I won’t be drinking a drop of alcohol in 2020. I’m doing a dry year; a way to try on sobriety for size and hopefully reset my relationship with drinking. Some drinks have been easy to give up—the bar’s acrid well whiskey, the Bloody Mary at brunch that renders me useless for the rest of the day—but saying goodbye to beer for 366 days (curse you, Leap Day!) will be a challenge.
What makes beer so difficult to give up is that I don’t just drink it to get a buzz—at least, not exclusively. I genuinely love craft beer culture: Anticipating my favorite seasonal releases each year; waxing poetic about the citrusy punch of a good IPA or the subtle, crisp oatmeal notes of a perfectly executed lager; discovering new-to-me craft breweries each time I visit a new city; never knowing what I might find when I stop by my neighborhood taproom.
But too often, one pint turns into two, which turns into stopping at one last spot on the way home, which turns into feeling like shit the next day. It’s not that I think I have a serious drinking problem; rather, I think that both my life and my appreciation of beer could be enhanced by treating it as a special-occasion thing, instead of a way of life.
Which leads me to a predicament: What do you drink when you want the satisfaction of a favorite craft beer, but without the alcohol? I know non-alcoholic beer is a godsend for some, but I’d rather not imbibe in a drink whose main selling point is the lack of something. And besides, we’re living in something of a golden age of flavorful, healthy-ish, nonalcoholic beverages: kombuchas, craft sodas, CBD-infused seltzers, and zero-proof hop-based drinks crowd the aisles of New Seasons.
I recently embarked on a taste test of these ABV-less drinks, with the aim of finding flavor replacements for my favorite beers. Whether you’re doing a dry year like me or are just the designated driver for the night, consider this a starting point.
Boneyard Elixir King Cola, Boneyard beer
I love Bend’s Boneyard Beer, so I was delighted to see they were branching out into CBD-infused seltzers and sodas. Like any Boneyard brew, the King Cola flavor packs a big punch. The best way I can describe the flavor notes is that it tastes like a gourmet Coke—a little less sweet and more spiced than most colas on the market. This a great option for pairing with a burger or other savory food, in place of your favorite sweet, dark beer.
Try instead of: Black Butte Porter, Crux Stout, Overcast Espresso Stout
Happy Mountain Kombucha, Honeydew Melon flavor, Happy Mountain Kombucha
If you think you hate kombucha, then you probably haven’t tried the subtle, perfectly calibrated brews from Happy Mountain, the Portland outfit that serves as the in-house kombucha for Tea Chai Té. My favorite is the honeydew melon, an excellent blend of sweet, delicate melon notes and sour kombucha funk. This drink could stand up to any fruity sour or gose.
Try instead of: Anderson Valley Briney Melon Gose, 10 Barrel Cucumber Crush, Cascade Brewing Apricot Ale
Daytrip CBD-Infused Sparkling Water, Lemon Lime Flavor, Daytrip
Fact: After a long hike or a shitty day at work, nothing tastes better than a Mexican lager with lime. Daytrip’s lemon lime flavor doesn’t deliver quite the same relief as a draft Modelo, but it does hit those same flavor notes: crisp, lightly citrusy, goes down easy. It also has two winning qualities notably not shared by lager: It’s only five calories, and it has 10 milligrams of CBD.
Try instead of: Ex Novo’s Most Interesting Lager in the World, Sesión Cerveza, Modelo with a lime wedge
Otto’s Pear Rhubarb, Otto’s CBD Cider
The taste: This zero-proof drink might technically be cider, but drinking it, the first thing I thought of was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The gently floral apple, the mellow bit of rhubarb, and the dank hop flavors combine to create a drinking experience not unlike a deconstructed pale ale. Considering that Sierra Nevada’s flagship brew is what got me hooked on craft beer, I honestly can’t think of higher praise for a zero-proof beverage.
Try instead of: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, pFriem Kolsch-Style Ale
Hoppy Refresher, Lagunitas Brewing Company
Sometimes it’s better to accept your reality than to chase after your dreams, and I know I’ll probably never find a zero-proof IPA replacement that’s as good as the real thing. But I’m happy to see breweries expand into hop-infused seltzer, particularly because they make the case that hops are about more than just beer. My hope is that they’ll someday expand to flavors based off of individual hop varietals, like Cascade or Mosaic.
Try instead of: Any one of the literally millions of IPAs on the market.