Pandemic helps open up the Canadian non-alcoholic beer category: ‘People have started to take health and wellness more seriously'

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Libra co-founders Mitch Cobb and Mike Hogan
Libra co-founders Mitch Cobb and Mike Hogan

Related tags Craft beer Canada

Working in the Canadian craft beer industry, Upstreet Craft Brewing’s founders found there were always plenty of opportunities to have a beer. When this started to take its toll, they used their craft expertise to create a non-alcoholic brew. Now they are seeing more and more people follow their thinking as a result of the pandemic.

B-Corp certified business Upstreet Craft Brewing was founded in 2015 in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and has a portfolio including Upstreet Craft Beer, Rewind Vodka Seltzers and East Coast Craft Sodas. In October, it added non-alcoholic Libra to its portfolio: which has just expanded to grocery aisles with listings at Sobeys stores across Atlantic Canada.

Libra has already become one of the brewery’s top selling products; frequently outselling many other of the brewery’s craft beers.

'Breaking down the craft beer process and then putting it back together again' 

Upstreet owners Mitch Cobb and Mike Hogan were inspired to create a non-alcoholic beer that let drinkers feel they were drinking a typical craft beer, without the alcohol and with a fraction of the calories.

“Libra was inspired by the need to find balance in our own lives. Working in the craft beer industry, there was always an opportunity to have a beer - at dinner, after work, with customers or friends. Over time, this took a toll on us," ​Mike Hogan, co-founder and head brewer, told BeverageDaily.

“We wanted to socialize without sacrificing our health, but, as craft beer lovers, we weren't thrilled with our options. We became determined to develop a refreshing craft beer - without the alcohol. We started experimenting with different methods and recipes in 2018 and kept  researching and developing until we struck the right notes.”

Creating Libra was done by ‘breaking down the craft beer process and then putting it back together again’ – sans alcohol. 

“Traditional non-alcoholic beers use a process that boils off alcohol, jeopardizing flavour and compromising ingredients,"​ explained Hogan. "We spent two years of research and development (and countless pilot batches) to perfect our unique brewing method and bring out the craft flavor- with none of the alcohol.

“We pride ourselves in using new world hops with the freshest citrus and tropical flavors we can get our hands-on. We combine traditional craft brewing practices with innovative techniques to ensure alcohol by volume is low while keeping the flavor profile high. Thirst for knowledge and flavor drives the creativity and innovation of the Libra brewing team."

The brewery also made the conscious decision to create a separate identity for their non-alcoholic brews: reflecting their desire to build unique non-alcoholic beers from scratch, rather than trying to create a non-alcoholic version of an existing product. 

  • Libra Pale Ale is the flagship non-alcoholic brew. 'It uses some delicious malted oats and barley combined with hops from the Pacific Northwest. It's balanced and crisp with some light honey, citrus, and berry notes.'
  • Libra's Hazy non-alcoholic IPA 'looks, tastes, and feels like the real thing but with only 50 calories and .4% alc/vol. Using traditional brewing methods, dry-hopped El Dorado, Idaho 7, Strata and Comet come together to create a balanced IPA bursting with tropical fruit and mango aroma and flavours.'
  • Libra Pilsner is the newest brew. 'It is a light and crisp pilsner with a malty sweetness, floral aroma, and a gently bitter finish. True to the style, it's brewed with lager yeast, and Saaz hops from the Czech Republic.'

While the brewery was already convinced by the need for a non-alcoholic craft brew long before COVID was a word, they’ve seen the pandemic change how people think about drinking.

“It wasn't by design, but 2020 turned out to be the perfect time to launch a non-alcoholic craft beer," ​notes co-founder Mitch Cobb.

"Health and wellness trends have been growing for a number of years now, driven primarily by Millennials and Gen Z and a big part of this trend is reducing alcohol consumption. However, people aren't willing to sacrifice their social lives to be healthy.

"They still want to go out with friends, have a drink with dinner, and do the things they normally do, but they also want to be able to get up the next morning, ready to conquer the day.  

"I think that as the pandemic continued through 2020, people realized that mid-week IPAs for lunch were not sustainable and started taking their health and wellness more seriously. And as the world started to open back up, people were looking for a craft beer they could enjoy with friends with the same great taste but none of the alcohol.

"This change really supported our launch.

'The non-alcoholic beer category in Canada is still young but is growing quickly. Consumers are seeking out new options, and both on-premise and off-premise locations are starting to take the category more seriously.

'The next two years are going to be really interesting. I think we're going to see a lot of innovation happen as more great breweries put out non-alcoholic options. This will help drive category sales and grow the market, as consumers realize they can get the same great taste of craft beer without the hangover.'

The brewery is confident in the potential to grow its non-alcoholic portfolio and expand distribution. 

Overall, we have been thrilled with the response for Libra, "​ continued Cobb. "Sales continue to grow, and we continue to get inquiries from retailers across Canada.

"There is a real appetite from consumers to try new products, and we sold out of our first batches of Hazy IPA and Pilsner in record time.

"Interestingly, Libra has become one of our top selling products, and frequently outsells many of our other craft beers.

“We continue to explore and innovate in the non-alcoholic beer space and have lots more up our sleeves. This isn't a one-and-done product for us. We really want to continue to put out new and interesting non-alcoholic beers and push the limits of what craft beer can be.”

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