Non-alcoholic beer gaining traction at the Great American Beer Festival

A 1-ounce beer sample may not sound like much, but at the 40th annual Great American Beer Festival, where roughly 500 breweries will be pouring more than 2,000 different beers Oct. 6-8, those small but unlimited tastes can add up quickly, sometimes too quickly.

But not everyone who goes to GABF goes to get drunk — or even buzzed. This year, 10 different breweries will serve 22 non-alcoholic beers on the festival floor, and there will once again be a “designated driver lounge” where attendees can sample many of them.

Behind the scenes, 73 beers were entered into competition in GABF’s Non-Alcohol category, which returned in 2019 after a 15-year hiatus (Only 17 NA beers competed that year.)

“Based on the increase in competition registrations, it certainly seems to be gaining interest with brewers at GABF,” said Ann Obenchain, the spokesperson for the Boulder-based Brewers Association, the national trade group that organizes the festival. “NA beer is up 18.6% in dollar sales versus a year ago, so it would make sense that it would attract more brewery interest.”

Some of the breweries are dedicated non-alcoholic beer companies, including Connecticut’s Athletic Brewing, along with Gruvi and Ceria Brewing, both based in Colorado. But many more are regular breweries that now offer some non-alcoholic products. Those include Sierra Nevada, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewing, Michigan’s Lakefront Brewing, and Brooklyn Brewery. And a Canadian NA brewery called Partake is actually sponsoring part of the fest.

“I’m very happy to see the category expand,” said Keith Villa, the founder of Ceria Brewing, which will have a booth at GABF and donated beer to the designated driver’s area.

Ceria got its start in 2018 when there were only a handful of NA beers available. “Now, there are many more brands in the market and consumers are starting to realize that the flavors are as varied as the ones found in the general craft beer market,” said Villa, who previously worked for MillerCoors for 32 years, helping to create the Blue Moon brand.

And while that might be a slight exaggeration, there certainly are a wider variety of non-alcoholic beers these days than just a few years ago, including wheat beers, IPAs, stouts and blondes.

At the festival, Ceria will have a Belgian-style wit and an IPA. Deschutes from Oregon will serve a non-alcoholic version of its flagship Black Butte Porter, while Athletic Brewing will pour three NA IPAs, along with a tropical sour and a golden ale. Michigan’s  Lakefront will have an amber lager.

Niki Sawni, the founder and CEO of Denver-based Gruvi, is excited to see the extra booths, but she wants more: “We’d love to get to a point where we’re also judging NA by style similar to alcoholic beers,” she told The Denver Post. “Eventually, if not by next year, they’ll get there.”

Gruvi hasn’t won a medal at GABF yet, but the beverage maker did win gold at the World Beer Cup earlier in 2022 for its non-alcoholic Golden Lager — and Sawni said the company is providing NA beers to several of the larger GABF events around the city. “We’ve received a much warmer welcome this year than past years to ensure most events have an NA.”

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