The Statement Rick’s Near Beer is Trying to Make

In Central Texas, Josh Hare is well respected as a craft beer brewer. Perhaps best known for founding Hops & Grain in Austin, the beers offered at his brewpub Pint & Plow (a completely separate brand from Hops & Grain) are also enjoyed by Kerrville residents and people passing through on I-10.

Hare’s newest brand is Rick’s Near Beer, which includes a non-alcoholic Lager and a non-alcoholic IPA. 

He created the standalone brand — a completely separate entity from his other brands — for the same reasons other brewers make non-alcoholic products: younger millennials aren’t drinking as much and the “sober curious” movement has been picking up steam.

What Hare didn’t want was a non-alcoholic version of a beer he already makes, which is among the reasons he created a completely separate brand.

The simple white can with red lettering isn’t trying to be Hops & Grain, and Hare said he would never offer an alcoholic version of the beer, which is produced by Sustainable Beverage Technologies in Golden, Colorado. 

“You won’t be able to compare what this beer tastes like with alcohol versus how it doesn’t,” Hare said. “There are some advantages to that. A lot of big brands successfully make analog versions of products they already make, but this is a standalone.

“Rick’s Original will be our flagship, existing on the shelf as something that’s approachably priced — about $10 on the shelf.”

As for “Rick,” he’s not a person, merely an idea, Hare explained.

“Everyone has a Rick in their life, a larger-than-life character that makes every story a better story to tell,” Hare said. “The idea with the name is the fewer the syllables the better. Just like someone would order a PBR or a Hamm’s, they’d say give me a Rick’s. It harkens back to beers like someone in their 70s would recognize.”

The most striking thing about Rick’s Original: It objectively tastes like a Lager. There’s a reason for that.

“It tastes like a beer because it is a beer,” explained Hare, who said the product was created by producing a beer with alcohol and using technology to remove the alcohol. “It’s not a reconstruction of beer flavors that you find with a lot of NA stuff. There are good ones out there, but they don’t taste like beer. They taste like drinks with beer attributes to them.”

Hare found the company that produces the beer through extensive research. During the pandemic, when businesses were shuttered, he experimented with cooking like a lot of people did, except his cooking experiments included attempting to make non-alcoholic beers.

“We tried, but what we came up with was a burnt malt flavor,” he said. “It wasn’t very good.”

Hare submitted his recipe for Rick’s to Sustainable Beverage Solutions, which made the beer, producing samples of it with and without alcohol. That allowed the brewer to tweak his recipe and try again until they produced a product he was satisfied with.

“They have a 10-barrel pilot system in Golden — it’s an incredible lab,” he said. “They have a contract producer in Denver with a larger scaled up model that uses (Sustainable’s) technology. So when I outgrow 10 barrels, which will be pretty much immediately, we’ll have the ability to scale it up.

“They have various levers that you’d pull if you were the chef in the kitchen. Our goal is to provide the sensory experience alcohol provides in beer that you’re missing without it. You shouldn’t give up flavor and the social experience, because intoxication can be as much psychological as it is biological if the flavor is right.”

The product is available online only for now, but will begin appearing on grocery store shelves in south Texas in mid to late February before expanding distribution to the northern part of the state. Hare also plans to shop the beer to various breweries and taprooms to convince them to include it as their NA tap option.

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