It has been genuinely fascinating to watch the adoption of non-alcoholic beer continue to make headway in the craft beer world in the last few years, as consumers who never would have pictured themselves as “non-alcoholic beer drinkers” have steadily discovered that NA beer is for more than those who want or need to stop drinking. I’ve been on that same journey right alongside you, tasting lineups from a bevy of breweries producing non-alcoholic beer, and experiencing the best (and worst) that the genre has to offer. It’s been a period of stunningly rapid advancement and improvement, as brewers have refined serviceable and then more than serviceable NA versions of classic craft styles such as pale ale, IPA, hefeweizen and even stout. To think that none of these things existed even five years ago can’t help but make you excited for the future of the segment.
One city where I hadn’t yet sampled a local non-alcoholic craft beer, however, was Atlanta, and that is a city with special importance to Paste. It’s the city where Paste was born, the place that housed our offices and music studio, the place where I left a career in newspapers to write about beer, film and spirits in the first place. So when I first started reading about Rightside Brewing, an NA-only brewery located in the eastern Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville, GA, I took interest right away. The city is absolutely packed with quality craft breweries in 2021—too many to count, truly—so it was high time that the Atlanta area also start producing its own non-alcoholic options. Rightside is also notable for the fact that it donates 5% of all sales to “sobriety related” causes.
Currently, Rightside focuses on an only two beer lineup, in the form of a non-alcoholic IPA and a flagship “Citrus Wheat.” Receiving samples of both, it’s time to get down to what we do best, which is tasting.
It’s not entirely clear if one or the other of these brands is considered the “flagship” for Rightside, or sells considerably more than the other, but after tasting both it was this Citrus Wheat that most captured my imagination. There’s a few reasons for this—first of all, “wheat beer” is not the most common niche for non-alcoholic craft beer, even now. I can only think of a few instances in which I’ve tasted an NA wheat beer, in fact. It also begs the question of “What kind of wheat beer are we really talking about?” Is this more in the mold of a German hefeweizen? An American pale wheat ale? A Belgian witbier? All seem like equally likely possibilities, and that’s before you even start processing the “citrus” aspect. Rightside, meanwhile, says the following:
Revolutionizing the taste of your classic wheat beer, Rightside’s Citrus Wheat puts a spin on a tropical aroma, with nodes of fresh tangerine juice, banana and a hint of spice to tie it all together. Take your taste buds a little deeper with fresh orange flavors with a medium body and crisp finish.
On the nose, what this initially reminds me of more than anything is American pale wheat ale—the sort of “wheat beer” that proliferated on brewpub menus in the early 2000s, and was a staple of the genre that has now largely faded into obscurity. This one has a lightly bready, grainy aroma, evoking a fresh slice of whole wheat bread, with a light spread of orange marmalade. It’s a subtle aroma, pretty restrained and delicate, which might make some consumers wish for something more assertive. Personally, I am mostly just pleased that it doesn’t throw off distinctly “wort-like” vibes, which is the downfall of so many NA beers. Subtlety in non-alcoholic beer is still something of a rarity, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing here.
On the palate, Rightside Citrus Wheat brings mild flavors of lightly bready grain, some pleasant florals and moderate notes of lightly candied orange. Residual sweetness is still quite mild, and the overall profile is unassuming and extremely easy drinking. Again, it avoids the unfinished or “wort-like” notes, which is one of the main things I’m looking for in modern NA beer at this point, so I’m not overly concerned about the overall low threshold of flavor. This is simply one of the more subtle and easy drinking NA beers I’ve had to date, and that’s not a bad thing. Consider this a warm weather crusher.
I have sampled so many different non-alcoholic IPAs in the last calendar year that I’ve become intimately familiar with the style at this point, and I’ve seen both the best and worst of what the style has to offer. Of particular importance has been the confirmation that it is indeed possible to offer modern hazy, “juicy” IPA fruit notes within an NA beer package, which I finally experienced in beers such as Crux Fermentation Project’s No Mo NA IPA. Unfortunately for the rest of the field, this means the grading scale for every other non-alcoholic IPA has suddenly gotten a bit more rigorous. Of their own NA IPA, Rightside says the following:
A moderate hop aroma with a tropical fruit-filled fusion of pineapple, orange, citrus and slight malt. Dive deep into this fresh light golden to orange foamy head brew. After a long day, this ale will refresh you for a night of socializing – bursts of fresh mandarin orange, stone fruit, and an earthy spice flavor will keep you craving “just one more” sip.
After tasting this beer, I can’t help but feel that this description oversells the “fruitiness” of the result significantly. Rightside Brewing IPA isn’t unpleasant, but I wouldn’t describe it as “bursting” with tropical fruit by any means. Instead, this beer reminds me more of an NA take on earlier generations of IPA.
On the nose, this one strikes me as grassy and lightly herbal, with a bit of toasty maltiness that slightly evokes black tea. On the palate, it follows through on those lightly toasted malt impressions, along with hints of pine needles, grass, florals and lemon-like citrus. Bitterness is fairly mild, but it is indeed present, growing slightly in stature as you work through the glass. The flavor profile is pretty clean, without pronounced off flavors, although there’s a slightly butterscotch-like trailing note that seems out of place. All in all, though, this feels like a beer that might be better marketed as NA pale ale rather than IPA, because it simply has a lower volume of flavor compared to some of the other non-alcoholic IPAs it will now be competing against on store shelves, and less of an explosive hop presence.
All in all, though, these are two professionally crafted NA craft beers, and I’m curious to see what styles Rightside might choose to explore in future brands.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.