We’re already deep into Dry January preparation season, and I’ve already given a preamble on the continued surge of non-alcoholic beer options in other pieces in the waning days of 2020, so let’s just cut to the chase on this one—Brooklyn Brewery has a new N/A IPA on the market. I’m going to be trying and evaluating a lot of N/A beer in the next month or so as I continue to look for new options in reducing my own alcohol consumption, so expect to see more reviews like this one.
Brooklyn Brewery’s Special Effects brand began with a single amber lager last year, and we quite liked the results. Hop forward and characterful, it was a marked difference from most any other N/A lager we’d sampled. This year, more brands seem to be making a play for the N/A IPA space in particular, which only makes sense, given that IPA remains the driving factor in keeping the craft beer industry afloat, especially during the pandemic. If one of these regional breweries is able to cement a popular non-alcoholic IPA brand that could become the “Lagunitas IPA” or “Founders All Day IPA” of the segment, it would be the gift that keeps on giving, particularly as the N/A category continues to grow. Expect to see a lot of breweries competing here as a result, including regional powerhouses like Brooklyn, Lagunitas and BrewDog.
Brooklyn describes their latest effort as bringing “the bright hop aromas and juicy citrus flavors of our favorite IPAs to the non-alcoholic world.” In practice, however, I found this to be a bit of an oversell, as the resulting beer doesn’t read as anywhere near “juicy.”
With that said, let’s get to it.
On the nose, Special Effects IPA offers up a fairly unexpected profile. I had been going in perhaps expecting a beer trying to split the difference between older West Coast IPAs and modern, fruit-driven hazy/juicy IPA aromatics, but the result doesn’t strongly remind me of either. It does have grassy, fresh and floral components to it, and there’s fruit as well, but it’s not the fruit I was expecting. Rather, I’m getting some more like violets and berry fruitiness, reminiscent of nothing so much as juniper berries, along with hints of malt. It leaves me a bit unsure of what to anticipate on the palate, but the nose is overall more subdued than expected.
Tasting this Special Effects release, the initial impressions are of crisp grain and toastiness, with a malt profile of toasted bread crusts and tea-like maltiness. However, it strikes me as a bit more “green tea” than black tea, with more herbaceousness that segues into significant bitterness. This is very dry, and the hop flavors aren’t as pronounced as one might be expecting, reflecting some of the grass/florals from the nose. I find myself again thinking of juniper berries, along with lemongrass, but there’s also a flinty, more mineral character as well. The bitterness, meanwhile, isn’t that assertive, but it seems more intense than it really is due to the way that it lingers, and the lack of balancing residual sweetness/juicier hop flavors.
All in all, I seem to be missing the “juicy citrus flavors” that Brooklyn describes here. Instead, the profile of Special Effects IPA seems closer to me to the previous Special Effects amber lager, but I think the previous beer in this series is ultimately the superior one, displaying an appreciable balance.
This is a brand that will surely be explored by curious craft drinkers throughout January in particular as they search for non-alcoholic options they enjoy. When all is said and done, though, I’ve already tasted some other N/A brands this sober season that proved more exciting to my palate. To each their own.
Brewery: Brooklyn Brewery
City: Brooklyn, NYC
Style: Non-alcoholic IPA
ABV: < .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.