Special beer without alcohol? There is a lot of demand for it in Groningen and Drenthe. ‘But you don’t do it like that’

Café goers do want beer, but less alcohol. Brewers in Groningen and Drenthe notice this. But brewing specialty beer without alcohol is not that easy.

Anyone who walks along the terraces of Groningen on a sunny day will also have noticed: more and more guests are opting for a non-alcoholic or low-alcohol specialty beer instead of a traditional tap. This is also reflected in the sales figures: Compared to a year earlier, almost 74 percent more low-alcohol and -free specialty beer was sold in 2023.

‘Still continue to drink beer’

“The advance has been going on for some time,” notes Harm Verwij. He is the owner of Westerwolde Brouwerij from Vlagtwedde and has seen non-alcoholic and low-alcohol specialty beers becoming more popular for some time. “Our low-alcohol specialty beer has been in the range for three years. It is going very well,” he says.

But why is it that more and more people are opting for non-alcoholic specialty beer? “People want to live a healthier life, drink less alcohol and still drink beer,” thinks Albert Jan Swierstra, owner of Brouwerij Martinus from Groningen. “And if you have a good non-alcoholic beer, that is of course an option.”

Jan Riemens from Baxbier in Groningen also recognizes this. “People want to drink fewer liters. As a result, lager consumption has decreased, but at the same time the popularity of special beers continues to increase,” he says. He recently added one non-alcoholic specialty beer to the menu. “I think we should offer a complete range of beer and non-alcoholic beer is part of that.”

The taste out

Yet this is easier said than done. “Making alcohol-free specialty beer is not something you can do easily,” says Patricia de Boo from Proeflokaal Maallust in Veenhuizen.

It is quite difficult to make an alcohol-free specialty beer, says Verwij. “When the beer is fully seasoned, i.e. when it actually goes into the bottle, the alcohol must be removed. And that’s where a large part of the flavor lies.”

Alcohol in specialty beer is not only a seasoning, but also a preservative. “When the beer is ready, it must be pasteurized so that it lasts longer,” says Swierstra. “We don’t have the right equipment for that.” He thinks that brewing non-alcoholic specialty beer is mainly reserved for larger breweries.

The gourmets

That is why Verwij is considering the possibility of having alcohol-free specialty beer made elsewhere. But he is critical. “If you do it, it must of course also be tasteful, otherwise it defeats the purpose. We will first wait and see whether other smaller breweries that have invested in the right technology can develop a tasty non-alcoholic beer.”

Yet De Boo is sceptical. “The Poverty Sower is especially popular among bobbers. People will choose a different beer because of the taste.” Because although the low-alcohol specialty beer has been in Maallust’s range for four years, she has not noticed that this beer has become more popular last year. De Boo: “A real gourmet, he won’t take a poor man.”