I taste-tested 5 brands of non-alcoholic beer, and there was one I’d happily order at a bar

The five non-alcoholic beer options for this experiment.

caption
The five non-alcoholic beer options for this experiment.
source
Emma Taylor/Insider
  • I taste-tested five non-alcoholic beers during Dry January, a time when many people give up drinking for the month.
  • The process was a blind-tasting, so I did not know which out of the five I was trying.
  • I picked beers from Brewdog, Brooklyn, Heineken, Clausthaler, and Budweiser based on their availability in both the US and the UK. I also wanted to include a couple of well-known companies and some smaller breweries.
  • Expecting them all to be watery and weak, I was proved wrong when most turned out to be pretty good alternatives to regular alcoholic beers.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more details.

With the rise of Dry January and the consciously sober movement, non-alcoholic drinks are an exploding market. Once mostly the reserve of pregnant people and other non-drinkers, alcohol-free beverages have come a long way from the choice between soft drinks or ghostly imitations of their alcoholic counterparts.

To be completely transparent, I do regularly drink alcohol and have never participated in Dry January or given up alcohol for any reason. At the moment, my alcohol consumption is on the lower side, and I suspect that might have something to do with the fact that the person I am most likely to have a glass of wine with is expecting a baby in the spring.

I will admit, I had some preconceptions about non-alcoholic beers. I was expecting them to taste weak, watery, and to be poor alternatives to “normal beers.” I was also asked for ID when buying four of these beers, so bear that in mind if you’re going to the store to get your own.

Although I was proved wrong during this taste-test of non-alcoholic beers, I couldn’t help but miss the warm and relaxing buzz that drinking alcohol gives.

I am no beer-connoisseur or a fountain of fermenting knowledge, I just like a beer on occasion. This is what I found out.


I picked five non-alcoholic beers and brands that were available in the US as well as the UK (much easier said than done).

caption
Me with my selection of warm beers because I didn’t think to put them in the fridge the morning of this taste test.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

My reasoning behind the selection was to include a couple of really mainstream beer brands (like Heineken and Budweiser) as well a few lesser-known up-and-comers since that’s sometimes where the magic can happen.


For the best results, it was decided that I would taste the beers without knowing which ones they were. The process was incredibly scientific and technical.

caption
The blind-tasting process was highly meticulous.
source
Emma Taylor/Insider

To preserve the drinks’ anonymity, my editor noted down the beers and numbered them from one to five in no particular order. She then poured out each beer into glasses, each with a corresponding number, while my back was turned.


First up, beer number one.

caption
The first beer I tried.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

Color-wise, it was one of two drink options which was on the dark amber side.

caption
It’s passable so far.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

On sight, this beer had some decent bubbling from the bottom of the glass and had a light layer of foam. All looked perfectly normal so far.


The first note was fruity, followed by a hoppy smell.

caption
Good bubbles, a thin surface of foam, and hoppy smell are all standard so far.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

It tasted like it smelled too, and those bubbles lent themselves to a normal beer mouthfeel (the correct term apparently). The most surprising thing was that it was actually really pleasant. I could see myself ordering this if I was off the hard stuff and not hating my choice.


On second sip, if someone told me this was a cool craft beer brand with inflated ideals that was brewed in a warehouse in a gentrified area, I would believe them no questions asked.

caption
The taste came across like a craft beer.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

I still liked it, though. No one would feel out of place propped up against bar cradling a glass of this stuff – you’d blend in seamlessly with the boozy-beverage crowd.


It was Brooklyn Special Effects 0.4%

caption
A solid non-alcoholic beer.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

I wasn’t far off the mark.

It looks like a beer, it smells like a beer, it tastes like a (slightly pretentious) beer; it’s a beer.

Score: 4/5


Up next, beer number two.

caption
My second beer to taste.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

Another dark ale-color, this beer looked like it belonged to a gnarled older gentleman who sits in the same corner of the same bar every day, and orders the same drink.

caption
The second beer had a defined foam head and radiated the smell of hops into the room.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

The second beer had a very strong hoppy smell and left a pleasing webbed trail of foam down the glass that reminded me of English countryside pubs and jackets flecked with mud.


Considerably darker than the beers I usually drink, I was expecting to be surprised like I was with beer number one.

caption
Bottoms up.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

My reaction was involuntary facial contortions and slamming down the glass.

caption
A picture is worth a 1,000 words.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

I did not like it. The hop smell was too strong for me, and the heavier taste mirrored the scent. There was a tang as well, which I wasn’t keen on, and the beer bubbles felt more like a fizz. In the interest of being fair, it is most probably down to my own palate as I tend to veer towards lighter beers. If someone is a lover of stronger-tasting beers, then you might enjoy this one. It just wasn’t for me.


Number two was BrewDog Nanny State.

caption
BrewDog Nanny state didn’t cut it for me.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

The only things I liked about this drink were the foamy head and rich color.

Score: 2/5


Number three — ready?

caption
Now we’re onto beer number three.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

First impressions count, and when the beer came out looking like apple juice, I was worried.

caption
No foam, then go home.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

The glaring lack of foam put me off straight away, and although the picture doesn’t clearly show it, there was a distinct lack of bubbles. The color was a nice pale gold, but again, I was already anticipating it to taste like beer-flavored water – exactly what I thought a non-alcoholic beer would be.


Looking for the almost non-existent bubbles.

caption
Number two was not putting on a show so far.
source
Ali Millington

I was expecting a watery taste, and although the lack of bubbles gave the beer a juice-like consistency, it was pretty nice.

caption
The liquid consistency of the beer was quite thin.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

Number three came through on a decent flavor with notes of apple and a delicate “normal beer” taste.


Doing a poor rendition of the “woman trying Kombucha” meme, I was initially undecided whether I liked this beer.

caption
There was a lot to not like about this non-alcoholic beer.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

The taste was nice, verging on good. But the lack of bubbles or foam was a let-down even though it tasted light.


Budweiser Alcohol-Free Beer was contestant number three.

caption
This would probably be a great beer if you’re alcohol-free over the summer months or if you want something light.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

Ah Budweiser, for me it’s the flavor of teenage house parties. But this wasn’t all bad.

There were quite a few negative points against this beer, though had it been served cold (my own mistake I know), I imagine this would be a refreshing no-alcohol option at a summer barbecue or picnic. It balances a light-feeling taste but with a hint of the traditional beer flavor in the background.

Score: 3/5


The penultimate non-alcoholic beer, number four.

caption
Getting near the end with option number four.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

Points for an average ring of foam, a golden color, a good parade of bubbles, and a normal beer smell.

source
Ali Millington/Insider

It passes the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” test. No one would know just by looking at this glass that the contents wouldn’t give you a raging desire for carbs after sinking a few.


This tasted like a mediocre beer. There was no over-the-top fruit flavors or overpowering notes of hop.

caption
Cheers!
source
Ali Millington/Insider

The consistency was normal too. Not as thin as the Budweiser from number three, but not as heavy as BrewDog back at number two.


My first impression was this beer tasted like a brand. It was so recognizable to me, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

caption
You can practically see the cogs in my brain trying to turn.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

This beer was the only time I made a guess throughout the entire tasting, as I told my editor it tasted like an established brand. My guess turned out to be wrong, though.


I guessed Budweiser, but it was the Heineken Non-Alcoholic 0.0.

caption
The taste was great and I would not be able to distinguish between this and Heineken’s normal beer at 5% ABV.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

Of course it was a big-brand beer. The look, the foam, the bubbles, the taste, the smell, have all been chiseled and honed by millions of dollars of consumer research. I honestly would not be able to tell the difference between this non-alcoholic beer and Heineken’s standard 5% ABV.

Score: 4/5


The final contender, beer number five.

caption
The last beer to taste.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

If this taste-test was a beauty contest, number five would be a clear winner.

source
Ali Millington/Insider

This was a prime specimen of what you’d want any beer to look like. The strong foamy head was pronounced, the rich golden hue was almost glowing, and a touch cloudy. The smell could simply be categorized as “nice beer,” and the beads of bubbles were the strongest out of the whole lot.


Ever skeptical of a pretty face, I kept an open mind when taking a sip.

caption
The taste was the closest to lager out of all the ones I tried.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

Oh, this was good. Really good. The taste was the closest to lager, with a surprising sweet citrus note to balance out the beer bitterness.


Clausthaler Unfiltered was beer number five.

caption
Number five ticked all my beer boxes.
source
Ali Millington/Insider

Number five ticked all my boxes (bubbles, foam, taste, smell, etc.) and German brand Clausthaler has produced an excellent low-alcohol product. I even liked the classy label.

At 0.5% ABV, this beer is technically not alcohol-free, but at this percentage, a healthy adult human will not be able to get drunk drinking this beer, according to low-alcohol review site Steady Drinker.

My only concern would be it goes down a little too easily without the presence of alcohol slowing the pace down. You might be spending more time in the bathroom than socializing if you’re chugging these all night.

Score: 5/5


The Clausthaler Unfiltered Dry Hopped Lager wiped the floor with the rest of the alcoholic beers in my opinion.

caption
And the winner is…
source
Ali Millington/Insider

This experiment opened my eyes to the world of non-alcoholic beers, and they weren’t as terrible as I was expecting. In fact, if I was ever off the booze, I would happily order a bottle of Clausthaler at a bar as a substitute.

Read more:

Budweiser’s parent company is preparing for Gen Z to ditch booze with more alcohol-free beers

10 foods that were wildly popular in 2019

Certain beers are ‘very good for you’ and improve gut health, according to a Dutch scientist

You can now book a stay at a dog-friendly mini-hotel in Scotland where every room has a beer fridge in the shower