At this point, I’ve been a booster for the spread of non-alcoholic “craft” beer styles for years. It’s not that I intend to stop drinking regular, alcohol-laden beer anytime soon, but I do appreciate the option to indulge in a similar beverage without taking in the additional alcohol whenever I so choose. Whether it’s drinking a Heineken 0.0 while cooking dinner, or switching over to N/A beer at the end of the night before driving home, these products simply represent a welcome option in my mind.
With that said, I truly can understand the dismissiveness with which many drinkers still view the category. Part of that still-persistent reaction comes down to concerns over quality—N/A beer tended to be pretty damn gross for a pretty long time, and that stigma is quite hard to ditch. Others rightly point out that even with years of trumpeting by writers and blogs about how N/A beer is “surging” every Dry January, it still makes up an infinitesimal portion of the U.S. beer market even now in 2021. Around .5% of all beer sold in the U.S. is non-alcoholic—half of one percentage point—and that’s after years and years of growth. Suffice to say, this is still a very niche field, regardless of how many regional craft breweries are suddenly exploring it.
There’s a few undeniable facts here, though, that I believe are important. They are as follows:
1. N/A beer does indeed continue to grow as a category, even during the pandemic. As the rest of the beer industry was shrinking by roughly 3% in U.S. volume in 2020, and the craft market lost 9% of its market share by volume, the N/A beer market still grew by 38% in terms of volume. This is of course far easier to do when you make up .5% of the overall market, but growth is growth. No matter what anyone says, when people are simultaneously drinking less beer overall, but more non-alcoholic beer, that’s rather impressive.
2. Non-alcoholic beer has simply gotten immeasurably better from a quality standpoint within the last five years. Whereas in the early 2010s, you would have had to make do with a poorly made take on quasi-light lager, you can now find quality versions of N/A lager, pale ale, wheat ale, stout or even gose that are widely available. It’s never been easier to get a well-made version of some of these N/A craft styles, so it’s hardly surprising that they’re finding curious new drinkers. N/A beer will likely never be perceived as sexy, but there’s still a growing market for it that presumably appreciates the same things about these products that I do.
With all that said, there’s always room for improvement. In the last couple of years, I’ve tasted quality N/A offerings from breweries such as Athletic Brewing, Brooklyn Brewery, Partake, BrewDog and others, but one of the styles that has routinely given these brewers the most trouble seems to be the very straw that stirs the drink in American craft beer: India pale ale. And in Crux Fermentation Project’s new NØ MØ Non-Alcoholic IPA, I’ve stumbled across what I think is pretty easily the best version of this N/A style I’ve had to date, which is a pretty exciting moment. It’s just another indication of how far N/A beer has come.
Crux Fermentation Project has been producing beer in the craft hub of Bend, Oregon since 2012, and they participated fairly frequently in Paste’s long-running series of blind beer style tastings. Only recently, however, have they explored non-alcoholic beer for the first time, and their debut offering NØ MØ captures a genuinely hoppy freshness that is absent in far too many other beers in this marketplace.
The problem, as many N/A-curious drinkers will know, is that it seems to be quite difficult to replicate modern IPA flavors in a non-alcoholic brewing style. For one, modern IPA is typically defined by very light or almost nonexistent malt flavors, and many N/A beers tend to taste more overtly malty, even having an unfinished, “worty” flavor that I’ve often mentally compared to the malt-like tones of black tea leaves. This worty flavor doesn’t seem to mesh well with the fruity, juicy hops that are likewise almost universally expected in the majority of modern IPAs, and together these factors have made for all-too-many uninspired non-alcoholic IPAs. NØ MØ, on the other hand, somehow manages to avoid these issues, delivering genuine varietal character from Citra and Mosaic hops along the way. The company’s ad copy reads “finally, a near beer that tastes like the real thing,” and for once such an expression is actually truth in advertising.
To my palate:
On the nose, NØ MØ immediately strikes me as “legitimately” hop forward, throwing up waves of bright, tropical fruit. There’s mango there, and perhaps passionfruit, supplemented by a streak of fresh, greener hop impressions that are slightly dank and resinous, without stealing the thunder of the primarily fruit-driven notes. Perhaps more crucially, I don’t get any of that syrupy, worty, black tea maltiness—there’s only a faint, crisp background of grain standing in for the malt bill, which is pleasant in a subtly balancing way.
On the palate, NØ MØ presents as fresh, easy drinking and lightly juicy, showcasing notes of orange and mango. Residual sweetness is quite low, showing up like a phantom and then quickly disappearing, before transitioning into light resin and mild bitterness. Overall, the profile is quite crisp and very bright, making NØ MØ extremely easy to drink. You truly might—honest to god—think that you were drinking a regular session IPA of some kind, with only the thin and delicate body/texture giving away its non-alcoholic nature. Likewise, this isn’t a blow-the-doors-off IPA in terms of assertiveness of its flavors, but I very much admire how its primary flavors are indeed hop-derived, which is of course the essence of modern IPA. Which is all to say, there’s none of that “wortiness” on display, and that’s a wonderful thing.
All in all, the existence of this beer is just another heartening step in the right direction for N/A IPA, marred only by the fact that it won’t be available in all 50 states anytime soon. Crux distributes throughout Oregon and Washington, in parts of Idaho and Northern California, but currently sells NØ MØ only in 12 oz cans in Oregon. However, the brewery plans to roll out NØ MØ into its whole distribution territory by the end of summer, and will also be selling 12 packs of cans online in the near future, which should be available to residents of Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona and Nevada. If you’re like me, and you’ve been waiting for an N/A IPA that truly reflects the best aspects of where the style is today, then you’ll want to keep an eye out for Crux’s contribution to this conversation.
Brewery: Crux Fermentation Project
City: Bend, OR
Style: Non-alcoholic IPA
ABV: Under .5%
Availability: 12 oz cans
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.