Just a few months ago, I was writing about my personal appreciation for the growth and dynamic evolution of non-alcoholic craft beer, but already I’d simultaneously begun to wonder just how many NA beer brands the market can really support. The NA space has some advantages, to be certain—they can be sold online and shipped to your door in many states, and it’s a growing segment that still makes up a tiny fraction of the overall beer market—but at the same time, there’s really only so much room on store shelves for this particular niche. Consumers are lucky if package stores and supermarkets devote one full shelf or cooler to non-alcoholic beer brands, which means that eventually you’re going to hit a roadblock; a saturation point at which enough brands are well-established regional or national fixtures that it becomes very difficult for any new brand to dislodge them. And at that point, the new brands really have to come to rely on their own web stores to move product, which is a dicey proposition.
Oh, and you still have to have a quality product, as well. Which is all to say, although I believe there’s a lot of opportunity to be had in the world of non-alcoholic beer, the space does feel like it’s filling in pretty rapidly. More and more, when I sample NA beer from a new brewery, I find myself thinking “This had better be exceptional, if they want it to stand out.” And I’m not sure if the likes of Best Day Brewing Co. have that kind of stand-out potential, or if they’re ultimately relying on an image more than a product to find success.
Best Day Brewing Co. is a new non-alcoholic-only beer brand, one without a brewery of its own, and a brand image deeply rooted in Northern California “outdoor life” marketing. There’s a definite twist of “wellness” as well, in the vein of Dogfish Head’s “health”-minded beers, especially in marketing copy like the following: “Best Day beers are packed with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory polyphenols which help your body recover and support your immune system. They’re also loaded with vitamins and minerals, and contain only a fraction of the calories (45 to 85) of regular beer.”
As for what styles of beer Best Day is actually producing, so far they’re selling three brands throughout the NorCal market and via their web store: Kolsch, West Coast IPA, and Hazy IPA. These are traditionally produced non-alcoholic beers, with alcohol “gently removed” post fermentation, leaving less than .5% ABV in the final product.
I was able to get samples of two of these beers, the kolsch and the west coast IPA, so let’s see how they measure up to the wider NA beer field.
Kolsch is an intriguing style to see a non-alcoholic brewer take on, and probably not a bad idea for the company to exploit as a way of differentiating their lineup from others—pretty much any NA brand is going to need some kind of light lager or golden ale in it, but traditional German kolsch has a bit more beer geek cache. It also sort of fits the Californian theme, being effectively the spiritual inverse of CA’s famous steam beer (made with lager yeast, at ale temperatures), given that kolsch is brewed with ale yeast, but then lagered at cool temps. The company notes that this one is made from “a combination of Cologne and Pilsner malts and Hallertau Traditional hops.”
On the nose, Best Day Brewing Kolsch has a fresh, grainy, doughy character that immediately takes center stage. It evokes a bowl of corn flakes, malty sweet and lightly toasty, with slightly darker impressions of bread crust. I don’t get much in the way of hop accompaniment here; I wouldn’t mind a stronger Hallertau floral character, but I can recognize that kolsch isn’t meant to be as hoppy as the likes of helles or pilsner.
On the palate, this non-alcoholic kolsch is a bit unusual, reading as malty sweet, toasty and almost slightly “burnt” in flavor. It’s very grain forward, like chewing on a toasted strand of wheat, with definite yeast characteristics as well. Again, I find myself wanting a bit more of the floral character, which is here to some degree but doesn’t really make itself felt strongly. All in all, the kolsch is easy to drink, but it feels like it’s lacking a more dynamic hook to reel in the drinker.
Within the last year, I’ve also written about the welcome return of West Coast IPA to the world of beer hype, or at the very least a new appreciation for beers labeled as “West Coast IPA,” whether or not they really evoke the style of IPA that was popular a decade ago. Best Day Brewing, to their credit, seems to have legitimately based this beer on an older era of IPA in which malt balance was something to be expected rather than shunned, rather than the malt-free and intensely fruity IPA era that followed. It pours a copper-to-amber hue that is reminiscent of how I often expected IPA to look when first exploring craft beer in the mid-2000s, in fact. The use of Cascade hops seems like a deliberate throwback as well.
On the nose, I’m getting sweet malt, pine needles and pithy grapefruit, but also a less pleasant soapiness and oddly confectionery note that is reminiscent of butterscotch candies. There are elements here that I like, floral and fruity notes that evoke a lot of older, Cascade-based IPAs that I haven’t tasted in many long years, but at the same time there’s a corresponding soapiness that clashes with those more pleasant notes. On the palate, meanwhile, this IPA displays a firm bitterness and moderate malty sweetness, chased by pine resin and grapefruit. Over time, I find myself growing more acclimated to the flavor profile, but soapy tones continue to be at least marginally distracting. I wish I could say otherwise, but it mars what is otherwise a promising flavor profile.
If I was tasting these two non-alcoholic beers for the first time a few years ago, I may have considered them to be a revelation, but the reality of the field is that NA beers have dramatically improved in quality in a short time span, and the bar of expectation has risen along with them. Best Day Brewing may need to step up their game if they hope to stand out in a field that has suddenly become a lot more crowded.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident craft beer geek. You can follow him on Twitter for much more drinks writing.