Deschutes Black Butte Non-Alcoholic Porter Review

Drink Reviews craft beer
Deschutes Black Butte Non-Alcoholic Porter Review

For years now, I’ve been pointing out the incredible growth in terms of both quality and diversity in the non-alcoholic craft beer world to anyone who would listen. Even now, it still amazes me just how much the segment has changed in the last half decade or so, going from the consistent butt of jokes to one of the most exciting spaces within the beer industry, especially for those among us who are trying with more earnestness to be moderate in our alcohol consumption. But even as I’ve praised the rapid improvement in so many NA beer styles, there’s one particular corner of the NA world that I haven’t mentioned as often, because it unfortunately tends to be both disappointing and underserved: Non-alcoholic dark beer styles. These takes on styles such as porter and stout are more difficult to find in NA form, and I can only assume this is because so many of the attempts really don’t turn out very well. I’ve tasted a decent handful of NA porters, stouts and generic “dark ales,” but few are able to stand on their own, having lost their roasty soul along the way. And so, when I first saw that Deschutes had engineered a non-alcoholic version of their classic flagship Black Butte Porter, I was both interested and a little trepidatious.

Black Butte Porter is a beer I’ve always liked, and come to only like more in recent years, as the availability of non-adjunct, standard strength dark beer styles on grocery store shelves has continuously declined. I wrote an ode to the beer back during a month of flagship reappraisals back in 2020, and I’ve even sampled the (surprisingly good) distillation of Black Butte into whiskey. I admire that Deschutes–one of the biggest remaining regional craft breweries that hasn’t merged or been acquired by a large corporation–has managed to keep the beer in a place of honor among their core brands, as porter likely been the easiest sell in the era of maximum IPA saturation. And so, as someone who has also made NA beer a regular part of his rotation, I would love for this NA version of Black Butte to capture some spark of the divine.

What we have here is the same recipe as the original Black Butte, with alcohol removed by the “proprietary BrewVo® process developed by Colorado-based Sustainable Beverage Technologies.” This is part for the course in the NA beer world, where there is no industry consensus on technique and quality control, creating something of a wild west of competing “proprietary techniques.” It’s worth noting that this is a traditional non-alcoholic beer in the sense that it contains less than .5% ABV, rather than one of the most modern generation of 0.0 beers. Like most NA beers, it’s lighter in calories at roughly 100 kcal per 12 oz serving.

So with that said, let’s get into tasting.

First of all, I feel I should mention that when pouring Black Butte NA (the words “porter” and “beer” do not appear on the can, potentially for legal reasons), this stands out in the glass for the fact that it looks pretty much indistinguishable from the real thing. And this is no small thing to note, as many NA beers often seem to struggle with both carbonation and head retention, whereas Black Butte NA pours with perhaps the most attractive head of foam I’ve ever seen in the category. It’s a little thing, something that not all consumers would bother noting, but to someone who has consumed a lot of NA craft beer it stands out prominently to me.

On the nose, Black Butte NA is mildly nutty, with suggestions of hazelnut and light roast coffee, milk chocolate and something suggestive of slightly doughy maltiness. It’s not a bombastic nose, but it’s pleasant, giving an unmistakable impression of “dark beer.”

On the palate, this is lightly malty-sweet, with wisps of smoke intertwined. Milk chocolate is present again, along with traces of barley tea, slight red fruitiness and traces of grassy hops. Sweetness is mild to moderate, and it largely escapes from the “unfermented” wortiness that is always one of the biggest threats to spoiling the profile of any NA craft beer. It doesn’t quite have the more assertive roastiness one might expect, favoring more of the gentle nuttiness/cocoa side of the spectrum.

Judged in a vacuum, this NA Black Butte is honestly a triumph–it’s close enough to “real porter” that if someone handed one to me in a bar I probably wouldn’t immediately suspect that it was a non-alcoholic beer, and would assume it was just a fairly mild porter. Where it can’t stand quite as tall is in direct comparison with the original Black Butte Porter itself, which is significantly more robust, roast forward and bigger in body and vivaciousness. But with all things said, that’s still to be expected in this category. Black Butte NA reads like a “diet” version, perhaps, of the same beer, translating the majority of its flavors into a package without the alcohol. It’s a little mild, but it absolutely reads like “real beer” to the drinker, and that is always a major achievement for any beer in the NA category, especially in a more difficult niche like porter or stout.

Without a doubt, it’s the best non-alcoholic beer in this particular dark beer niche that I’ve come across so far, another testament to how rapidly this segment has improved. Would I keep this in my fridge? Absolutely. If you’re a lover of classic dark beer styles who is also open to NA beer, it’s a must-try.

Brewery: Deschutes Brewery
City: Bend, OR
Style: Non-alcoholic porter
ABV: Less than .5%
Availability: 12 oz cans

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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