For a jaded beer writer, it’s no small thing to be able to reasonably expect quality every time you crack open a new beer can. That ability to be optimistic is something I’ve often felt was missing in the American craft beer scene of the last five years, as too many styles have devolved and increasingly become defined by haphazardly made, poorly balanced “flavor of the week” releases. There have been few corners of the beer world where one can point, and say with confidence, “things here are trending in the right direction.”
Except for non-alcoholic craft beer, that is. Where styles such as modern hazy IPA have felt rooted in place, stuck in a mindset of “bigger” rather than “better,” the non-alcoholic side of the spectrum has been experiencing genuine, honest-to-god improvement that has radically changed the landscape (and thus the expectations we have for it) in only a few years’ time. As recently as 2018 or 2019, it felt as if there were only a few notable “craft” NA brands making waves in the marketplace. Now, in 2022, we’re absolutely inundated with them. That might be problematic for the viability of many of these brands in the long run, but in the short run we’re simply elated by how tasty and drinkable many of these beers are. Gone are the days when NA beers were rife with weird off flavors, and a low level of quality was simply accepted as a downside of the genre. Today, NA beers are being held to a far higher standard, and in the process they’ve become arguably the corner of the beer world that is seeing the most genuinely exciting growth. Each time I try a new NA beer brand, I’m going into the experience at least optimistic about the idea that the beer may be great—and I can’t really say that about regular IPA at this point.
The latest notable entry in this genre I’ve tasted comes from Connecticut’s Two Roads Brewing, as the state’s largest brewery (but still fairly modest, in a national sense) debuts a line of non-alcoholic beer to join its so-called “beyond beer” portfolio, which also includes hard seltzer and ready-to-drink (RTD) spirits-based cocktails. The NA beer line, meanwhile, will eventually include at least several brands, but there’s only one to start: Non Alcoholic Juicy IPA. A rather generic name, to be sure, but a reference to the company’s own Two Juicy Hazy IPA.
I’ve been tasting a lot of NA beer in general, and NA IPA in specific, in the last few years, so let’s see how Two Roads’ offering stacks up with an increasingly well executed crowd.
On the nose, this IPA is giving off plenty of fresh, green hop notes—it definitely is reminiscent of pelletized hops at the old homebrew shop, with a buzzy, almost spicy, slightly resinous quality. The citrus, meanwhile, reminds me of lemon verbena in the backyard garden, with perhaps a twist of peach or passion fruit running underneath. Quite pleasant, all in all, although there’s somewhat more of a green element than I’d necessarily be expecting when the marketing is all focused on the buzzword of “juicy.”
On the palate, this starts out as light and inoffensive, though decently hop forward, but then it has a way of growing into itself on repeated sips. Lemon citrus and slightly musky tropical fruit are paired with a smooth, very slightly creamy texture, and faint impressions of crisp cereal grain. Residual sweetness is mild, and there’s thankfully none of that “unfinished” wort-like note, which I often find manifests in NA beers as a strong black tea-like maltiness. Over time, the fruit impressions emerge more assertively on the palate, with lots of candied clementine orange. There’s little real hop bitterness to speak of—just a touch—but considering the overall restrained evel of residual sweetness, it doesn’t need that much bitterness for the sake of balance.
All in all, I don’t know if this is quite as “juicy” as the market may have decided to label it, but it’s a very nice combination of bright citrus and spicy, dank, greener notes all the same. Like so many of the other NA IPAs I’ve tasted in the last year or two, it’s quite refreshingly fun to drink, and it’s another that now ranks among the best the rapidly improving style has to offer. Call me thankful to be living through what we should all probably acknowledge has become the golden age of non-alcoholic beer.
Brewery: Two Roads Brewing
City: Stratford, CT
Style: Non-alcoholic India pale ale
ABV: Less than .5%
Availability: 12 oz cans, 6-packs
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.