Non-Alcoholic Beverages Bring On the Flavor

Woodland Farm Brewery N/A IPA. Photo courtesy Will Zimmerman

Woodland Farm Brewery N/A IPA. Photo courtesy Will Zimmerman

Non-alcoholic craft beverages have been growing in popularity over the last few years—and with good reason. As consumers increasingly desire fewer calories, improved health, or want to moderate their drinking habits, craft beverage producers are upping their game in terms of quality and variety. These days, NA beers and beverages are on point with the style trends and appealing flavors of their alcoholic counterparts.

“I am a big fan of the whole NA movement that is developing,” said Ruby Warrington, the Brooklyn-based author of Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol. “I think these products are hugely helpful for anybody committed to changing up their drinking habits.”

For Warrington, who hosts a podcast of the same name, a Facebook community page, and events for those interested in giving up alcohol, the expression “sober curious” means “being in an active process of inquiry about your relationship with alcohol, and being honest with yourself about the true impact of drinking on your life and overall well-being.”

While cutting out alcohol means cutting calories, carbs, and sugar, it doesn’t have to mean skimping on flavor. Woodland Farms Brewery was the first in Maine to hop on board the NA beer wagon with Pointer Non-Alcoholic IPA, which uses Amarillo, Cascade, Mosaic, and Galaxy hops as well as Maine malt.

The juicy New England-style NA IPA became a passion project of owner and head brewer Patrick Rowan, inspired by his uncle, a longtime fan of the non-alcoholic beers he drinks on trips to Germany, where NA beers are quite popular. Rowan worked on perfecting the recipe for three years, consulting with the Technical University of Munich to decide which brewing process would work best for him since there are a few different paths to eliminating alcohol in brews.

Rowan followed the IPA release with Witty, a German-style wheat beer and a raspberry sour called Ruby and will soon add a stout and other fall surprises to the brewery’s NA lineup, which is available in shops throughout the state and at the Kittery brewery.

Kit Brewing L-R: brewer Simon Burhoe, co-founder Will Fisher, brewer Adrian Beck-Oliver at this year's hops harvest in Yakima, Wa. Photo courtesy Kit Brewing.

Kit Brewing L-R: brewer Simon Burhoe, co-founder Will Fisher, brewer Adrian Beck-Oliver at this year’s hops harvest in Yakima, Wa. Photo courtesy Kit Brewing.

Kit Brewing, which will open later this year in Portland, is going all-in on NA. They plan to brew NA beers exclusively. Through a chance encounter between co-founders Rob Barrett, owner of Barrett Made Architecture + Construction, and Will Fisher, head of operations at Austin Street Brewery, the two connected when Fisher contacted Barrett to do some work at the brewery. They got to talking about the beer industry and when their paths crossed again a few months later, Barrett, who cut alcohol out of his life two years ago, asked Fisher if he’d be interested in starting a NA brewery. Fisher, who still enjoys beer, but has also cut back on his alcohol intake considerably over the last year, got quickly on board with the idea.

Their first release will be an American blonde named On Your Mark, an easy-drinking brew with a citrusy and lemony hop profile. Fisher said they’re working on a lager and an IPA, which they hope to release in 2022. They’re aiming for wide distribution to retailers, restaurants, bars, and breweries and plan on an on-site tasting room to open sometime next year.

The name of the brewery came out of the idea that their NA beers can be a part of one’s toolkit in life. “Whether you kick the night off with a regular strength drink and switch to Kit, use Kit to stick to your dry January resolution, or fill your fridge with Kit because alcohol is not a part of your lifestyle, Kit will provide the go-to option many of us are looking for,” Fisher said.

Move over Shirley Temple

If beer is not your thing, there are plenty of other NA options to enjoy that won’t leave you feeling like you’re sitting at the kid’s table. More restaurants these days are putting mocktails on the menu, making them with hand-crafted ingredients.

Portland’s sophisticated sweet shop Gross Confection Bar, owned by chef Brant Dadaleares, who is sober himself, makes their mocktails with house-made tonics and shrubs. Around the corner, Black Cow Burgers & Fries offers up elevated house-made sodas, such as the Brooklyn egg cream or ginger lemongrass.

Vena’s Fizz House makes it easy to create NA cocktails at home. They’ve been perfecting their non-alcoholic fizzy creations for eight years in downtown Portland. While preparing to reopen in their new space, (which will house a bar, retail, and an event space for mixology classes, with a soft opening slated for the holidays) patrons can browse an extensive menu of mocktail ingredients, such as Maine-based Royal Rose syrups, flavored sugar cubes, and bitters in their online shop.

Mary Jo Marquis, Vena’s director of business development, said some people are intimidated by the idea of making craft drinks, but the basis of any good drink is just something sweet, something sour, plus one more thing. 

“We’re a fizz house,” she said, “So, everything’s gotta have a little fizz. And you can take it in any direction from there.”

With so many NA options, why not give one a try with one of Vena’s online mocktail classes or a Maine-made NA beer?  

Catie Joyce-Bulay is a Waterville-based freelance writer with a focus on craft beer, farming and local food systems, and she’s looking forward to her next NA beer.

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