For years, there, it always seemed like “a rise in non-alcoholic beer” was a prediction that appeared as standard boilerplate in “where is the industry going from here?” prognostications. Each year, more drinkers affirm an interest in healthier living, and as overall consumption rates continue to slowly fall, it seems natural that some of that segment would drift toward the place-holder of N/A beer. In practice, though, it would seem that in recent years, a lot of those former drinkers simply skipped over the oft-joked-about N/A beer segment altogether.
There are signs of a stirring, though. The N/A beer segment is finally starting to boom in the way that so many predicted for so long, with more new products appearing on the market, and old standbys like O’Douls seeing a resurgence. One of the major beneficiaries has been Heineken, whose 2019 release of Heineken 0.0 was met with surprising favor from many publications, Paste included. Having sampled that particular beer more often in the months to follow, we will affirm what we said before: Not only is Heineken 0.0 pretty decent, it’s honestly better than regular Heineken.
And now, craft brewers are getting in on the segment as well. I’ve already seen several new N/A brands popping up on a small scale from craft breweries available in the vicinity of my Richmond, VA home, but they’ve mostly been limited releases. Brooklyn Brewery’s new Special Effects, on the other hand, is a hoppy amber lager that could be poised to take the category by storm in a bigger way. It brings both a new product and a new niche to the non-alcoholic beer market.
The first thing one is inevitably going to notice, assessing Special Effects is that this beer is pouring a deep amber color, and thus you should immediately be able to deduce that it’s not attempting to provide a non-alcoholic version of American light lager. This is indeed a lager, but it’s one that is equally driven by toasty malt and American hops. Despite the lager least used, the closest comparison would be a classical American amber ale—a bit ironic, given our recent essay on that style’s decline. Note: Despite the “non-alcoholic” title, it still does possess a tiny bit of alcohol, around 0.4% ABV, something those who have to/want to eschew alcohol entirely will want to be aware of.
On the nose, Special Effects possesses a unique profile of strong black tea-like maltiness, seguing into florals, Christmas tree-esque pine and a spritz of fresh grapefruit zest. That grapefruit impression strengthens over time until the nose seems to possess a strong citrus accent, although this is more in the dimension of zest and pith than the juiciness and implied sweetness that the U.S. craft beer consumer has come to expect.
On the palate, Special Effects features a solid balance between malt and hop impressions. Mildly sweet and toasty, it gives off impressions of crusty bread and black tea maltiness, along with mild floral and grassy hops, chased by a clean note of grapefruit. More than anything, it’s an uncomplicated palate in terms of your average U.S. beer release, but among the N/A world it’s actually more complex than most. Special Effects is ultimately quite easy to drink, with a subtle sweetness and well-balanced hops that never threaten to demand its reclassification as “India pale lager.”
As I continue to explore N/A beer as a method of occasionally reducing my own alcohol consumption, I am drawn to products like Special Effects that bring something new and interesting to the equation. For a bone-dry, relatively featureless lager, I can always turn to the Heineken 0.0, after all. This, on the other hand, can be inserted into just about anywhere you’d want a beer with a bit more malty chew, and a bit more hoppy bite. We’d love to see Brooklyn continue expanding their N/A exploration into other quasi-craft beer styles, but for now, we’ll simply be happy that Special Effects exists.
Brewery: Brooklyn Brewery
City: Brooklyn, NYC
Style: N/A hoppy amber lager
ABV: .4% ABV (roughly)
Availability: 12 oz cans
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident craft beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more drinks writing.