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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Dry January and the Potential of NA Beer

Since I started writing this blog and otherwise reporting on the beer industry, I've taken an alcohol sabbatical almost every January. I do it to shock my system, reset my metabolism and to dump some of the pounds I gain drinking too much beer the rest of the year.

As many who work in and around the industry know, it's tough staying away from beer for a month. I haven't been able to stay away entirely because of stuff I'm writing for the upcoming Oregon Beer Guide. But mostly I'm not drinking.

Sooner or later, my millennial friends will understand. They'll see that their metabolisms have slowed and won't keep up with their craft beer consumption. Craft beer is loaded with calories from carbs and alcohol. You can't burn all those calories with exercise, so you get fat. For most, it's that simple.

Alcohol is the big problem, obviously. When I had a personal trainer a few years ago, she routinely told me I needed to stop drinking if I wanted to get the full benefits of our workouts. I didn't consider my body to be a temple and I didn't care about an abdominal six-pack. So I ignored her.

She was right about alcohol, though. She had enough education to know the human body treats alcohol as a sort of poison, regardless of whether its from beer, wine or spirits. When you consume it, your body concentrates on turning it into fuel. Whatever it can't immediately use as fuel is stored as fat.

Staying off beer for a month apparently allows my body to catch up and burn some of the fat that's been stored. I've never completely stayed off beer. My initial approach was to substitute light beer for the good stuff. Beers like Michelob Ultra, Bud Select and other tasteless, low calorie garbage.

The light beer approach was always a lousy solution. Those beers typically have a fraction of the carbs you find in craft beer. They have less alcohol, too, but they still have alcohol. So I eventually started looking at non-alcohol beers. They have the advantage of having almost no alcohol and very low carbs. They have the disadvantage of not tasting very good.

In fact, there aren't that many non-alcohol beer choices in this country. Some of the most common options are O'Doul's, Coors NA, Becks NA, St. Pauli NA, Bitburger Drive. These are pretty crappy beers. I recently discovered, Clausthaler, which is a made in Germany and dry hopped to improve the flavor and aroma. It's the best one I've found to date.

It seems to me that we ought to have more and better choices. Non-alcohol beer has apparently gained a decent following in Europe, particularly Germany and Spain. One source describes it as "almost a mainstream option in those countries."

Of course, non-alcohol beers are an easier sell in Europe. Over there, people are accustomed to low ABV beers...that's what they drink. Going from 4 or 5 percent to .5 percent, the common ABV in NA beers, isn't such a big deal. But craft beer fans in America are addicted to 7 percent IPAs and tend to associate low ABV with poor value. Non-alcoholic beer is persona non grata here.

Nonetheless, more (and hopefully better) NA beers are coming to the US market. Mired in declining overall growth, the industry is taking a more serious look at the potential of non-alcoholic beer. When the sky is falling, you consider desperate options, I suppose. The non-alcoholic beer segment has grown steadily in Europe while the overall beer market slumped.

The NA beer segment is barely a blip in the US...just .3 percent of off-premise sales according to Brewbound. But the industry looks at the crazy success of a beer like Michelob Ultra, a lifestyle product, and sees potential dollars. With some millennials already beginning to look for healthier options, non-alcoholic beer could turn out to be a growth vehicle here.

It's ironic, right? The opposing forces of people seeking healthier lifestyles and the beer industry needing a spark may merge to bring us better non-alcoholic beer options. Dry Januaries may be easier to swallow at some point. Let's hope.

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