Six non-alcoholic beers put to the taste test

Alcohol-free beer Heaps Normal is outselling regular beers at many bottle shops and bars across the country. But does it ...
Alcohol-free beer Heaps Normal is outselling regular beers at many bottle shops and bars across the country. But does it pass the taste test? Photo: Supplied

In the beginning there was Claytons, "the drink you have when you're not having a drink". Coopers began brewing its ultra-light Birell in the 1980s and by the 2000s, Edenvale's Sparkling Cuvee was stocked near the Diet Coke at Coles.

Non-alcoholic booze alternatives aren't new, but in the past three years, and particularly post-pandemic, the category's popularity has skyrocketed.

James Atkinson, a certified beer cicerone and host of the Drinks Adventures podcast joined Good Food to taste booze-free beers.

Zero-alcohol craft beer arguably has the most potential for deliciousness and new releases from Sobah, Big Drop and Bridge Road Brewers are highly anticipated.

To round things out, Good Food also sampled alcohol-free spirits and wines. Drinks were scored for taste, aroma and body in their own right, rather than in comparison to the hard stuff.

Alcohol-free drinks taste test 2021 for Good Food. Low res composite image for online only. Beers in cans

From left: UpFlow, Heaps Normal and Carlton Zero. Photo: Wolter Peeters

UpFlow Brewing Co Non-Alcoholic Stout, 355ml, $4.50

Score: 3.5/5

One of three beers available from Melbourne's first non-alcoholic craft brewery, founded in 2020. "Lovely aroma – super chocolatey and fruity," says Atkinson. "It lacks finish and there's a little bit of bitterness sticking out, but overall this is pretty good."

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Heaps Normal Quiet XPA, 355ml, $4.50

Score: 4.5/5

No. 1 with a bullet. "There's hop aroma as soon as you open the can, which is impressive for any beer, not just a non-alcoholic," says Atkinson regarding this Canberra-brewed ale. "It falls away slightly at the end, but this is a bloody good drop."

Carlton Zero, 375ml, $3

Score: 2.5/5

When Carlton launched this lager in 2018, it was the first non-alcoholic beer in its 180-year history. Pours nicely with a frothy head and subtle honey aroma, but the palate is almost sweet enough to bring on a headache. Consume ice-cold to mask the faults.

Alcohol-free drinks taste test 2021 for Good Food. Low res composite image for online only. Bottled beers

From left: Nort Refreshing Lager, Heineken Zero and Road Runner Coffee Stout. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Nort Refreshing Ale, 330ml, $4

Score: 3/5

One of the lowest energy counts of non-alcoholic beers tasted, with only 204 kilojoules per serve. A smooth palate leads to a lingering, bitter aftertaste.

"There's a harshness at the end I don't enjoy," says Atkinson, "but the aroma is nice and fruity."

Heineken Zero, 330ml, $2.90

Score: 3.5/5

"Not a lot of excitement to be had, but this is fine," says Atkinson. "There's certainly more bitterness and balance compared to other non-alcoholic lagers I've tasted. It even reminds me a bit of the real Heineken with its slightly fruity aroma." Drink ice-cold.

Road Runner Coffee Stout, 330ml, $5.90

Score: 3/5

As with many non-alcoholic beers, drinking this German release is like walking up an escalator that isn't switched on. All the components are there except the zip. "The coffee notes are very pronounced but it needs more bitterness," says Atkinson.

This article appears in Good Food in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale May 2.