Taste Test: Does Non-Alcoholic Beer Taste The Same As Alcoholic Beer?

February 23, 2023
By: Chrystabelle

About the Author

Chrystabelle is a non-alcoholic drinks expert who has tasted and reviewed hundreds of non-alcoholic beers, non-alcoholic wines, hop water, and non-alcoholic spirits. Her journey to being sober curious and discovering non-alcoholic options began when she realized she had a tendency to binge drink. Reach her at chrystabelle@oneclubsober.com.

If there’s one thing beer drinkers can agree on, it’s the love for the distinct taste of a cold beer on a hot day (or any day, really). But what about non-alcoholic beer? Does it taste like the real deal, or is it just a sad imposter?

After doing several rounds of comparisons, including comparing the taste of Guinness 0.0 vs regular Guinness, I can say that some non-alcoholic beers taste very close to real beer – especially the ones brewed by craft brewers. However, NA beers will never be able to replicate or replace the taste of alcohol.

Below, I’ll take a deep dive into the similarity and differences between how alcoholic and non-alcoholic beer tastes and also answer the age-old question: does non-alcoholic beer taste the same as alcoholic beer? 

I also do a taste test between the non-alcoholic Lagunitas IPNA and the original Lagunitas IPA to see if there are any differences!

Group of people holding Athletic Brewing beer

Does Non-Alcoholic Beer Taste The Same As Alcoholic Beer?

Some might say non-alcoholic beer tastes like beer that’s been watered down, while others swear non-alcoholic beer tastes just as good as the real thing. 

As someone who regularly drinks and reviews non-alcoholic beers while still enjoying an alcoholic beer from time to time, I personally think that many non-alcoholic beers taste very close to alcoholic beers, especially the ones brewed by craft brewers.

Generally, here are the similarities and differences when I compare non-alcoholic beer with alcoholic beer:

Aroma: If you get a non-alcoholic beer that is brewed with quality hops (not the cheap mass-produced NA beers), then the hop aroma is quite similar to regular beer – especially light beers with less than 5% ABV. The difference is you won’t smell the alcohol. 

Malt: I have found lots of similarity here, and non-alcoholic beers can be very malt-forward depending on the beer style.

Hops: Again, this depends on the quality of hops used rather than whether it is an alcoholic beer or not. A craft non-alcoholic beer brewed with quality hops will taste hoppier than a cheap alcoholic beer.

For example, I have found Athletic Brewing Free Wave Hazy IPA to be a lot hoppier than many alcoholic beers.

Body and Mouthfeel: This is where I find the biggest difference between a lot of non-alcoholic beers and regular beers. Without the mouthfeel of alcohol, many non-alcoholic beers feel thinner and more watery than alcoholic beers.

Some non-alcoholic beers add lactose or oat flakes to make the beer feel fuller and creamier, but they will never have the same fullness as the mouthfeel of alcohol.

Taste: Obviously, you will not have the taste of alcohol. Depending on the brand of non-alcoholic beer, sometimes I can even taste an unpleasant metallic or chemical taste. This is why I prefer craft non-alcoholic beers because they don’t usually have that odd metallic taste.

Reverse Osmosis non-alcoholic beer

Why Non-Alcoholic Beers Taste Different From Regular Beers

The differences in taste can be explained by the following two main reasons: the brewing process and the lack of alcohol.

1) Differences in the brewing process

The biggest reason why non-alcoholic beer does not taste exactly like an alcoholic beer is because of the difference during the fermentation process.

More importantly, the removal or lack of alcohol can leave a non-alcoholic beer with a flatter mouthfeel, and alcohol is a flavor that is also hard to replicate.

To compensate for this loss of flavor, brewers may use different brewing techniques or ingredients, such as hops or malt extracts, to achieve a similar taste to traditional beer.

We’ve written a full article explaining the different ways non-alcoholic beer is made, and the ingredients that go into making non-alcoholic beer and how they differ from alcoholic beers.

Hops

2) Other factors that affect taste

Besides the difference in the brewing process, other factors, such as the alcohol content and carbonation level, can also affect the taste of a non-alcoholic beer.

Alcohol can contribute to the bitterness and complexity of beer flavors. Since non-alcoholic beers contain less than 0.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), brewers often tweak the recipes and ingredients to mimic the bitterness and flavor complexity.

This is also why 0.0% alcohol-free beers tend to have a thinner body and lighter mouthfeel than non-alcoholic beers with 0.5% ABV. If you want to know the other differences between 0.0% and 0.5% non-alcoholic beers, check out this article that I’ve written.

Another factor is the amount of carbonation. Carbonation affects the mouthfeel of the beer, as well as the way that flavors are perceived on the palate.

Depending on the fermentation process used, some non-alcoholic beers are less carbonated than alcoholic beers. That is why brewers might add carbon dioxide before canning in order to create livelier carbonation.

Taste Test: Lagunitas IPA vs Lagunitas IPNA

I wanted to do a taste test to see if non-alcoholic beer taste the same as alcoholic beer, and I decided to pit the Lagunitas IPNA against the original Lagunitas IPA.

Lagunitas IPNA and Lagunitas IPA are brewed with the same ingredients: hops, malt, yeast, and water. For the hops, Lagunitas uses a blend of Mosaic, Citra, and Centennial hops, as well as Alberta barley and English crystal malt.

Since they are brewed with the same ingredients, it makes the taste test fairer to judge.

Starting with the aroma notes of Lagunitas IPNA, it is a dead-ringer for the Lagunitas IPA: the piney scent of hops is immediately present, followed by a hint of grapefruit.

Lagunitas IPA has a stronger malt sweetness, and I might even say the grapefruit and citrus aroma notes are stronger.

On the palate, the Lagunitas IPNA has a light to medium body, along with a medium amount of carbonation. It isn’t very bitter for an IPA, and the bitterness pales in comparison to the Lagunitas IPA.

 Lagunitas IPALagunitas IPNA
AromaMalt sweetness & strong grapefruitPine with a hint of grapefruit
Hop BitternessAggresive & LingeringModerate
BodyDryDry
Palate CarbonationMediumMedium

So does non-alcoholic beer taste the same as alcoholic beer? Based on this taste test, I can say that the non-alcoholic Lagunitas IPNA does not taste exactly like the Lagunitas IPA. There is a difference in the bitterness and the IPNA body feels more watery.

However, the IPNA does not taste too far off either. If you’re interested in the full review, check out our review article of the Lagunitas IPNA.

Individual Factors Can Affect Taste Perception Too

One thing to note is that how we perceive the taste of a beer can be biased towards individual factors, as people tend to have varying preferences for flavors, bitterness, and sweetness levels.

Other factors, such as our previous experience with beer and any expectations or preconceived notions about the taste and quality of non-alcoholic beers, can also influence how we perceive the taste of a non-alcoholic beer.

It is key to consider these individual factors when evaluating the taste of non-alcoholic beer, as it can impact your overall enjoyment and experience with the beer.

Does Non-Alcoholic Beer Taste Like Beer?

Non-alcoholic beer can be a satisfying substitute for those who want to enjoy the taste of beer without the alcohol content.

While some may argue that non-alcoholic beer doesn’t quite hit the spot, others may be pleasantly surprised by its flavor and similarity to an alcoholic beer. 

Also Read:

About the Author

Chrystabelle is a non-alcoholic drinks expert who has tasted and reviewed hundreds of non-alcoholic beers, non-alcoholic wines, hop water, and non-alcoholic spirits. Her journey to being sober curious and discovering non-alcoholic options began when she realized she had a tendency to binge drink. Reach her at chrystabelle@oneclubsober.com.

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  1. In your profession opinion, which non-alcohol beer, regardless of the price, is the best for an individual with early stage of Chronic Kidney Disease?

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