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"Non-alcoholic beer can also be served in a café"

A sober night out? It has never been easier. Alcohol-free beers are taking over bars. And it’s not going to stop there, says Marcus Thieme, CEO of Brewdog Germany.

A bar from outside with tabels and chairs.
Interior of a bar. An open refrigerator displays various drinks

The times of associating beer with tipsiness are definitely over. Non-alcoholic beers are conquering the hospitality industry. In January 2020, Brewdog brewery opened a completely alcohol-free bar in London with 15 non-alcoholic beers on tap, plus non-alcoholic spirits. A crazy idea? Maybe it is. But it’s a successful one. According to the owners, sales are through the roof.

We spoke to Marcus Thieme, CEO of Brewdog Germany, about non-alcoholic drinks in hospitality, why people nowadays often deliberately avoid alcohol even when they’re going out, and why non-alcoholic beer also has its place at cafés.

Mr Thieme, who actually goes to a bar that doesn’t serve alcohol?

Marcus Thieme: In Great Britain, the target audience is huge – especially in January. This is because a particularly large number of people take part in ‘Dry January’, i.e. not consuming any alcohol for the whole of the month of January. It’s like a counter-movement to the excesses over the holiday season, during which people might have drunk one or two beers too many. As a brewery, you can clearly see that in the sales figures.

So that you’re not going to get tempted in the first place, a bar space where there is no alcohol from the outset makes a lot of sense.

In a manner of speaking. At this bar, we’ve achieved a double-digit increase in turnover compared to January last year, when it was home to our Draft House craft beer bar. But I wasn’t really surprised by that. In Germany and neighbouring countries, you can now see that the non-alcoholic market segments are growing.

Why do you think that is?

I’d say there’s been a fundamental change in the way people go out. Thursday nights used to be the start of the weekend, but now you won’t find a bar in a medium-sized town that’s open on Thursdays. So, people generally go out less often. And when they are in a bar, they worry about drinking one too many shots, because photos of any and every embarrassing thing they do could end up on social media. That wasn’t the case 20 years ago. 

Does health awareness amongst consumers also play a role?

Absolutely. We used to drink sour apple and peach schnapps. Today, people read the label and see how much sugar is in it, and they put the bottle right back on the shelf. 

Drinking menu on the wall behind a bar

People could just drink water or sodas if they want to avoid alcohol. What is the appeal of non-alcoholic beer?

That is the big question. A lot of people simply like the taste of beer. But with some non-alcoholic beers, you need a certain amount of imagination to believe that it’s really beer. That doesn’t work for long: you can’t sell a bad product, even if it’s part of the alcohol-free hype.

For a long time, as a customer, I only got non-alcoholic wheat beer or light lagers.

But since then a lot of very good non-alcoholic beers have been made. Since launching universally famous Nanny State pale ale, Brewdog have also launched Punk AF and Hazy AF (both IPAs), Raspberry Blitz and Faux Fox (both sours), and Wake Up Call (a stout). Every style and taste is represented. These beers no longer have anything to hide.

Bars are natural places for these beers as well. Where else should non-alcoholic beer be sold?

I could imagine the coffee stout being sold in a café, for example – after all, there is about as much caffeine in each bottle as in two shots of espresso. Our vision is for someone to drink a non-alcoholic coffee stout on their way to work in the morning – and for this to be considered quite normal. In the supermarket, non-alcoholic beers don’t have to be banished to beer shelves, where non-drinkers might not even pass by and see them.

Doesn’t your alcohol-based business suffer because people are increasingly turning to non-alcoholic versions?

We can’t confirm any evidence of this at all. When we launched Punk AF onto the market, the sales of its alcohol-based role model Punk IPA didn’t decline. Sales of the non-alcoholic version simply increased. At the large British supermarket chain Tesco, sales of Punk AF even overtook sales of Punk IPA at times!

 

 

Do you want to read more about alcohol-free beer? Then you might also be interested in these two articles:

Multiple routes to producing alcohol-free beer, Alcohol-free made easy?!