The marketing for a new non-alcoholic beer brand generally doesn’t have to be a particularly distinctive or unusual thing. The selling point here, after all, is typically “it tastes just like ___ craft beer style you enjoy, except without alcohol.” As the segment has rapidly improved over the course of the last few years, the companies making NA beer have increasingly been able to market themselves on quality in a straightforward manner, or make appeals to the health-conscious drinker, or the person trying to cut back on alcohol consumption.
What I can’t say I’ve seen before, though, is a non-alcoholic beer brand that really doesn’t care to even draw attention to the fact that it’s non-alcoholic. So it is with the newly launched Rick’s Near Beer, a concept where the lack of alcohol is weighted as almost something incidental about the brand, rather than primary. Nowhere on the package, in fact, does the flagship Rick’s Original describe itself with the term “non-alcoholic.” Rather, it’s being marketed as simply a “low-strength” pilsner.
Considering that the can contains less than .5% ABV, which is the legal limit in the U.S. for non-alcoholic beer, calling this one “low strength” is something of an understatement. Lower-ABV styles have been something of a niche field of interest within the craft beer arena, with various companies tinkering with styles in the 2% and 3% ABV range. Rick’s, on the other hand, borrows some of that same language, but what is in the can is absolutely part of the NA beer field. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s launched in December, hitting the market immediately before Dry January, when the category experiences it’s biggest yearly surge in interest (and PR expenditure).
Looking at a can of Rick’s, it’s easy to grasp the vibe they’re attempting to evoke. The weathered iconography smacks of nostalgia and the beloved regional lager brands found around the U.S.—the look of Rick’s seems clearly designed to call to mind brands such as Schlitz or Rainier, Stroh’s or Hamm’s. Unassuming, timeworn brand of the people—Rick’s is likely meant to feel like a brand that has already been on the shelves for decades. Likewise, the name is carefully chose, and the brand gives the following rationale:
Everyone has a Rick in their life. Rick is a legend, a personality, a vibe, always down for a good time. You probably heard Led Zeppelin for the first time in Rick’s car on the way to a favorite fishing hole. Rick showed you the great classics in life because that’s what Ricks do. This beer is for Rick. Original, simple, and low strength to keep the good times rolling.
It’s an interesting gambit, to be sure, to market an NA beer based largely on “vibes,” rather than trying to specifically pursue consumers who are say, reevaluating their relationship with alcohol. Regardless, what matters the most to us at Paste is how the stuff tastes, so let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, the initial impression here are of crisp grain—Cheerios, perhaps, and a faint corny sweetness. There may be some subtle floral notes to be coaxed out, or a hint of lemon-like citrus, but we’re talking quite subtle indeed. This is not designed to compete or evoke with the hop-forward concept of “pilsner” as it exists today in the world of craft beer. Rather, this is pilsner in the sense that every can of Miller Lite is emblazoned with the word “pilsner.” Crackery malt is the main feature of this nose.
On the palate, those impressions hold true, with notes of light malt sweetness and crisp grain, along with more crackery tones evoking Saltines, and perhaps the slightest “doughiness.” There are subtle floral hops to be found, and a light twist of lemon. Perhaps more important is the fact that are no distracting off-flavors or wort-like, unfermented tones, which are the most common downfall of newly launched NA beer brands. The word for this is workmanlike, and in this context that’s a good thing—the working-class imagery of this beer demands that exact kind of descriptor and vibe. It’s an easy drinking NA lager, and incrementally more flavorful than the likes of something like Heineken 0.0, with a little bit more malt expression and sweetness. All in all, I imagine that this result is precisely what the company intended to create, so I can only assume they’re happy with their results.
It remains to be seen whether a product like Rick’s will resonate with the consumer, and whether its unusual imagery (for the NA market) will help it discover some kind of niche that hasn’t already been exploited. But when it comes to the beer in the can, it’s a more than promising first expression.
Brewery: Rick’s Near Beer
Style: Non-alcoholic lager
ABV: Less than .5%
Availability: 12 oz cans
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.