Michigan Brewer Taps Into The Unexplored Market Of Non-Alcoholic Craft Beer

In Beer News by Ryan

At a time when double-digit alcohol content beers receive top billing at bars, brewpubs and bottle shops across the country, a small west Michigan brewer is making its footprint brewing a non-alcoholic beer.

The idea started innocently enough at Schmohz Brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One of their mug club members wasn’t able to drink beer anymore. Well, beer with alcohol. After sampling what was available he went back to his beloved brewery and asked them to brew one. They obliged and the Schmohz 120 was born.

IMG_0594At first 120 was only available on draft at the tap room. But Schmohz eventually added it to their regular lineup and it, “went like wildfire,” according to Schmohz Beer Engineer Chas Thompson.

Let’s put that into context. A beer manager at a craft-centric beer store in Lansing, Michigan told GuysDrinkingBeer, during a visit two months ago, that he was going through six cases of 120 a month compared to two cases of Schmohz’s other offerings.

Essentially, any of his customers who had previously bought Sharps or O’doul’s were now buying the 120.

“It totally took us off guard,” said Thompson.

Why? Simple, it tastes good. Thompson calls it a, “very drinkable” beer. And for those of you who’ve tried just a sip of non-alcoholic beer you know that most are watery and flavorless.

The 120 actually has a bit of body to it and it’s aroma and flavors are in lock-step with what you’d expect from a craft brewed amber ale, with alcohol; sweet caramel on the nose with notes of figs and brown sugar on the palate and a touch of herbal hops in the finish.

The crew at Schmohz was able to keep up with demand for about six months before they were forced to suspend production last fall because, believe it or not, making non-alcoholic beer is expensive. And the unexpected popularity of the 120 was eating into time the brewers would have been spent on creating one-offs and seasonals.

In order to make a IMG_0597non-alcoholic beer, according to Thompson, you first must brew a beer with alcohol and then use a specialized – and expensive – machine to remove the alcohol. Those machines aren’t cheap, running anywhere from ten thousand dollars to well over 200-thousand dollars, depending on the size.

Couple the fact that this one expensive machine is used in the production of one of over a dozen beers with the fact that Schmohz didn’t charge more for the 120 and you had a brewery losing money on a beer that had barely a trace of alcohol in it.

Once the 120 stock began to dry up, the backlash from the beer community wasn’t pretty. Thompson says they were receiving what he called, “hate mail,” on a regular basis. “It’s amazing that people take it that seriously,” said Thompson.

And because 120 fans are taking the departure of the beer so seriously, Schmohz is doing the same in regards to getting it back onto store shelves. They’re looking into new, experimental and hopefully more cost-effective equipment to remove the alcohol from the beer.

Thompson tells GuysDrinkingBeer that he’s hoping to begin production again in the late spring or early summer of 2013.

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Ryan

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Equal parts beer nerd and policy geek, Ryan is now the curator of the Guys Drinking Beer cellar. The skills he once used to dig through the annals of state government as a political reporter are now put to use offering unique takes on barrel-aged stouts, years-old barleywines and 10 + year verticals.

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