Prohibition ended in the United States on December 5th, 1933 with the repeal of the 18th Amendment. Since then non-alcoholic beer, which was largely invented and commercialized because of prohibition, has been treated as the ugly stepchild of the beer world. That is until very recently when growth in non-alcoholic beer sales started to outpace the growth of its alcoholic sibling. Most multi-national brewers have had a non-alcoholic beer or two in their portfolios dating back several decades but it's the innovation in non-alcoholic beer by independent and craft brewers that is really starting to make the products shine.
Many innovations and trends in the beer industry have started in Europe and the acceptance and growth of non-alcoholic beer there rivals craft beer in North America. In some European countries non-alcoholic beer accounts for 10% of total beer sales. Compare this to craft beer in Canada which accounts for less than 10% of total beer consumed annually. Many bars in Europe will even have draft non-alcoholic beer available right next to the alcoholic version of the same beer. In Canada and the United States you often can’t get a bottle at a bar or restaurant. But thankfully this is starting to change.
What's driving this change in drinking habit? Experts point to several factors including drinking and driving laws, health considerations, religious abstinence and the quality and variety of products. The high quality of the products is creating even more demand, in a kind of positive feedback loop, as people become aware of the fact that a well-made non-alcoholic beer tastes as good as the alcoholic versions. In addition new styles of beer have been introduced to the non-alcoholic category such as stout, IPA, and radler.
Today it seems like a new non-alcoholic beer is being launched almost weekly. And it's not just the independents and craft brewers reacting any more. Anheuser-Busch InBev launched a non-alcoholic version of their flagship brand Budweiser called Prohibition Brew as a test in Canada earlier this summer (see review here) with plans to expand globally soon. Will we soon see non-alcoholic versions of other popular brands like Heineken, Corona, Guinness, and Stella Artois become available in North America? Or will it be the big craft brewers like Sam Adams, Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada or Steam Whistle that take up the call? Only time will tell which interesting beers will enter the non-alcoholic arena next but just the thought has us non-alcoholic beer drinkers feeling tipsy about the possibilities.