Hopping NA beer

NA beers have suddenly become of interest in my household again, and as generalization, I think they’re just not good. Luckily, it doesn’t matter what I think. Dave Eryn at BS Brewing has a great review of NA beers, and while I differ from her on Kaliber, I agree that O’Douls Amber is about as close as you’re going to get to a decent beer sans alcohol. Still, it’s not great, but there might be a way to improve on it.

My wife is as big a hop head as I am, and one thing consistently missing from NA beers is discernible hoppiness. Buckler at least gets the slight skunk of a green bottle correct, but that’s a pretty lame distinction. So here’s what I tried.

Hop reduction

Bert Grant used to carry an eye dropper of hop oil with him to add to tame beers. Hop oil is extracted using alcohol, something we’re trying to avoid, so why not create a hop tea? I’ve got a lot of hops, so boiling an ounce of Summits seemed like a good use. I boiled the hops in a small stock pot for about 5 minutes, then strained off the cones and continued to boil the tea for another 10 minutes to reduce the volume. The resulting brownish sludge didn’t look too great, but it smelled nice. A reckless sip and I was startled at how bitter it was. Better be careful.

A small addition to a pint of beer definitely made the beer more bitter. Sadly, it was impossible to get the right mixture of the reduction to get the desired hoppiness without making it too bitter. Maybe a hop variety with a lower alpha acid percentage would be better, but this just didn’t work.

Hop Oil

This stuff contains alcohol. To get the hop oil, you have to use alcohol to extract the oils from the glands. But, as it turns out, you only use 2 drops per 12 oz bottle, something that is well within a safe consumption level. I tried two drops in a bottle of Widmer Drop Top, and the beer suddenly became much more to my liking. For the first couple sips. Then it was time to re-drop. I think I used a total of 5 drops over the course of the beer. This is promising though.

Michelle tried it in an O’Douls and the flavor is markedly improved. It’s almost drinkable. The body is now the missing link. I wonder if there’s a way to add unfermentables to bolster that….

In the mean time, it looks like tonic & lime is the preferred alternative.

5 thoughts on “Hopping NA beer”

  1. I’ve been thinking about this myself lately. I ordered some hop extract from an herbal extract supplier (HERBPHARM). The taste made me ill.

    Lately I’ve been reading about home brewing but haven’t done any yet. I wonder how it would work to pour a bunch of O’Doul’s into a pot, heat it to 170 degrees or so with hops pellets to hop it the same way you would in home brewing. Then you would bottle the freshly hopped brew with a shot of yeast and sugar to bottle condition it. You would need to have different bottles than what the O’Douls came in. Can’t recap screw top bottles. Of course you would also need bottle caps and a hand capper.

  2. You’d probably get some decent hop aroma, but without boiling the hops, you’d not get any bitterness, which may be ok, but was one of the things that the beer sorely lacks.

    Personally, the cost and labor of reboiling would be too much. Plus, by re-carbonating it with yeast, you’re going to get some alcohol. CO2 is only one of the byproducts when you give yeast sugar to munch on. You’d probably just end up with a bad, costly, and slightly-alcoholic brew. 🙂

  3. Yeah. *sigh*

    I’ve got four bottle of O’Doul’s. I may try boiling with hops and re-bottling just as a fun experiment. It’s Either that or throw them out.

    I could brew my own, split a batch and evaporate off some of the alcohol to see how it affects the final product.

    I’ve just recently discovered craft beer. So many, so little time! At 54 I don’t tolerate alcohol as well as I once did so one or two 7-10 percent brews is all I dare have in an evening.

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