Nonalcoholic beer may finally be having a moment as between the pandemic and presidential election, jokes about getting blitzed at home have become commonplace. Sales numbers show nonalcoholic beer sales in the U.S. were up 38 percent in 2020 with $188 million in sales, according to market research company IRI.
Chicago got its own local NA submission this month with U.K.-based Big Drop Brewing’s U.S. debut. The British brand signed on with contract brewery Great Central Brewing, known for brewing popular Chicago brewers like Begyle Brewing Co. and Maplewood Brewing. Its pale ale and stout are now available at Great Central on the Near West Side, and there are plans to launch an IPA in early February.
While a number of factors, including a cultural fixation with wellness-related products, contribute to the surge in interest, chief among them is that nonalcoholic beers are better and more interesting now, the Tribune reports. Non-drinkers are no longer limited to O’Doul’s — companies ranging from craft operations like Athletic Brewing Co. to heavy hitters like Heineken are putting out booze-free IPAs, coffee stouts, Oktoberfests, and more.
Though this spike in popularity is exciting for non-drinkers looking to scratch the beer itch, nonalcoholic options constitute less than one percent of industry. Brewers like Big Drop CEO Rob Fink and Lagunitas Brewing CEO Paige Guzman see NA products as one option in their beverage arsenal rather than a full-time commitment, they told the Trib.
And in other news...
— An entry in the Chicago Reader’s annual Best of Chicago poll that listed “Filipino food” as one of the city’s “best new food trend[s]” raised eyebrows this week among local chefs and writers. Startled to see an ethnic culinary culture reduced to a fad, some pointed out that Filipino food has long been popular in the city. “Filipino food is a cuisine a cuisine, cronuts and sushi burritos are trends,” Lawrence Letrero, a Filipino-Canadian chef and co-owner of Bayan Ko, wrote on social media. “We’ve had great pinoy restaurants reppin in Chicago for years. Do better.” Filipino-American writer Sarahlynn Pablo and Asian-American journalist Taylor Moore also expressed their dismay. Entries in the Reader poll are user generated, music critic Philip Montoro writes on Twitter. Still, criticism ultimately prompted editorial staff to update the entry to “Filipino restaurants.” Letrero laughed at the change, as it’s a bandage quickly applied, so the in-progress poll wouldn’t be distorted.
— At long last, a controversial plan to open a brewery and taproom inside a 115-year-old fire station in Jefferson Park was unanimously approved Wednesday by the City Council Committee on Housing and Real Estate, according to Block Club Chicago. Chicago-based Lake Effect Brewing Company has been working toward becoming the anchor tenant at 4841 N. Lipps Avenue since 2018.
— Lauded pan Asian sandwich spot Hermosa has added several vegan items to its menu, adapting classic items that are traditionally made with meat and dairy. The items include an animal-free nom tak (king oyster mushroom, cilantro, mint, toasted rice, chili) and green curry (Thai eggplant, jalapeno, peanuts, shishito, green papaya). Order via Square.