Beer but no alcohol

Alcohol-free brews are on the rise

My wife visited a friend a few weeks ago and came back from the excursion asking if I’d ever tried non-alcoholic beer. Her friend had been talking up Athletic Brewing Co., which is based in Connecticut and brews an array of alcohol-free beer.

While I had heard of the brand, honestly, I couldn’t say that I had ever had a non-alcoholic beer in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever even tried an O’Doul’s. I suppose I always wondered — if subconsciously — what’s the point? (I know what the point is.)

Not that I’m condoning drinking to get drunk as a responsible choice, but the alcohol in beer is an undeniable, perhaps critical piece of the puzzle. Still, beer does, you know, taste good. Sometimes you want to enjoy a beer but maybe not take in the alcohol, you know, like on a Tuesday. Other times, maybe you’ve already had a few, you’re feeling pretty good and you’d like to keep enjoying the moment — but you know you need to slow down or stop altogether. That’s an instance where an alcohol-free beer can help keep the good times rolling, while keeping you in a responsible frame of mind.

Beyond those instances, obviously others are choosing to live without alcohol for a variety of reasons.

According to a Boston Globe article in May, sales of nonalcoholic beer are up nearly 40 percent in both 2019 and 2020. It’s probably time for me to get with the program.

I was skeptical, but the Athletic story was compelling. The founder, Bill Shufelt, notes on the company website he made the decision to cut out alcohol as a way to live a healthier lifestyle, but non-alcoholic options were limited in the marketplace.

“From the start, we’ve planned to offer more non-alcoholic beer variety than the world has ever known,” Shufelt says on

I was impressed. It was time to dive in.

I started with Athletic Brewing Co.’s Upside Dawn Golden Ale, which the brewery describes as “refreshing, clean, balanced, light-bodied,” with “aromas subtle with floral and earthy notes,” and yeah, that description fits the bill. It’s also gluten-free for those wondering and just 50 calories.

Do I think it’s missing a little zip with no alcohol? Yes, I do, but that could also be in my head. This is a perfect brew for a screaming hot day. It’s crisp, light and refreshing, and, as you might expect, very, very easy to drink. I could have one of these at the beach or after mowing the lawn — or during since it’s about time I make use of the cup holder on the riding lawnmower.

I should also note that when they say alcohol-free they mean less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume.

Next up was Athletic’s Free Wave Hazy IPA. Candidly, I don’t know if this is going to satisfy New Hampshire’s hop enthusiasts or “hop heads,” but it does have enticing hop character featuring a citrusy burst in a well-balanced package. Athletic uses Amarillo, Citra and Mosaic hops in this brew. It’s pretty impressive. I’ll have this again for sure.

At the moment, Athletic also brews a stout, a second IPA, a Berliner weisse and a Mexican light lager.

Athletic isn’t the only option for non-alcoholic brews, as major breweries like Brooklyn Brewery, Dogfish Head and Sam Adams are all pumping out non-alcoholic brews, so you undoubtedly have some choices at your local beer store.

What’s in my fridge

Combover IPA by Schilling Beer Co. (Littleton)
It’s the strawberry notes on this one that stand out for me. You’re getting big citrus and pine flavors but the strawberry flavor gives this American IPA a unique twist. This is one of those IPAs that just begs for another sip. Cheers!

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

Vacation beers

I want to say that you deserve a vacation, but honestly, I don’t know that you do.

Don’t get me wrong, you might. Maybe you’ve been going crazy putting in extra time and making yourself available at all hours of the day. Then again, maybe you’ve mailed it in over the past year-and-a-half “working from home”? I just don’t know.

The reality is, whether or not I think you deserve a vacation, you’re probably going to take some time off this summer. And whether you deserve it or not, you’re going to need some beer.

I find I end up drinking really random stuff on vacation. I think part of it is this all-consuming pressure that all dads feel to eat and drink everything in the cooler during the vacation. That seems to leave me knocking down some brews I might otherwise stay away from. I’m looking at you, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy.

Vacations, whether you’re hitting the beach, the mountains, the lake or somewhere tropical, are all about taking it easy and your beer should mirror that feeling. I gravitate toward lighter styles, like Pilsners, for screaming hot days at the beach and I tend to follow that up with darker, but not too heavy, brews for cool, breezy vacation evenings.

Let’s be honest, you’re on vacation, so you’re probably going to be having several beers, and you don’t want your beer to bog you down. I tend to stay away from big double IPAs — they taste great but sometimes leave me ready for nap time a little too early in the day.

If you can find something local on your vacation that fits the bill, all the better. You don’t want to neglect your family, but I give you permission to explore — it seems like there are great breweries wherever you go now. I discovered Cigar City Brewing in Tampa on a family vacation to Florida years ago, and, while it’s easily accessible nationally now, I now consider that brewery a go-to for vacations and just normal life.

For years Sam Adams Summer Ale was my go-to summer beer: easy, flavorful and light. There was just something about the beer that solidified for me that I was, in fact, on vacation. Find your vacation beer.

Here are a few beers to enjoy wherever your vacation takes you.

Smuttynose Lager by Smuttynose Brewing Co. (Hampton)

It’s just a beer. You don’t need to think about it. This new offering by Smuttynose is light, crisp and refreshing, and — not that I’m recommending this — you could probably drink a million of these in a single weekend away.

Patina Pale by Austin Street Brewery (Portland, Maine)

I had this beer during a Portland brew bus tour several years ago and it blew everyone away. Right at the brewery, I think the freshness just hit us right in the face. This is delightfully hoppy with notes of pine and citrus in a light, easy-drinking package that is perfect for getting your hops fix on vacation.

Golden Hour Sour by Granite Roots Brewing (Troy)

Mango and passion fruit combine to produce a fruity, tropical-tasting sour that pairs perfectly with the beach. If you’re a little wary of sours, this is a great choice as the tartness isn’t overly pronounced.

Maduro Brown Ale by Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, Fla.)

I had to give Cigar City some love — this beer features light flavors of toffee, coffee and chocolate in a very, very smooth package. This is the one I want on a cool evening sitting by a fire on the beach.

What’s in My Fridge

Greylock Imperial New England IPA by Greater Good Imperial Brewing Co. (Worcester, Mass.)
This might be the most dangerous beer I’ve ever had. Named after Massachusetts’ highest peak, this brew comes in at 12 percent ABV but you’d never guess that drinking it. You’ve been warned. This brew is quadruple dry-hopped, producing a smooth finish bursting with huge citrus flavor. Cheers!

Featured photo: Patina Pale Ale by Austin Street Brewery.

Fireworks and beer

Celebrate the Fourth of July with the perfect brew

Do you remember what you had planned for the Fourth of July last year? That’s a trick question. We both know you had absolutely nothing planned. The 2020 Fourth of July took a hit just like everything else last year.

Actually, that said, my family was preparing for my dad’s 70th birthday, as he was born on July 5. It was supposed to be the first time we got together as a family, albeit outside and socially distanced, since the world came to a halt in March 2020.

I was looking forward to having a beer with my dad, and it was off to a good but very brief start when the skies opened up and thunderstorms took over. Hey, we tried. But Covid-19 won in the end. In hindsight, I suppose it was predictable.

This year, we’re all overdue for a party. I know my dad is.

With last year behind us and a light visible at the end of the tunnel, this year feels different. I don’t think people are going to be attending the same old Fourth of July cookout this year. This is the year to take things up a notch.

I mean, bring the burgers and dogs, but let’s also throw a couple T-bones on the grill in honor of what we missed out on last year. I think we should all be allowed to have an extra-large ice cream sundae on the Fourth this year too, or maybe an ice cold root beer float.

That goes for beer too. Don’t hold back on your beer choices this year. This is the year to wait in line for the beer you want. There. I said it.

Here are three beers that will help you celebrate the Fourth of July.

Combover IPA by Schilling Beer Co. (Littleton)

You should probably just go to Schilling for the Fourth and have some delicious pizza by the river as you drink amazing beer. You can’t beat the view. You can’t beat the pizza. And you can’t beat the beer. This is your quintessential American IPA: supper hoppy, bursting with notes of citrus and pine, and, maybe surprisingly, a little hint of strawberry. I would wait in line for this beer.

Seize the Bean Coffee Milk Stout by Throwback Brewery (North Hampton)

I know, it’s super hot and who wants a rich, creamy stout when the sun is cranking? Well, sometimes when the sun goes down on the Fourth of July, people light fires and then enjoy toasted marshmallows and smores. And I think this brew would go absolutely perfectly with a summer bonfire on the Fourth. This is rich, decadent and full of chocolate and coffee flavor but relatively low on alcohol, which makes this just slide right down.

Tie Dyed Dry-hopped Pale Ale by Great North Aleworks (Manchester)

I’m legitimately scared you are going to drink too much of this. It’s got the hop character that beer drinkers these days love but in a package that is just so much more palatable and drinkable. I hadn’t had one of these in a while and cracked one open recently, and I said to my wife, “I could drink a million of these.” I didn’t and I’m not going to, but I think you’ll appreciate how this beer combines big hop flavor with an easy-drinking brew.

What’s in My Fridge
Naughty Nurse by City Steam Brewery (Hartford, Conn.)
I went to my cousin’s wedding a couple weeks ago and it was just so hot and humid. It’s the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in a suit — and I didn’t even wear a tie. It’s an understatement to say I was thirsty. The Naughty Nurse is an amber ale — and can I just say amber ales are underrated as a style — and this was both refreshing and flavorful. It’s got a little caramel sweetness and a little bitter spice in a very sessionable package. Cheers!

Tractors and beer

Help ease the lawn mowing frustration

Last year, I bought a riding lawn mower. My wife said I could, so I did. I bought a used one because I’m thrifty.

First, the battery needed to be replaced. Then the mower deck wouldn’t stay level. Fast forward to this spring and it was leaking gas, which, you know, seems troublesome.

I took it to the mechanic and a few days later he called me and said, “You buy this used?” I answered in the affirmative. He said, “You know this engine isn’t even meant for this machine?” I did not know that but he fixed it as best he could and wrote in big capital letters on the receipt: “Not guaranteed for anything.” I’m feeling really good about the whole situation.

Right now, it’s sitting in the front lawn, where it currently won’t start, again.

What I’m trying to say is, this machine has made me drink a few beers recently. After our most recent fight, I grabbed an Export American Golden Ale by Shipyard Brewing Co. I needed something light that I didn’t need to think about in the moment.

I read “golden ale” and my first thought was that this is going to be just a light Pilsner, but this has a lot more malt character than I was expecting. It features a little sweetness and a touch of richness that gives this brew character. By the way, this is hardly a new brew; it’s Shipyard’s flagship brew, first introduced in 1992. This is definitely a good yard work beer, regardless of your lawn mowing situation.

Here are a few more beers that have recently helped me through these tough times.

Hoponius Union Hoppy Lager by Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers (Framingham, Mass.)

It’s not an IPA but it’s awfully similar. Unlike a traditional IPA, this is fermented cold and aged for extended periods. As the brewery says, this combines West Coast IPA hops and lager yeast fermentation. The result is a tremendous all-around beer that features huge citrus aroma, lots of tropical hop flavor and a clean, dry finish. This is a longtime favorite of mine.

Winni Ale by 603 Brewery (Londonderry)

The brewery says this one is still its top-selling beer, which is a testament to the brew considering today’s hop-crazed beer culture. This is a rich amber ale that features a little sweetness but finishes with a little burst of citrus hops. Honestly, it reminds me a lot of the Shipyard Export Golden Ale.

Pale Ale by Newburyport Brewing Co. (Newburyport, Mass.)

Call it what you want but to me this is just a toned down IPA and, man, sometimes that’s just perfect. It’s crisp, bright, refreshing and not too hoppy, but it still has plenty of citrusy hop character. When you’ve spent the day toiling in the yard with finicky small engines, this is a perfectly drinkable choice to help reward your efforts and patience. You’re going to want to have a few of these.

One to Try
Not too many craft brewers are offering Belgian-style Tripels these days, instead focusing on expanding and experimenting with the IPA style. It’s all about consumer demand, we get it. There’s something about the style I’ve always enjoyed: flavorful, complex and approachable, despite loads of alcohol. With that in mind, it caught my eye to see Granite Roots Brewing in Troy offering its Face Plant Into Rock Belgian Tripel, which features a “clean malt flavor, slight bitterness and a touch of coriander to finish dry…,” according to the brewery. This is one I’ll be trying to track down.

What’s in My Fridge
IPA by Stoneface Brewing Co. (Newington)
This is one that I just keep coming back to. It’s bright and hoppy, boasting big dry hop flavor and aromas. There is something comforting about this just being labeled “IPA,” too. It is what it is, and what it is is a great, all-around IPA. Cheers!

Featured photo: Export Golden Ale by Shipyard Brewing Company. Courtesy photo.

Lighten up and cool down

All of a sudden it’s summer

Well, that happened fast. One day it was 41 degrees and straight up cold and the next it was 93 degrees and everyone had to make the big decision on whether to install those air conditioners now or try to wait it out for a few more weeks. New England, am I right?

In terms of beer, all it takes is that first hot day to send me on a completely different trajectory. Frankly, I’m not sure what to do with all the stouts and porters in my fridge. Kidding. I’ll still drink them.

But my taste buds immediately steer away from rich malts and toward clean, bright, light brews the second I break a sweat.

You want something refreshing and sometimes — especially when it’s hot, for some reason — you want something you don’t have to think about. Sometimes you just want a beer that tastes like a beer, and the beer that does that best is the Pilsner.

Now, a “light” beer or a Pilsner isn’t going to have the deep complexity of a big stout or the waves upon waves of flavor of a super-hoppy IPA or the overall funkiness of a sour, but lighter brews like Pilsners aren’t lacking for flavor; it’s just that the presentation of the flavor is a bit different, a bit less in your face.

Pilsners can vary considerably. The hops can give way to a wide range of notes. Some have an almost bread-like flavor, while others feature more fruity notes and citrus, or a combination. A good Pilsner goes down easy and comes in low in alcohol.

Let’s also be honest for a second: Lighter beers have fewer calories. That’s not a thing I worry about much when it comes to beer, but the reality is that low-calorie is having a moment. Low-calorie hard seltzers are exploding and low-calorie wines are on the rise.

Pilsners are the original low-calorie beer. A 12-oz Coors Light comes in at 102 calories. I know. I know.

OK, enough about calories. The Pilsner is the beer of summer and beyond, and craft brewers near and far have turned back to this style, providing beer enthusiasts with quality Pilsners to be enjoyed fresh and preferably right at the brewery. Here are four to look out for.

Revuelta Mexican Style Lager by Able Ebenezer Brewing Co. (Merrimack)

The craft beer version of a Corona: light, crisp, uniquely flavored and featuring a hint of lime. You’ll probably be having more than one of these.

Longfin Lager by Ballast Point Brewing Co. (San Diego)

Is liking the can design a reason to try a beer? I just decided it was. There’s a tuna on the can and that drew me in. This is the epitome of easy drinking: crisp, refreshing and still flavorful with a touch of a peppery bite.

Aosta by Schilling Beer Co. (Littleton)

Everything Schilling does, it does well, as far as I can tell, and one of the things they have absolutely nailed is the Pilsner. And not just one Pilsner. At my last count, they had seven Pilsners or Pilsner-like beers on tap, if I’m allowed to refer to them as Pilsner-like. This is an Italian Pilsner that the brewery says features floral, citrus and cracker malt notes on the aroma and the flavors of biscuit, cracker and melon.

North Beach Mexican Lager by Great Rhythm Brewing (Portsmouth)

I haven’t tried this one but Mexican lagers are just all about summer. This one is brewed with Pilsner malt, vienna malt, flaked corn and hallertau mittelfruh hops, which, according to, is a German hop strain that is floral, earthy and a little spicy, and I like the sound of that.

Featured photo: Cool down with a Revuelta Mexican Style Lager by Able Ebenezer Brewing Company. Courtesy photo.

Make yard work more fun

Random beers to help with outdoor chores

My wife and I decided this would be the year we would beautify our landscaping. Mulch! Fresh loam! Grass seed! New shrubs! Flowers! And even a fancy sprinkler that sits on a tripod! This would be the year.

Well, some of those things have actually happened but others, sadly, have not. The area right in front of my house looks like a construction site. No, not a construction site; it looks like something exploded in front of my house.

There are two giant holes from removing a couple stumps, except that I’ve only been able to get one of the stumps out. I’m told I need a “come-along” and a “winch.” And then I guess I’m going to crank it right out, so says YouTube. I can’t imagine anything could go wrong.

OK, so there’s been a lot of digging and just generally tiresome labor, and that means I’ve needed to whet my whistle with some beer from time to time. My selections have been completely random and maybe even questionable but I regret nothing.

I know I’m not alone in trying to beautify lawns and landscaping this year and so I know I’m also not alone in needing something to quench my thirst.

Here’s a look at some brews that helped reward me after attacking some stumps.

Harpoon UFO by Harpoon Brewery (Boston)

I found this in the back of my dad’s fridge and when I saw it I immediately harkened back to the college days when I had far too many Blue Moons and UFOs with orange slices sitting on the brim of the glass. I think we all went to the well on this style too frequently and just got sick of it. So, probably 15 or maybe more years since I last had one of these, I dove in, and it was refreshing and tasty. There is absolutely nothing offensive about this beer. It’s definitely got a little sweetness but it’s not nearly as overpowering as I remembered. On a hot day, yeah, I think this is a winner.

Holy Donut Imperial Stout by Lone Pine Brewing Co. (Portland, Maine)

Brewed in collaboration with the famed Portland doughnut shop that gives this beer its name, this is an imperial stout brewed with dark chocolate toasted coconut doughnuts. Honestly, I’m not sure whether it’s dessert or breakfast and who really cares anyway? The main problem with this beer is that I was halfway through it when I realized it was 10.5 percent ABV — that sort of made for an interesting afternoon. This is a rich, decadent bomb of a beer that still manages to be dangerously easy to drink.

Newcastle Brown Ale by Lagunitas (Chicago)

This is another one I found in the back of my dad’s fridge — honestly, what’s in the back of this guy’s fridge is absolutely wild: Mike’s Hard Raspberry Lemonade from probably 2008, some kind of hard root beer and then some Heady Topper sitting right next to it. It’s incredible. This was one of my first favorite beers during and after college. My whole family loved Newcastle. We got kegs of this stuff for all family graduation parties, I think. And then one day I bought a six-pack and every beer in the pack was skunked, and it’s just really hard to come back to a beer once that happens to you. But you know, again, years later, this was perfectly fine! (It’s also now brewed with a different recipe.) It’s got a subtle nuttiness and a little bit of malt — extremely easy to drink. This is a perfectly pleasing if not especially remarkable beer.

What’s in My Fridge
Wachusett Blueberry Ale by Wachusett Brewing Co. (Westminster)
My wife saw this in the fridge and asked why I don’t keep the fridge stocked with this beer at all times. It’s a great question and there’s really no excuse for my lapse. If you’ve never tried this, please do. It’s super-refreshing, very easy to drink and features the extremely pleasing but not at all overpowering flavor of blueberry. Cheers!

Featured photo: Holy Donut by Lone Pine Brewing Co.

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