A while back I was craving Miller High Life, as one does. Alas, I had none in my fridge and my favorite beer store wasn’t open. So I grabbed a Suntory All-Free “sparkling malt & hops beverage” can from the fridge in hopes it would scratch that light lager itch. It certainly did the trick, albeit far from the familiar flavors of High Life. But if you knew going into a beverage that it was both similar and different from another beer you were familiar with, would you give that beverage some leeway?
As I drank the All-Free I texted a photo of it to a friend who works at Guinness. He’s somewhat of a connoisseur of non-alcoholic drinks, specifically NA beers. He inquired if it tasted wort-y at all? No! To my surprise this beer was void of those cooked hops, canned corn, and generally less-than-pleasant flavors which sadly come in many German-made NA beers often shipped in green bottles.
The sparkling malt & hops beverage was in my fridge because DCBeer received a pitch from a global communications firm. Not uncommon. But what was uncommon was the product: a zero alcohol, zero carbohydrate, zero sugar, zero calorie, “sparkling malt & hops beverage” that you can buy on Amazon. Would I like a sample? I wanted to try it, not realizing how much of this beer had been brewed in Japan since inception in 2010.
Suntory’s All-Free is aptly named given it has zero percent alcohol, not .5%, which is one reason you might choose it over, or in addition to, the tasty NA beers that a company like Athletic Brewing Company makes. It also has zero calories and carbohydrates which is pretty remarkable for a product that tastes nothing like that world famous 0 cal, 0 carb drink: water. As a diabetic who regularly counts carbs, this is a welcome addition to the water-only lineup. It’s now readily available in the US thanks to Amazon. However if you prefer to keep your dollars circulating locally, All-Free can be purchased at local restaurants and markets found at the bottom of this article. If you’re searching for something made closer to DC, consider Three Notch’d or Brookville Beer Farm and their NA beer offerings.
Zooming out of the mid-Atlantic region, looking at greater insights into what the NA beer market might become in the US, I spoke to Michael Uhrich, Seventh Point Analytics Consulting founder and chief economist. He believes that the NA beer segment in the US will continue to grow. He also thinks some people will get rich off of it and he doesn’t think it’s a stretch to say that a non alcoholic brewery could reach an output of tens of thousands of barrels annually. But even if a brewer were to make 100,000 barrels, that’s just a 20th of a percent of the industry.
“I think that the NA Market in the United States could quadruple in size and still not be on a lot of people’s radar. What I mean by that is, there’s a drinker who likes to have non-alcoholic options. There are a lot of drinkers who don’t care,” says Ulrich.
Take Athletic, which grew from one 10,000 barrel capacity brewery headquartered in Connecticut, to a second in San Diego in 2020, with a capacity for 125,000 barrels according to Business Wire. “In 2022, Athletic will add an additional 150,000 barrels of capacity at a second Connecticut brewery located in Milford. With 125,000-150,000 barrels of capacity on each coast, Athletic will continue its distribution growth domestically and into new international markets.”
So, what is noteworthy about All-Free? Is it simply a beverage that comes across as not-too different from beer? Malt, hops, water, and yeast are the common grounds in the brewing trade regardless of the continent your product is made on and All-Free fires on all the proverbial just-like-lager cylinders. If anything it’s void of some of the hop and yeast compounds found in beers like High Life.
But perhaps more remarkable than the product itself is the data. All-Free has been putting up numbers that many small and mid-size brewers would be jealous of. In 2021, the brand sold 8.1 million cases. From its launch in 2010 to 2020, the accumulated total is 71.28 million cases. Between 2010 to 2021, the All-Free brand accumulated a total of 80.09 million cases in sales according to Suntory. Each case of All-Free is equivalent to 12.66 liters, and given this conversion, the brand sold over 8,640,466 barrels from 2010 to 2021. That’s a lot of NA barrels.
I would encourage NA beer enthusiasts to give this beer a try. Yes, I received a six pack of this beer simply by asking, but even after paying for these I would not be disappointed knowing this very light beer still tastes similar, and different, on the tongue.
- Great Wall Supermarket, Germantown
- H Mart, Inc. Wheaton
- Hinata Sushi Carryout, Bethesda
- Kusshi Sushi Restaurant, Bethesda
- Lotte Plaza, Rockville
- Maruichi Japanese Grocery, Rockville