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Photo Courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery

Late last year, New York-based Brooklyn Brewery released Special Effects, a 0.4 percent ABV hoppy lager, in Sweden – the company’s first non-alcoholic effort.  Special Effects is now set to launch for full distribution in the United States by January 2020 but is Brooklyn Brewery getting an early start on a trend that’s been steadily growing around the world, or will the non-alcoholic stigma cause it to fail here? 

Non-alcoholic beer is on a steady incline globally, especially in European countries, because of the negative effects experts believe any amount of alcohol causes to the body, the desire to replace soda and other sugary drinks that often coincide with meals or the simple fact that there’s a large number of people who don’t drink alcohol.  In the U.S., about one-third of the population doesn’t drink alcohol. According to Good Beer Hunting, non-alcoholic beer accounts for 0.3 percent of the nearly $35 billion spent in places like supermarkets and convenience stores, while regions like the United Kingdom have experienced a 15 percent uptick in the non-alcoholic beverage market in the last two years. Some of what’s causing Americans to steer clear of non-alcoholic efforts could be stigma.

“If you’re drinking a non-alc, there was something wrong with you,” said Brooklyn Brewery’s CEO Eric Ottaway at last December’s Brewbound Live business conference.  “It was kept in the back of the bar fridge and carefully poured into a glass and given to you so nobody would see that you’re drinking non-alcoholic beer.  It was kind of an embarrassing thing. Whereas you go in Europe and it’s celebrated. It’s treated as the opposite in most countries. People would never sneer at you or look down at you like you have a problem.”

But there’s more to it than that, it’s also the limitations. For decades, non-alcoholic beer was nothing more than the standard O’Douls or Busch-like offerings but that’s no longer the case, despite common perceptions.  Sure, commercial breweries like Budweiser and Heineken – which spent $50 million to market the launch of Heineken 0.0 in the U.S. this earlier year – are pumping out non-alcoholic versions of the highly-commercialized light lagers but more and more American craft breweries, like Brooklyn Brewery, are creating unique efforts, which feature a robust taste not typically associated with this beer.

Special Effects offers what Brooklyn Brewery describes as a “piney aroma and hoppy finish” that “gets its bready sweetness from a blend of specialty malts” while the aroma “comes from dry-hopping with citrus and pine-forward hops.”  Brewed using a specially developed fermentation process, it limits the amount of alcohol created, allowing for traditional beer flavors. If you’re pregnant, the designated driver or just don’t want a crazy night, Special Effects can help enjoy social norms without the repercussions.

The beer will be available in six-packs and 12-packs and will be poured at this week’s Great American Beer Festival, the country’s most recognized beer contest, in Denver.