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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

KaiFebruary 18, 2022

In search of the best non-alcoholic beer in New Zealand

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

The Spinoff takes on another batch of booze-free beers, and is delighted to discover the field has come on in leaps and bounds. Here are 11 newish offerings, reviewed and ranked. 

March 7, 2020 was a different era. When we published our first non-alcoholic beer rankings, there had been just a handful of Covid cases in Aotearoa and lockdowns were still a foreign concept. Also, to be honest, the beers we tasted were pretty bad.

Two years on, the world has been ravaged by a global pandemic. But on the upside, the quality of booze-free brews available in this country has markedly improved. No, I’m not suggesting these two things are related.

Anyway, back in March 2020, just one New Zealand beer featured in our lineup of 11, and it came second to last, scoring a shoddy 1.9/10. This time around, Kiwi brews took out the top four spots in another 11-strong lineup, suggesting not only that New Zealand brewers have caught on to the international trend for boozeless beer, but that they’ve got quite the knack for what’s a notoriously difficult process. And with sales of low- and no-alcohol beer up 1,116% in the past five years, according to an industry study, they’d be foolish not to tap into the growing market. 

The tasters (plus Stanley)

The criteria for being included in this year’s tasting were not having been part of the first tasting, which essentially means they weren’t around, or at least not widely available, back then. We ditched the strict 0% requirement, tasting beers up to 0.5% (which is the legal requirement for labelling a beverage “non-intoxicating” or words to that effect).

Some of the beers we tasted were supplied, others we bought from local supermarkets. A word of warning: if you’re struggling to get hold of any of these beers, particularly the winner, it’s because demand has been through the roof and the brewers are struggling to keep up. Shop around or try again a few days later and pray for replenished stock. (On that note, if you’re wondering why Mac’s Stunt Double, which we’ve heard good things about, wasn’t included in this tasting, it’s because it’s out of stock everywhere). 

This year’s tasting panel comprised Spinoffers Sam Brooks, Alex Casey, Duncan Greive, Calum Henderson, Stewart Sowman-Lund and me, Alice Neville. Assisted ably by tasting convenor Katy Goldring, The Spinoff’s office manager, we tried each beer blind and in random order. 

A word of warning before we delve into the results: if you’ve never tried alcohol-free beer before, don’t expect it to live up to the boozy kind (especially if you’re used to drinking high-quality, hop-forward stuff). We scored these in terms of what they are – alcohol-free beers – rather than comparing them to our fave regular brews. To be honest, even our very high-scoring winner would pale in comparison if tasted directly after a pint of your favourite hoppy number, so keep that in mind when you’re drinking them.

– Alice Neville

11. Krombacher Pils Alkoholfrei

6 x 330ml,  $12 from Countdown

Score: 3.66/10

We were not fans of this German offering, which gave off bad homebrew vibes. Stewart Sowman-Lund found the nose “meaty” and on tasting the beer, detected rotting flesh.

Sam Brooks was kinder, comparing it to “bad apple juice”.

On first sip, Duncan Greive clutched his stomach and groaned, but on further reflection said “I find it acceptable”. Nobody else did. 

10. Bavaria 0.0% Wit

6 x 330ml, $9 from New World

Score: 4.08/10

Following 2020’s tasting, readers got in touch to extol the virtues of non-alcoholic wheat beer, but this Dutch offering didn’t live up to the hype. “That’s bad. I don’t like it,” said Alice Neville, equating the beer to soap. 

Alex Casey opted to compare it to a Kmart candle, before deciding it was more like “when Fanta made the spider range and they were kind of milky and vanilla-y and disgusting”. 

“If Phoenix wanted to come out with an all-natural V then this would be a prototype that did not get commissioned,” was Duncan’s very specific analogy. Calum Henderson was the sole fan, saying you needed to think of it not as a beer, but rather as a “tasty beverage” you picked up at a Korean supermarket.

9. Coopers Ultra Light

6 x 375ml, $12 from New World

Score: 4.25/10

The overwhelming feeling we got from this Aussie battler was “swampy”. 

“It’s the last beer you have at a pub that makes you realise you should’ve gone home,” said Calum. Duncan (“like when you’re on jugs of Speight’s for ages and ages”) and Alex (“it reminds me of Shadows”) had similar thoughts. 

Alex, somewhat perplexingly, also thought the beer tasted like uncooked spaghetti, but said she would drink it if you gave it to her. “It’s fine,” Sam concurred. “I would drink this but I would not pay for it.”

8. Krombacher Weizen Alkoholfrei

6 x 330ml,  $12 from Countdown

Score: 4.33

This fared better than the pils (see 11), but the tasters weren’t exactly fans. The nose confused us, with Duncan comparing it to “deodorant for preteens” and also “my sensory memory of my English grandma’s bathroom but not her toilet”, something he found “oddly comforting”.

The taste was overwhelmingly sweet, with Alice saying it made her feel queasy. “I’m at a beer fest and I’m like ‘oh damn I picked a bad one’,” was Calum’s assessment.

For all that, the tasters commended the beer for at least being something. “It tastes really bad but also it’s my favourite so far because at least it’s tried. It’s not trying to disappear,” said Duncan. “But I never ever want to drink it again.”

7. Bavaria 0.0% IPA

6 x 330ml, $10 from New World

Score: 4.5/10

If you want evidence of how far the booze-free beer market has come in the past couple of years, look no further than the fact that last year’s winner – which was hidden in among the new beers in this blind tasting – could muster only seventh place in a field of 11. Last time we scored it 7.5/10; this time a lowly 4.5. 

The nose was pine or, more specifically, “Christmas range Ecoya”, reckoned Stewart. “I had a lot of hope from the pine nose that it would be a hoppy number,” said Calum, but that hope was dashed on tasting. It gave him “Australian vibes, not in a good way”.

Alice found it bitter, “but not a pleasant bitter”, while Alex said “it takes me back to a bad place”, comparing the beer to “when I made a mistake at Golden Dawn* and got a fancy one”. Duncan, ever the supporter of giving it a go, said “at least it’s trying to be something”, but concluded that the “aftertaste is rank”.


6. Speight’s Summit 0.0% Lager 

12 x 330ml, RRP$22 

Score: 5.08/10

Prescient southern man Calum detected “Speight’s Gold Medal on the nose” and said “I really like the colour”. “I’d drink this if there was horse racing on TV,” he added. Alice said it had flavour and body, giving off “classic NZ draught” vibes. 

Duncan was less impressed, saying, “I just can’t smell anything, I can’t taste anything. All of these beers have Covid. I’m really struggling to generate an emotional or sensory response to whatever the fuck this is.”

5. Heaps Normal Quiet XPA

4 x 335ml, $18-$20 from Glengarry, New World and various online stores

Score: 5.1/10

With its quirky name and appealing label, this Australian offering had real crafty vibes – and a price tag to match. Keeping with the on-trend feel, it poured hazy, though Alice felt it was more “cloudy”.

Only Alex detected the beer’s highfalutin aspirations, saying “I think it’s fancy”, but not finding that a positive. “It tastes like vile. I hate it.”

The other tasters got a sense of nostalgia. “I feel like all New Zealand beers used to taste like this 25 years ago,” said Duncan. “It’s like if Export tried to make a zero-alcohol hazy.” Alice agreed, detecting “dirty pipes” – the downfall of many a tap beer.

Calum felt that aspect was part of its charm, however. “I feel like I’m drinking this from a jug in a bowling club and the keg’s been there for a while,” he said. “It has a sense of fun to me as I associate it with binge drinking. Like a $2 jug beer.”

4. Steinlager Zero 

12 x 330ml, RRP$22

Score: 5.66/10 

“I’m getting stadium from this one,” said Calum, and Alice agreed. “It’s Mac’s Gold, Tui or Export Gold. But it’s fine. It’s not a lot.” 

“I could be convinced that this is beer and I would like it,” said Sam. “I feel it, not taste it.” Alex thought it would be “nice with chips”.

3. Bach Brewing All Day Non-Alcoholic IPA

6 x 330ml, $20 from New World and various liquor stores


It was a decent jump in scores up to the top three, with all tasters fairly complimentary of this number from Auckland brewery Bach. The aroma was particularly impressive. “Great nose,” said Duncan. “It’s almost too fruity.” Alex simply said: “It smells like a hardout beer.”

“It’s nice and dry,” added Alice. “It doesn’t have the sweetness and cloyingness of some alcohol-free beers.”

The flavour didn’t exactly linger, however. “It’s got this big fragrant fruity thing on the nose and then you sip it and it’s like ‘where did it go?’” said Stewart.

“I really like this,” concluded Sam. “If you served this to me and told me it was a 5%, I wouldn’t be sceptical.”

2. Sawmill Bare Beer No Alcohol Pale Ale

6 x 330ml, $15-16 from New World and various liquor stores

Score: 7.5/10 

This one from Matakana-based Sawmill had a pleasing effervescent nature, which Sam equated to “a dry Lindauer”.

Duncan praised the “nice tart quality”, while Calum felt it tasted like “there’s craftsmanship involved”. “Very light but quite pleasant,” added Alice.

“Very refreshing,” said Alex. “I think this is a good one.” In undeniably high praise, Calum said he’d go back for a second.

1. Garage Project Tiny No Regrets Hazy IPA

6 x 330ml, $19 from New World and various other places when it’s not sold out

Score: 9.6/10

Tiny was the clear winner, with our tasters positively spewing forth superlatives upon tasting this beer. “I really like this one,” said Sam. “I feel like the dream of no-alcohol beer has finally been realised,” added Calum.

“It’s a class of its own,” thought Stewart. “It’s what all non-alcoholic beers should be aspiring to.”

Alice said the popularisation of hazy beers had done wonders for the non-alcoholic field, as brewers no longer had to attempt to replicate bitter IPAs (a Sisyphean task when it comes to boozeless beers) to achieve a “craft” feel.

“It’s to die for,” concluded Alex.


Keep going!