Is This The Best Non-Alcoholic Beer Alternative On The Market?

As someone who writes about alcohol for a living, it’s astonishing how often I now get pitched on products that don’t contain any actual alcohol in them. The reason should be somewhat obvious: the so-called “sober curious” movement is growing by leaps and bounds. This cuts across all segments of booze, spanning beer, wine and spirits. Market research tells us it’s being driven by a new generation of drinker who wants to be healthier when they go out…Which often equates to consuming less alcohol.

Suddenly, a deluge of zero-proof options have sprung up catering to their needs. I want to like some of them, I really do. In their best iterations they are marketed quite shrewdly. And who doesn’t want to feel like part of a trending movement? I just haven’t felt compelled to write about any of these alternatives because virtually all of them are wholly uninteresting—if not downright insulting—to my palate.

Whenever I’m taking a break from booze, sparkling water is my weapon of choice. It’s crisp, refreshing and invariably cheaper than the overpriced, cloyingly sweet, soft drinks disguised as the “N/A section” of modern bar menus. Then I discovered something spectacular in fizzy form: Hopped seltzer. Finally an alcoholic alternative worth writing about.

This is a category with purpose. When done properly, it delivers the bitter, rusty-metal tonality that hopheads crave; a viable stand-in from a flavor standpoint and it does so without even a single calorie. If you’re going N/A for health reasons, you might as well forego the 200-some-odd calories waiting for you in a typical tallboy of pale ale.

There are a growing number of examples on the market, but my personal favorite at the moment is Hoplark 0.0 Really Really Hoppy. The Boulder, Colorado-based operation had already made a splash in the beverage space with its sparkling HopTea offerings tailored towards iced tea aficionados. For this new series they wanted to mimic the profile of a traditional West Coast IPA.

They accomplish the feat by double dry hopping soda water with simcoe and citra hops—two usual suspects from the world of craft beer. It’s convincing enough execution that when I crack open a can in the morning my brain questions why I’m indulging in a brewski for breakfast. This sleight of hand does not come cheap, however. A 12-pack will set you back $39—over $3 per 16-oz can.

The company offers discounts for those who sign up for a subscription service, which also affords first dibs on new hopped offerings. “Their monthly Hop Explorer series is exciting me as much today as any rare beer release,” admits Aaron Goldfarb, beer writer/author, and outspoken critic of the NA trend. “I particularly enjoyed the recent Anniversary Blend with citra, Sabro, and mosaic.”

For those that don’t mind a hint of fruit flavoring to go along with their bitters, HOP WTR is worthy of exploration. The line of hopped seltzers comes in four different flavors in addition to “Classic” and promises adaptogens and nootropics to go along with each. Lime is a standout, infused with Mosaic, Azacca, Citra, and Amarillo hop varieties.

Athletic Brewing gets even more inventive with the fruit flavoring in its Daypack line of non-alcoholic brews. They’re also the most affordable at $10 per six-pack, though a seasoned hophead will likely be thirsting for something more unabashedly IPA-like.

As an emerging style, hopped seltzer is currently confined mainly to the off-premise. I have yet to see any examples listed on menu at my local watering holes. I hope to see that change in the months ahead. Because this is the first—and only—category of alcoholic alternatives that I’m happy to put on my bar bill.

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