Expert Topic Non-alcoholic Offerings Make Sense at a Brewery

A well thought out tap list, one with diversity of styles and ABV range is a delight to see at a brewery. It means customers can pick pints or flights that suit a mood or menu. So much focus is put on a brewery’s beer, rightly so, but there is also an appreciation that comes with non-alcoholic offerings.

For a long time the non-boozy offering was still water. Fancier breweries would offer it sparkling. Now, as the number of breweries is growing across the country and customers are looking for choice, taprooms are stepping up to make sure that there is more than just beer on offer.

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“We make a lot of great beer. But there are the consumers who don’t drink but also want to hang out,” says Erin Miller the General Manager of Virginia’s Väsen Brewing Company.

Having non-alcoholic options also helps beer drinkers stay longer with their taste buds engaged. From alternating between rounds of beer, or sticking around a little longer after a few pints, having flavor options without the buzz keeps customers in seats and tabs healthy.

Väsen has put a lot of thought into its non-alcoholic offerings, looking at both traditional and trendy to fill out its menu. Miller says the brewery currently has kombucha, chilled coffee, and non-alcoholic beers.

“We try to stay local with the offerings,” she says. The kombucha comes from Ninja, a company in Richmond, Virginia and Miller says that the brewery rotates through flavors depending on availability and seasonality.

The coffee comes from Recluse Coffee Roastery. The chilled coffee is not cold brew. It’s hot coffee that is chilled quickly with nitrogen. Both the kombucha and coffee are served on draft from the same towers on the beer.

That helps, psychologically, by normalizing the non-alcoholic options in a bar.

Väsen brings in non-alcoholic beers from other beer producers as it currently does not have the technology or capacity to brew their own in house.

“We try to keep the non-alcoholic beers rotating,” she says. “We bring in a lot of samples to try and we like to go with the trends in the marketplace. So pilsners, and hazy IPA, and sours and gose are popular so we want to bring those styles in for non-alcoholic because it lets drinkers keep up with the trends.”

As of this writing the brewery was serving a Hazy IPA brew and Brooklyn Brewery’s non-alcoholic pilsner.

Miller said the conversation among the staff on non-alcoholic offerings has bee evolving.

“Over the last three or four years as Dry January has become such a hit, it has had an impact on the industry. If you don’t have non-alcoholic options you’re losing a customer base for an entire month. Then it continues because people who don’t drink [alcohol] still want to go out with their friends.”

“I think that people who are not drinking, who are coming out, feel more comfortable. And whether it is a newly pregnant woman who isn’t ready to tell everybody and doesn’t want to be s shut in, they have the option to get a drink from us that looks like they’re still drinking and hanging out with their friends. I think that that’s great. They can still keep their secrets. Options lets people hang out.”

She notes that even regular customers might come into the brewery on a week night for socialization and stick with non-alcoholic options to remain clear for the next day at work.

Since adding all the of non-alcoholic options, Miller says that that customers are staying longer.

It also has staff benefits as well.

“You can’t drink during your shift so having these options is great,” she says noting that the brewery also stocks water from Liquid Death, including flavored options. “Even after work there’s only so much you can drink, but for those who want to hang out longer the NA options have been great.”

As the beer industry continues to evolve, the companies that can take on additional products wither in the alcoholic or non-alcoholic space are better poised to combat a changing clientele. Breweries that have added coffee roasting to their business model are able to open their doors earlier for morning service, and also have easy to-go products in the firm of beans. Good branding also helps to keep the larger company top-of-mind during sober occasions.

Traditional seltzer and other drinks can also be part of a company portfolio.

There are also business benefits to NA offerings from outside companies. By working with the local kombucha maker and coffee roaster Väsen is able to offer consumer feedback from different demographics and can also get first crack at new offerings or flavors thanks to the continued relationship.

Obviously, laws vary from state-to-state so not every brewery is able to offer more than just water. For those that can, taking a few simple steps without committing tap space goes a long way.

Bottled sodas are still popular among adults, especially from artisanal makers and with unique flavors. Plus, for kid-friendly establishments it’s a good offer. Breweries can make their own iced teas and lemonades (which can also be mixed with beers for shandies and radlers) or have water stations where seasonal fruit or herbs are infused for a bit of a flavor kick.

A diverse non-alcoholic lineup does not need to break the bank but can have a return on the investment.

It is also important that non-alcoholic offerings receive prominent placements on menus and at the bar. It helps normalize the offerings but also helps draw consumer attention to the offerings. Having staff trained on the processes, companies, and ingredients of the drinks, much in the same way they are trained on beer.

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