Sobering News

Fremont Brewing Releases Seattle's First Craft Nonalcoholic Beer

It's an IPA, of course.

By Allecia Vermillion May 18, 2023

A year and a half of R&D went into Fremont's latest year-round beer.

Image: Amber Fouts

Fremont Brewing’s newest year-round IPA comes in a snappy green and white can. It’s bold and bitter, like a proper West Coast IPA. The familiar notes of citra hops are definitely present. What’s not present is the alcohol.

The brewery’s new nonalcoholic IPA is just now arriving on grocery shelves around Seattle. It’s one of the first NA beer to come from any of Washington’s 500 craft brewers, and the first in Seattle, even though interest in booze-free beer (and wine, and cocktails) has been building for a while.

The customer base for good NA drinks likely has a lot of crossover with the people who hang out at brewery taprooms on the weekend. But it’s not easy for a traditional brewery to hop on this train. For one thing, it requires totally different equipment and processes. Fremont invested $2 million in specialized equipment and 18 months on R&D. “We’re big believers in the category,” says owner Matt Lincecum. Looking back, he believes he should have made this a priority a long time ago. “All I had to do was look at my peers and what they have in their fridge.”

Sales of nonalcoholic beer jumped 20 percent last year, and the year before that, according to annual studies by NielsenIQ. In Seattle, bar and restaurant nonalcoholic cocktail lists have edged from pro forma to art form. Dry January is a thing. So it stands to reason many sober-curious drinkers are the same people who fill Seattle’s taprooms on the weekend.

Some local breweries—Fremont included—sell a sparkling “hop water,” essentially an IPA-flavored LaCroix for non-drinkers. But making actual NA beer is way more difficult. IPA, Washington's top-selling, hop-forward beer style, poses a particular challenge. “The de-alcoholization process is very rough on the volatile oils in hops,” says Lincecum.

Fremont, the state’s second-largest craft brewery has experienced the same struggles as its peers—slower sales and rising costs from barley to hops to transportation. Under its existing model, says Lincecum, “we’re gonna lose money.” But when your model is “making beer,” there’s only so much room to change. He kept returning to the data on what beer drinkers buy the most of these days. “It’s two categories—high and no.” As in high-alcohol beer and no-alcohol beer.

Drinkers probably wouldn’t mistake Fremont’s Nonalcoholic IPA (alas, it doesn’t have a clever name) for a regular beer, but the flavor comes admirably close. It feels constructed of different layers—piney, citrusy, bitter—like a proper IPA. It definitely blows the near-beers of yore out of the water. Lincecum wanted to create something new, rather than, say, an alcohol-free version of something familiar, like Fremont’s top-selling Lush IPA. “You have to approach the recipe completely differently.”

The NA IPA will be  available year-round, along with other Fremont flagships like its Dark Star imperial oatmeal stout and Interurban IPA. Meanwhile, the R&D continues: Fremont has more NA beer on the horizon. An orange witbier will roll out later this year, followed by a stout and a pilsner.

Editor's note: Thank you to the reader who pointed us toward  Three Magnets Brewing in Olympia, which also makes a line of NA beer. This text has been corrected to reflect that Fremont's version is the first in Seattle, not all of Washington.

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