We’re living in a non-alcoholic beer renaissance. Make what you will of the actual sales numbers, which have showed the category continuing to grow significantly but still making up only a tiny sliver of the overall beer market. It will be years still, even growing at this rate, before NA beer is a true economic force that makes up a few percentage points of the overall market. But still, it is growing, at a time when the category as a whole is shrinking. That counts for something.
More importantly, though? The quality of NA beer continues to get better and better, moving it from “beer of last resort” to something a normal craft beer drinker might actually choose to seek out. At a time when so many are interested in at least exploring a reduction in their alcohol consumption, this increase in quality has come along exactly when it was needed.
This has been clear to me in the last few years, specifically because I’ve been tasting a whole lot of non-alcoholic beer. Some of it is still saddled with flavors that may be undesirable to some drinkers—most notably, the “worty” malt flavor of certain brands, which can get overwhelming in short order and make too many NA beer brands taste similar. But steadily, better and better flavors are emerging, and even some of the NA IPAs (a particularly difficult style to nail, it seems) are beginning to remind me of the real thing. Last month, I tasted Crux Fermentation Project’s particularly impressive new NA IPA, No Mo, and marveled at how much this style had improved in a short time.
Today, I have another pleasant surprise to report, and one breaking some more new ground: Flying Dog Brewery’s Deepfake non-alcoholic IPA. This is the first NA IPA I’ve had to date that really feels like it’s getting close to the proper aesthetic of modern hazy/juicy IPA, which is a welcome departure from most of the NA IPAs I’ve had to date, which have seemingly attempted to emulate older IPA styles. Deepfake, on the other hand—a great NA beer name that I’m surprised wasn’t already taken—has unlocked some of those sought-after juicy hop flavors. Flying Dog’s VP of marketing gives a quote in the press release saying that Deepfake “would fool anyone,” in fact. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I genuinely do think it might fool at least some drinkers, and that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.
Deepfake is essentially a non-alcoholic hazy IPA, brewed with Mosaic, Simcoe and Citra hops. As the company puts it: “The result is a delicious IPA-imposter with a medium body and clean finish. For consumers who want to avoid alcohol for any reason, but don’t want to sacrifice the taste and feel of the real thing, Deepfake is the perfect illusion.”
So with that said, let’s get to tasting. The beer pours quite opaque in the glass, with a gold-into-light-orange color. It seems a touch undercarbonated, although that might just be my cans—although being undercarbed does seem to be a common thing with NA beers in my experience.
On the nose, Deepfake stands out for its juicier, fruitier profile compared to other NA IPAs I’ve sampled in recent months. It can boast an assertive, vivacious nose with notes of orange juice and musty tropical fruit, evoking mango and passionfruit. There’s a malt character underneath the fruit that is harder to suss out, but it’s definitely there—returning to the glass, it suggests something slightly biscuity, or in the vein of an oatmeal cookie. A bit strange, perhaps, but not super consequential as the juicy citrus and tropical notes are the start of the show.
On the palate, this is again legitimately “juicy” in the way that modern IPA drinkers have come to expect for better or worse, with prominent notes of orange/tangerine and mango. There’s a light sweetness, which works well with the fruity notes, but it still finishes as dry as you’d expect most NA beers to finish. Notably, I don’t get much in the way of grass/resin characteristics—Flying Dog has accurately captured the fruit-dominated hop notes of better hazy IPAs without bringing along many of the greener notes. At the same time, the malt side of the flavor profile is a bit more odd, possessing a bit of that black tea maltiness, and a whisp of something like buttered toast. All in all, though, this is once again very much hop driven overall, and these types of hop flavors in THIS kind of NA beer are really very novel. I’ve tasted a good number of beers trying to pull off this kind of “hazy non-alcoholic IPA” at this point, and Flying Dog Deepfake is easily the one that has most faithfully pulled off the flavor profile to date.
In the end, it just speaks to the way that NA beer is continuing to improve on a yearly or even monthly basis at this point. If you’re interested in possibly reducing your alcohol consumption, and you haven’t made a survey of newer NA beer brands in the last few years, this is the time to give them a try once again.
Brewery: Flying Dog Brewery
City: Frederick, MD
Style: Non-alcoholic IPA
ABV: Less than .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.