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The story of Non-Alcoholic Beer in the US.

The story of Non-Alcoholic Beer in the US.

NA Beer History 101 - Non-Alcoholic Beer's Roots in America

It feels like everywhere we go these days we see more and more non-alcoholic beer available at bars, restaurants, and stores.

Just a few years ago it was a sight seldom seen. However, today it's growing in popularity. It got us thinking, how long has non-alcoholic beer been around? We teamed up with our friends at NA Beer Club to do a little research into the history of non-alcoholic beer in America.

The Origins of ‘Near Beer’

In 1920, American lawmakers passed the Volstead Act which made alcohol illegal in the United States. Alcohol was no longer legal from 1920 up until 1933. American brewers had 13 years to get creative in order to keep their doors open or risk going out of business. Some major brewers used their existing equipment to refrigerate things like dairy products as a service. Some tried producing their own sodas and malted milk. Others continued to brew beer legally for "medicinal purposes". Anheuser Busch and Pabst were some of the first to create what many, at the time, called ‘near beer', which was beer with an alcohol-by-volume (ABV) of under 0.5%. They would make near beer by brewing their regular beer, and then boil off the alcohol before selling it to consumers. However, many would keep the distilled, boiled-out alcohol and include it in a small, hidden package along with the near-beer. Consumers would squirt the alcohol into the beer with a syringe. This became known as ‘needle-beer‘ After 1933 and the repeal of prohibition, people unsurprisingly stopped purchasing as much near beer, or needle-beer for that matter.

Brewed for the Middle East

Fast forward from prohibition to the 1970’s. Manny Zelzer was a Texan working in the oil industry. He traveled back and forth between Texas and the Middle East a lot for work. He made friends abroad who had developed a liking for American beer when they were visiting the states. They often asked him to bring some back to the Middle East for them to drink. However, many of the Middle-Eastern nations he traveled to had strict laws against consuming alcohol, and smuggling alcohol would land him in a lot of trouble. Manny decided to take his favorite American beers, boil off the alcohol, repackage it, and bring it to his Middle-Eastern friends so that they could enjoy drinking beer without breaking the law. Thus, the new NA beer brand Texas Select He packaged and sold his new non-alcoholic beer in the Middle East and expanded to other areas like Japan, Canada, and Korea. As one of the first brewers of post-prohibition non-alcoholic beer beer, they cleared the way for the many NA brands we have today. This story of Texas Select isn't so different from what Anheuser Busch experienced recently with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Alcohol sales were banned in the soccer stadiums, preventing them from selling any beer except for Bud Zero, their line of non-alcoholic beer.

The Rise of O'Doul's

Fast forward a few more years to 1990, when O’Doul’s hit the market. O'Doul's may be the most well-known, and heavily debated, non-alcoholic beer brands in America. They were a necessary development to the growth of NA beer in America today. O’Doul’s was the first mainstream NA beers that you could find widely available. While most people didn’t care for the taste, or questioned why anyone would drink non-alcoholic beer, it was one of the first beer brands to introduce Americans to the idea of NA beer, letting people know that there were alternatives to drinking beer and that it was okay.

Creating NA Beer History Today

Since the late 2010’s and early 2020’s, craft NA beer has been growing in popularity, slowly following the craft beer craze. American brewers like Athletic Brewing and Wellbeing rose up, advocating for a healthy alternative to craft beer. Even small, independent brewers like Atmos Brewing and AL’s have entered the non-alcoholic beer ring while other major brewers like Heineken and Guinness have followed. Today, every brewer should look look into non-alcoholic versions of their beer and a lot are finally realizing it. The craft NA space will look totally different in the next few years. Brewing methods have changed since the early days of boiling off alcohol and brands are making NAs that are just as good as the real, leaded beer. Today you can buy NA beer online, at the grocery store, at the bar, or even through non-alcoholic beer-of-the-month subscription services. The selection is great and the options are growing. Along with our friends today, we’re not just just studying the history of NA beer, we’re creating it.

About NA Beer Club

NA Beer Club is monthly subscription to help you discover your new favorite non-alcoholic craft beer. Sign up yourself, or someone else, for a subscription to explore and sample a variety of NA beers. A membership to NA Beer Club is the first step toward becoming a connoisseur of non-alcoholic craft beer. If you'd like to read more about NA beer news and stories, check out their NA Beer Blog.
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