In the height of the biggest non-alcoholic beer boom in the US, what's wrong with America's oldest NA beer?
I was at a casino for a work trip -- classic scenario where you just feel a little more included with something to drink in your hand.
And for me, it's not quite the same if it's a can of soda (unhealthy), bottle of water (lame), or mocktail of some sort (just not my style). I'm totally unashamed to not be drinking, whether that is for the year, the month, or just the night, I've done them all. But holding a can or a bottle of an "adult beverage" in those social situations makes a difference.
So when I approached the bar and searched the bottom shelf of the beer fridge I was equally pleased and bummed out to see those infamous green bottles: O'douls: Premium Non-Alcoholic Brew.
O'douls: America's N.A. Grandfather or Embarrassing Uncle?
Whether or not you've ever had a nonalcoholic beer, or have ever heard of NA craft breweries like Athletic and Bravus, you've probably at least heard of O'douls.
Getting its start in 1990, O'douls is undisputed in its reach and longevity. If only they could have been known for also tasting awesome...
I think they are both the grandfather and the embarrassing uncle to a degree.
The problem is, it's basically been associated with problem drinking -- and is the "I guess I'll have this because I can't have anything else" type of option.
I actually had a non-embarrassing uncle growing up who drank O'douls at family gatherings. For him, it was related to Diabetes if I remember correctly. So not a problem drinking scenario, but still a clear sense that "those are special for him". But I get it, that was the option at the time and I truly am grateful for the trail they have blazed for the NA brands we have today.
One of the reasons I rate my beers on "coolness factor" when reviewing them is because I think that beer drinking happens with all of our senses: how it looks, tastes, smells, feels. It is also so highly social. Can art is cool for a reason; people love to look at it, talk about it, etc.
And the long and short of it is that right now...
O'douls just isn't very cool.
I'm not saying that is fair or accurate, but it is what goes through most people's heads when they see it, according to the internet and it is unfortunately what went through mine that night in the casino.
Because of everything mentioned above, I still ordered one. Mostly because if I see an NA beer on the menu, I want to buy it to encourage the person doing the P+L that people are out there spending money on it. But I also realized something, I don't know if I've ever actually had an O'douls before.
So social stigmas and a much-needed rebrand aside, here are my thoughts on the actual beer itself.
Non-alcoholic beer review: O'douls
Guys, it's really not that bad.
Sure, you want to double check the expiration date if you see some dust on the bottle, but if it is cold -- I honestly feel like it hangs with some of the other cheap NA beers out there.
Don't get me wrong, it is still a last resort for me, but I think it shouldn't get as bad of a rap as it does. If O'douls refreshed their branding and did some marketing work imagine how fun that could be. It's not like they don't have the budget...
Release date: 1990
Style: Non-alcoholic lager
Cals/Carbs: 60 Cals, 13g Carbs, 0g Sugar /12oz
Avg. price (US): ~$7 / six-pack
Overview: Overall, this is a low-end beer, tastes "green" and light. I like the carbonation but don't love the aftertaste. The colder the better here, which usually isn't a great start.
Look: Light, golden yellow that is quite clear.
Aroma: Sweet, corn cereal.
Taste: A little bit malty, a little bit "skunk-y" with a fairly bitter aftertaste.
Feel: Super light, like seltzer.
Coolness factor (aka marketability): It's the least cool NA beer at the present moment, I'm sorry to say. There is a little niche of internet NA drinkers who like the O'douls Amber so maybe that version gets a few extra cool points but honestly... I might just order a coffee or something depending on the time/place with this one.
Takeaway: Maybe sometimes a brand is going to be known how it is going to be known. It's the Folgers instant-coffee of the NA beer world.
Final thoughts: why marketability matters
Hey look, I'm not drinking and it is not weird.
I know it might sound shallow and unimportant to talk about how "marketable" a beverage is. And 9 time out of 10 it is, but with an emerging market that is literally helping people combat shame and become healthier it actually matters quite a bit.
I'm a marketer at heart so maybe I'm biased, but something being socially accepted and/or considered 'cool' drastically dictates our societal behavior. One strong example is smoking. It was so normalized that it became a major epidemic. Frankly, same with alcohol.
Now all of the companies out there trying to normalize not drinking are doing so largely by trying to show the world, "hey look, I'm not drinking and it is not weird".
When people feel the freedom to not drink they are actually going to drink less. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from BWAB readers that they felt pressure to drink at a social event or feel awkward if they order a water while out watching the game with the guys.
When NA beverages become a safe and easy choice, it will be good for everyone.
The coolest thing a company like Athletic Brewing has done for drinking culture is get
a recognizable brand
in lots of places -- bars, restaurants, grocery stores, even NBA stadiums and ski resorts
famous people and "cool" people to promote it
It's seriously so much easier to order something like that.
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