19 Low Alcohol and Alcohol Free Beers for Grilling – Texas Monthly
Aaron Franklin’s very first brisket smoking tutorial, posted on his BBQ with Franklin YouTube channel in 2012, has been viewed over four million times. In the video, Franklin puts the brisket in the smoker and closes the lid, then reminds the audience that it will be a long time before the brisket is ready. “How long is a long time?” he asks. “Long enough to have a beer.” I’m not saying Franklin was a trendsetter in suggesting a relationship between smoking meat and drinking beer; Many backyard chefs – and four million YouTube barbecue fans – will joke that the long brisket smoking time is really just an excuse to spend half a day drinking beer. That’s fine unless you want to end with a good brisket.
Maybe you have a stash of duplicate IPAs that you saved up, or the Imperial Stouts you bought last November are taking up too much refrigerator space. One beer leads to another, and the next thing you know when you last looked at the temperature gauge. I was there. By the end of the cook, when the cook should be hottest, these heavy beers have turned into a heavy buzz. Your judgment will deteriorate and impatience will set in. After hours of exertion and attention, the schnapps makes you sloppy. I’m here to tell you have to cheer up with your beer of choice.
In this modern age of craft beer, your favorite beer may have twice the alcohol volume (ABV) of your dad’s light beer. It’s easier than ever to get intoxicated by a few beers, so it’s most responsible for a backyard chef to cut himself off after a drink or two. But I know that is not always a realistic expectation. Instead, I suggest you turn back the gas and fill up your cooler with these Texas Monthly tested non-alcoholic or non-alcoholic beers. These options allow you to keep a cool beer in hand all day and still be alert enough to put a log on the fire when the smoker’s temperature drops and careful enough to let the brisket ride until it’s tender is enough. To make this list, I and another beer lover, we’ll call him Chris, tried forty beers, all below 4.0 percent vol. To put that in perspective, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has 5.6 percent ABV, Budweiser has 5 percent ABV, Lone Star has 4.5, and Shiner has 4.4.
We made a decision to stay below 4.0 percent alcohol based on an American beer history. You may remember 3.2 beers from days gone by, this is the highest alcohol weight (ABW) beer that Texans aged 18-20 were allowed to drink legally in the 1970s and 80s. That number goes back to the Beer and Wine Revenue Act of 1933, which was signed just before the ban was lifted to allow 3.2 percent ABW beer to be sold. Back then, such low-alcohol beer was classified as “non-intoxicating”. Beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent corresponds to around 4.0 percent alcohol. So, for Texans of a certain age, drinking under 4.0 percent alcohol could make them feel like they are eighteen again. Because of the ABV alone, for every can of the most popular IPA from the same brewery, you could have two cans of the number one beer on our list.
The range also includes non-alcoholic beers (defined as beers below 0.5 percent alcohol) and some beer-inspired drinks. We’ve rated them all using our own metric, the Topo Chico Line (TCL). If I swap my favorite beer for a lighter drink, would I rather drink that beer or some mineral water? Only nineteen of the forty made it through the TCL, and we ranked them from first to nineteenth. Here are the results:
Saint Arnold Raspberry AF (3.6% ABV), Houston: Combine with grill for a light, bubbly counterpoint to hearty smoked meat. With a lot of raspberry flavor and not too much acid, it’s a great all day drinker on its own.
Vector brew moon smoke (3.6% ABV), Dallas: This smoked sour beer is a Lichtenhainer, a German type of beer that is not often found in the USA. The smoke is most noticeable on the nose, but once you take a sip it is tempered by a subtle sour taste.
Blue Owl Brow Cool & The Gang (3.2% vol.), Austin: Soaked with Earl Gray tea and combined with lemon notes, this sour beer drinks like an Arnold Palmer.
Photo by Daniel Vaughn
We’re pausing this ranking to let you know that all three of the above beers are sour. If you like sour beers this is welcome news. If you don’t like sour beers, your ranking starts below:
Tecate light (3.9% vol.), Mexico: If you’ve had a Mexican-style lager, it will be a familiar taste. I would prefer it to the trio of Coors Light, Miller Lite, and Bud Light, which all have 4.2% ABV.
Lonely starlight (3.85% ABV), Austin / Fort Worth: This light version of the National Beer of Texas still holds up, with notes of malt and some solid beer flavor.
Clausthaler dry skip (NA), Germany: Many of the non-alcoholic beers lacked boldness, but this one had an impressive combination of sweet, malty and hoppy flavors.
Leinenkugel’s Session Helles (3.4% ABV), Wisconsin: A simple light beer with a crisp finish.
Clausthaler original (NA), Germany: Tastes very much like a generic European lager which is an achievement for an NA beer.
Athletic Brewing Co. Upside Dawn Golden Ale (NA), Connecticut: Even without alcohol, the fullness and depth of the taste is impressive, especially when compared to other light beers.
Bell’s Light Hearted Ale (3.7% vol.), Michigan: Session IPAs are a popular brew today, usually with less hops than a regular IPA. This one is even lighter, so this could be a good entry point for IPA skeptics.
Michelob ultra pure gold (3.8% ABV), Missouri: A harmless light beer, which is a compliment considering we tried all the offensive beers.
Lagunitas Hoppy Refresher (NA), California: This calorie-free drink is more of a flavored sparkling water and still has some sweet notes and a hop flavor.
Athletic Brewing Co. Run Wild IPA (NA), Connecticut: That was our favorite of the NA IPAs, but it was still a little thin.
Old town light (3.5% vol.), Fredericksburg: I wanted this Texan beer to do better, but it’s so light that it doesn’t have any flavor to make up for the bitterness.
Lagunitas IPNA (NA), California: Similar to the Athletic Run Wild, but with less body.
Wellbeing Conscious IPA (NA), Missouri: See above.
Live Oak Brewing Grodziskie (3.0% ABV), Austin: The smokiness might put people off, but this is an old type of light Polish beer made from wheat malt smoked in oak.
Hitachino Nest Yuzu Ginger Non Ale (NA), Japan: While this was refreshing, with flavors like yuzu and ginger on the label, we were hoping for a bolder taste.
Karbach Free & Easy IPA (N / A), Houston: This barely squeaked over the Topo Chico Line and only works if it is drunk from the can. If you pour it into a glass, you’ll feel a hint of dumpster juice on a hot sidewalk.
Over half of the beers we tried fell under the Topo Chico line, with flavors ranging from weirdly soapy to Lucky Charms marshmallows. These are the beers, in alphabetical order, that we’d rather replace with water if we had the chance: Athletic Brewing Co. Cerveza Atletica, Athletic Brewing Co. Free Wave Hazy IPA, Athletic Brewing Co. Smooth Ascent Coffee Stout, Brooklyn Special Effects Hoppy Amber, Brooklyn Special Effects IPA, Colima Cayaco, Coors Edge, Dogfish Head Lemon Quest, Erdinger Weissbier, Grüvi Non-Alcoholic Stout, Hairless Dog NA Black Ale, Hairless Dog NA IPA, Kaliber NA, Kirin Light, Miller64, New Belgium The Purist, Partake NA Stout, Paulaner Weizen-Radler NA, Texas Select NA, Wellbeing Hellraiser Dark Amber, Wellbeing Heavenly Body Golden Wheat.
If you have a favorite NA beer that we might have missed, or a great story about how beer ruined your barbecue, please let us know in the comments below.