Nonalcoholic beer’s popularity on the rise among consumers, prompting C.O. breweries to introduce their own

(Update: adding video, comments from Deschutes Brewery CEO, Brewers Association chief economist)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2022, 68.2% of those surveyed reported having at least one alcoholic drink in the last year, down from 70.7% in 2017. With the trend of drinking less, some consumers are turning to a nonalcoholic option, prompting local and national breweries to release their own lines of NA beer.

Deschutes Brewery, which recently introduced its Fresh-Squeezed Non-Alcoholic IPA, conducted research over the last five years, investing $5 million into research and development. Based on their research, they found that “according to a Mintel study, 75% of Gen Z and Millennials are interested in non-alcoholic options, with taste and flavor being the No. 1 attribute they’re looking for in products.”

Deschutes Brewery CEO Peter Skrbek said Wednesday, “We really accepted it five years ago as a technical challenge, because it’s enormously difficult to make a beer that is full-fidelity, the full experience of a normal beer, just without alcohol. And what I mean by that is having aroma, flavor, body and mouthfeel, all the things that make a great craft beer. 

He said what drove the research was the new trend of consumers toward non-alcoholic beverages 

Bart Watson, the chief economist at the Brewers Association, told us, “We’ve seen generally a lot of growth in nonalcoholic beer in the last few years. It’s still a small part of the beer market. A little bit more than 1% right now, but that’s gone up a lot. We’ve seen that basically double in the last few years. ”

Watson says nonalcoholic beer sales reached over 400 million dollars in the last 52 weeks likely indicating total sales to be over 1 billion dollars over the last year. 

Deschutes Brewery in Bend is among those responding to this trend. According to Deschutes Brewery, the non-alcoholic beer option in the brewing industry rose 163% in sales between 2019 and 2023. 

“One of the most interesting parts about this growth in Nonalcoholic is it’s being fueled by people who drink alcohol,” Watson said. He continued, “more than 80% of the sales of nonalcoholic adult beverage products come from people also by beverage alcohol. So this isn’t people going completely without drinking alcohol. It’s people looking to add moderation in particular occasions. Yeah, definitely.”

According to  National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2022, 68.2% reported having at least one drink in the last year, , down ever so slightly from 70.7% in 2017 

Skrbek says, much of the drive to non-alcoholic beer in the US has to do with flavor being a more important aspect. 

Watson also noted, “We’re seeing not just, you know, nonalcoholic mass lagers, but smaller brewers producing, you know, fuller-flavored options, craft IPAs that are nonalcoholic and craft porters that are not alcoholic. And that shows up in the market share numbers.”

He said nearly 40% of this market right now is owned by craft brewers, and that’s much higher than their share overall.

Deschutes Brewery also notes flavor as an important aspect and says their goal was to achieve the same level of hops, flavor and aroma in the nonalcoholic beer so that it doesn’t get lost in the process. 

Srbek said, “And that was that was really a huge part of the objective — to deliver the full flavor, the full-taste experience, just without alcohol.”

Deschutes Brewery partnered with Sustainable Beverage technologies to use their patented technology BrewVo to achieve nonalcoholic beer. The process is fairly simple, involving reverse osmosis that essentially filters out the alcohol. 

“So what you do is, you’re taking beer that contains alcohol and you’re pushing it through a membrane, which is like a really fine filter, and you’re literally pushing out the molecules that you’re looking to get rid of.

“In this case, it’s the smallest molecules pass through the filter, and those are water and ethanol — Alcohol. And so what you’re left behind with is everything except some of the water and the alcohol. And then you just add back a bit of water carbonate, and you’re on your way to a really tasty beer.”

Deschutes Non-Alcoholic Fresh-Squeeze IPA is less than 0.5% ABV (Alcohol By Volume), Deschutes Brewery also wanted to offer an alternative to drinking beer to be more inclusive to those who do not participate.

Skrbek said, “When you go to a party, and your choices are either you have some kind of beverage with alcohol or you’re relegated to water or a nonalcoholic seltzer or a seltzer, it just – it always kind of struck me as unfair.”

“Why not be part of it, regardless of whether or not you want to have alcohol or not — why not be part of that occasion and make it a more holistic kind of community thing?” he added.

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