tasty dry malt notes that cut through the vanilla. Overall, it’s pretty close to the original. It comes as a pack of six 250ml bottles.

Force Majeure tripel, 0.4%

Described as Belgium’s first alcohol-free craft beer, the first sign that Force Majeure is going to be a treat is its really thick, foamy head. This beer pours beautifully and has some great clove and bubblegum notes, and that all-important, thick mouthfeel. So tasty, you honestly wouldn’t know it’s alcohol-free. What’s more, it’s less than 80 calories per bottle.

Coast Beer Co centennial IPA, 0.0%

Another brewery specialising in non-alcoholic beverages, Coast says it is on a mission to rid the world of tasteless alcohol-free beer by using the finest ingredients, innovative yeast cultures and modern brewing techniques – which is great news for us. This particular beer belongs to what the brewery claims is the world’s first alcohol-free single-hop beer series, which also includes its sabro IPA and idaho 7 IPA. We like the centennial IPA for its delicate bitterness, slight burst of bubbles, and toasted notes that cut through the hints of orange and a slight pineapple taste. It also has that long, dry finish that so many non-alcoholic beers miss. One to keep coming back to, there’s enough here to keep even the most discerning drinker interested.

Mikkeller limbo yuzu, 0.3%

World-renowned Danish brewer Mikkeller has had a lot of fun with alcohol-free beers over the years, launching a varied array in its signature experimental style. Of its expansive range, we’d also recommend the American-style wheat ale entitled “drink’in the sun”. But for its great taste and, frankly, just how different it is from most no-alcohol beers out there, we’re going with the limbo yuzu. 

Brewed with Mikkeller’s own yeast strain, the style of beer is also one of its own creations, which it calls “flemish primitive”. Beautifully bright and tangy with a slightly sour note, it’s tart but not lip-smackingly so. There’s also a long finish that delivers fruit and a little bitterness, but it is also just a touch sweet. 

Peroni libera, 0.0%

This alcohol-free version of the Italian lager stays mostly true to the original through a number of brewing techniques – a customised fermentation process involves a dedicated yeast strain and triple-hopping it for bitterness. Peroni libera does, however, taste a little maltier than the original. The flavour is dominated by the citrusy notes of the hops – that’s no bad thing, but anyone looking for an exact replica of the original Peroni will notice the differences. However, this is still a crisp, light and refreshing brew with just the right kick of bitterness. The 330ml bottles come in a pack of four.

Beavertown lazer crush alcohol free IPA, 0%

Heavyweight flavour, featherweight ABV; that’s the promise from London’s Beavertown. Rather than brewing with small amounts of malt or de-alcoholising after fermentation, to make “lazer crush” the brewer used a strain of yeast that fully ferments the crisp pilsner malt, but without producing any alcohol. 

Azacca, amarillo, and citra hops give it some hefty mango, orange and grapefruit notes alongside a lingering bitterness. We love the fruitiness – there’s even some stone fruit notes in here – hints of pine, and the long dry finish, but feel this beer would benefit from a thicker mouthfeel. Nonetheless, it is flavoursome.

Binary botanical, 0.5%

Described as the non-alcoholic beer for wine lovers, Binary Botanical is actually aimed at those that don’t traditionally drink beer. So is it for you? Binary – named because hop leaves grow on a bine – promises a tropical aroma, prosecco-like taste and clean finish from its infusion with organic hop leaves and use of wine yeast. It’s also gluten free and vegan friendly. There’s a lot of fruit notes; think gooseberry, grapefruit, a touch of pomegranate and elderflower. And yes, actually, a hint of bitterness – though it is not as bold as other beers – and a dry finish. Serve chilled in a stemmed glass. They come in a sizeable 20-pack of 250ml bottles.

Lucky Saint unfiltered alcohol free lager, 0.5%

Dry-hopped and unfiltered, Lucky Saint has gone to great lengths to make sure this beer has the maximum amount of flavour possible. Using pilsner malt, hallertau hops, Bavarian spring water and single-use yeast, it’s made with quality ingredients too. Each bottle is just 53 calories and it’s vegan friendly. Taste wise, this one is pleasantly dry. The body is slightly thin, but that’s us being very picky. Overall, it’s infinitely quaffable.

Heineken 0.0, 0%

Sometimes you just want a crisp, refreshing lager. And while it’s true that some people will prefer to order a craft brew from a local brewery, some people love a Heineken. This alcohol-free version of the leading beer brand is pretty darn good – exceptionally close to the real thing, there’s no funky aftertaste or cloying sweetness, which are just some of the pitfalls many alcohol-free variants fall into. Instead, Heineken 0.0 is refreshing with some fruity notes, the right amount of soft carbonation, and a slightly malt body. If you’re looking for a mainstream lager alternative, then this six pack of 330ml cans is for you.

Erdinger alkoholfrei, 0.5%

German brand Erdinger makes its beers under the strict Bavarian purity law, meaning it uses only high-quality, natural ingredients. This alcohol-free version also claims to offer health benefits, with folic acid and vitamin B12 said to reduce fatigue, support the immune system and boost the metabolism. 

This wheat beer also has all the gorgeous, banana-like taste and aroma you would expect. However, it is a little thin, meaning there’s no long finish. There’s also a grainy, cereal undertone. However, there’s still more than enough here to keep things interesting.

The verdict: Alcohol-free beers

Those swerving the alcohol used to have to settle for a good option. Now they have their pick of great ones. Gone is the overly-resiny “unfinished” taste that used to be so common.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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