Dry January ain’t what it used to be. Back in my day, giving up alcohol for a whole month meant giving up everything associated with it — wine, cocktails, and beer. For folks like me who enjoy the occasional happy hour with friends or co-workers, Dry January meant being the one person at the table who’ll have “just a club soda with lemon, please.”
Thanks to the likes of companies like Athletic Brewing, which proudly and uniquely manufactures NA beer, alcohol-free menu options are no longer an afterthought. Traditional brewers like Corona, Sam Adams, and even Coors have gotten on board. So whether you’re dabbling in the dry lifestyle for just the month, or moderating your alcohol intake for the long haul, you’ll be thrilled to hear that there are more (and more enjoyable) options than ever!
This list represents our editors’ top selections for a variety of palates, so there’s sure to be something to suit your taste.
Best NA Beers
Dark: Deschutes Black Butte Non-Alcoholic
Flavor notes: Chocolate, caramel, and then a coffee finish
Mouthfeel: A bit of hop bitterness up front that moves to a creamy complexity and roasted finish
GearJunkie’s motors editor, Bryon Dorr, chimed in quickly on our NA beer call for nominations. A dark beer lover who lives in Portland, Ore., Dorr said the Deschutes Black Butte Non-Alcoholic is his go-to NA offering.
Among all the offerings on this list, the Black Butte NA Porter is as close to the original (iconic Black Butte Porter) as any beer on this list, when compared to its full-alcohol counterpart. It’s an easy-drinking year-round dark beer with plenty of flavor to savor.
Our editors agreed that the unpleasant malty aftertaste of old-school NA offerings was one of the biggest red flags overall, but this version of Black Butte lacks most of that poor finish. The aftertaste does get stronger as the beer nears room temperature, so to truly get the most out of this NA offering, drink it cold.
IPA: Sam Adams Just the Haze
Flavor notes: Pineapple, Citrusy, hoppy
Mouthfeel: Wet, full-bodied, complex
Hands down, this is the best, full-flavored NA ale out there — with all due respect to Athletic Brewing, which set a very high bar when it hit the market in 2017. But the folks at Sam Adams took note of the budding no-alcohol trend and got to work on something special. Just the Haze is a hazy IPA that tastes damn near identical (if not better) than a traditional hazy.
GearJunkie editor-in-chief Adam Ruggiero found it delightfully fruity — lots of pineapple on the front with a hint of granny smith — crisp, and clean on the finish. It has a rich body akin to any traditional hazy, and just the right amount of hops to satisfy true IPA fans. It is a best-in-show offering if ever there was one.
Golden: Athletic Upside Dawn
Flavor notes: Toasty, wort-like malt, tannins, hints of pine
Mouthfeel: Thin, dry
GearJunkie contributing editor M.T. Elliott moonlights at a Denver-area taproom. He has served many a pour of Athletic Brewing’s Upside Dawn to folks. Many express surprise — even double-checking the can — as Upside Dawn ups the expectation of what NA beers can taste like and is a bestseller in the space. That may be in part due to how approachable blonde or golden beers are (and always have been).
True to style, this golden has a light body with a medley of pine and floral notes from a moderate combo of American and English hops. The toasty malt flavors keep things balanced, though I certainly wouldn’t mind if it explored the citrusy and floral range of this style more.
Those adverse to gluten, but not allergic to it, should reach for the Upside Dawn. Much like removing the alcohol after the fact, Athletic removes the gluten while maintaining this beer’s Vienna Malt backbone. It’s also only 45 calories. The only knock is its resemblance to wort.
Lager: Heineken 0.0
Flavor notes: Fresh and fruity, with malty sweetness
Mouthfeel: Crisp, clean
Heineken 0.0 tastes like actual beer because it starts like any full-fledged Heineken. Where many nonalcoholic beverage makers attempt to make something that tastes like beer by adding artificial flavors to carbonated drinks, Heineken just brews real beer and then removes the alcohol from it with vacuum distillation.
It’s still made from hops, barley, yeast, and water and fermented like the real stuff. It’s got the same golden color. And for a nonalcoholic beer, it’s got big flavor — the skunky profile classic to Heineken is still present, it’s still crisp and bitter, with fruity notes and a slightly malty sweetness. It just won’t give you a buzz or break any of your Dry January vows.
Belgian: Athletic Brewing Wit’s Peak
Flavor notes: Orange, coriander, wheatgrass, wheaty, peppery finish from yeast (all to style)
Mouthfeel: Wet at first, medium body
Athletic Brewing’s Wit’s Peak checks the boxes of a traditional Belgian-style White with a smooth mix of wheat and malt contrasted by sharp orange peel. It subtlety presents the expected herbal notes, like coriander, while leaving a touch of spice on the tongue without the bolder, peppery bite you might get from some Belgian yeast strains. Altogether, it’s a robust flavor that makes each sip fulfilling and refreshing. You could easily add this to any cheese pairing.
While most NA beers don’t fare well outside the can, this one pours into a nice crown of foam and even laces the glass beautifully. Just don’t let it sit too long.
M.T. Elliott works in a brewery and considers NA beers as another option, even before or between alcoholic beers. This is the NA beer he keeps in his refrigerator — when he can find it.
Everyone’s tastes are different and there’s no wrong excuse to try more beer! Each of these honorable mentions could easily be your selection for best overall, so take a gander and try it for yourself.
Flavor notes: Balance of chocolate, coffee, and hoppy bitterness
Mouthfeel: Smooth and creamy, but lighter-bodied than the original
Of all the brews the GearJunkie team tried, Guinness took the crown for a nonalcoholic variant that most tasted like its traditional beer counterpart. Pouring a Guinness without everything that comes along with it may sound like sacrilege to some, but Guinness walked that delicate line beautifully.
If you’re looking for a zero-proof beer that tastes authentic to its popular traditional beer counterpart, then reach for a Guinness 0.0. It isn’t quite as full-bodied and has some nuance in texture and flavor, but it very much mimics the original classic enjoyed in pubs around the globe.
Flavor notes: Malt, mint, apricot
Mouthfeel: Crisp, light
Shiner has enjoyed some of the resurgent fandom of classic dive-bar mainstays (think PBR and Old Style). But this Texas brewer has been far more experimental along its rise in popularity, branching into holiday spin-off brews and — you guessed it — a no-alcohol offering. The Shiner Rode0 Golden Brew actually marks the brand’s debut into alcohol-free beer. And it will be the first of three NA brews released by Shiner in 2024.
I found the Rode0 medium-bodied, crisp, and malty. Like many modern NA brews, it’s not your grandpa’s O’Douls — this one does not taste like a half-assed lager. It’s more refreshing than that, with some subtle, citrusy hops. I caught some slightly sour afternotes, but all in all, it’s a good option if you want to mitigate your ABV intake while still cracking a cold one.
Athletic Brewing Lite
Flavor notes: Lemon, cereal, cracker
Mouthfeel: Thin, watery, yet crisp
Athletic took note of the resurgence in craft lagers and added this crispy boy to its lineup. In the way that lagers are considered “regular” beer by many who never got hooked on IPAs, Athletic Lite may be the brand’s most approachable beer.
You’ll note the light touch of malt and hops with just a hint of citrus, maybe lemon, from the hops. It’s a beer that’s refreshing to the palate when you want something other than water, without getting too hoppy or malty. You know, just like you’d expect from most alcoholic American lagers! And like other lite beers, this one is low on calories, with only 25 per can.
Indeed Brewing Co. Pils Zero
Flavor notes: Bready, lemon, lightly sweet.
Mouthfeel: Crisp, clean, round
A quick shout-out to the local brewery in GearJunkie’s Minneapolis backyard — Indeed Brewing makes a stunningly good NA pilsner. It is wonderfully crisp and has a clean finish. Blindfolded, we bet that you’d have no idea whether you were drinking Indeed’s traditional Pils or its Pils Zero copycat. The only knock is limited distribution. Check Indeed’s site to find out if you can find this terrific no-alcohol offering in your neck of the woods.
Don’t miss our podcast with Athletic Brewing founder, Bill Shufelt!