Profile series: Innovators in low/no alcohol
My Drynuary: 'We're seeing more craft brewers join the non-alcoholic movement'
Introduce us to Harmon's!
After two years of R&D, Harmon’s was launched in November 2021 by myself (Steve Abrams), Rob Doyle and Mike Cuch with the mission of brewing delicious non-alcoholic craft beer.
Drawing on our 40+ years of combined experience in the industry, we’ve adapted and updated methods used by generations of small brewers to create an innovative way of making non-alcoholic beer.
We believe the best way to make great beer is to work within existing brewing frameworks. We don’t use fancy equipment or special technology to remove the alcohol after fermentation, just clever recipe design and attention to detail.
Our core three brands are:
- Lunchbox Non-Alc Lagered Ale (Silver medal – Ontario Brewing Awards)
- Jack Pine Non-Alc Pale Ale
- Half-Day Hazy Non-Alc IPA
To date, we’ve produced two seasonal offerings:
- False Start Marzen (Gold medal – Ontario Brewing Awards)
- Harvest Ale
All our beers are brewed to 0.5% alc/vol.
Our 4-packs are sold in select Ontario grocer & independent retailers. Customers can also buy directly from our website at harmonsbeer.com. We are currently expanding our presence within on-premise, which wasn’t our focus in year one.
Tell us about the alcohol-free beer market in Canada - and how do you expect it to evolve this year?
Revenue in the Canadian Non-Alcoholic Beer segment is expected to reach US$291.40m in 2023. The market is forecasted to grow annually by 12.99% (CAGR 2023-2025) (statistica.com).
We’re seeing more craft brewers jump on the non-alc bandwagon as a means of shoring up their struggling businesses.
Aside from more competition, this means more variety for the consumer, which is a good thing.
Look for more innovation as brewers figure out how to replicate their alcoholic winners into no-or-low alcohol versions.
What, in your opinion, makes a good alcohol-free brew?
Regardless of the style of beer you’re brewing, mouthfeel is critical. Depending on the method, some non-alc beers can be quite watery and miss the mark completely. Overall, it’s just down to how the beer is made. Some brewers use high-tech filtration to remove or “strip” alcohol from beer; others make a stronger beer and then dilute it. We chose to traditionally brew to .5%, which is not as simple as it sounds, but the results are worth the effort. We also use certified organic ingredients because we care about the planet’s health and believe in using the best quality malt and hops available.
Non-alcoholic beer was the pariah of the Canadian beer industry for decades. I called it “penalty box” beer because drinking it was a form of punishment - it was truly awful stuff. Now, habits are changing. People are cutting back on their consumption, but still want to enjoy craft beer flavour. The non-alc beer category is evolving to meet that demand.
What does your job involve?
I wear many hats, and some don’t fit as well as others! Truthfully, I do a little of everything, except the brewing - that hat is for our talented brewmaster, Rob Doyle. I balance my week's activities between sales, admin, cash management, building our online presence, and strategizing with my two partners. I put in long days, but it’s nice to see things moving in the right direction.
In the summer months, we do a ton of samplings, which I like to call our “Liquid to Lips” program. With all the negative preconceptions people have about non-alc beer, we must get them to taste Harmon’s and see how far the industry has come. I really enjoy that part of the job because we get to meet a lot of curious people. I’ve found that people really want to tell you why they’re interested in our beer which results in a lot of stories - some sad - but mostly nice ones.
Dealing with the naysayers can be frustrating, but we have thick skin. We do get the odd person who becomes infuriated when you offer them a sample of non-alc beer. I could do without the online trolls as well…
What does January look like for Harmon's?
January is huge! All those people making New Year’s resolutions absolutely translate into sales. We also try to build awareness this time of year because the media and public are more receptive to our messaging.
We’re currently running a Dry January promotion through our e-commerce store at harmonsbeer.com. When customers buy three 6-packs, they get the fourth of their choice for free by using the promo code DRYJAN at checkout. Additionally, we are running an Instagram contest promo with our friends at Sobrii-O non-alcoholic spirits which is getting a lot of traction. Meanwhile, we’ve significantly ramped up on-premise sampling and in-store demos.
And what should we look out for from Harmon's in the rest of 2023?
Look for us at new retailers across Ontario. We hope to be distributed in other provinces by the end of the year.
Expect a new seasonal release from us in the spring, followed by summer, fall and winter releases.
Look for our Harmon’s tricycle (see photo) at events across Toronto throughout the spring and summer. We’ll be sampling wherever and whenever possible!
What inspires you on your low/no alcohol journey?
The stories we hear from grateful customers are truly inspiring. Sometimes they’re not buying for themselves, but for a loved one. We get notes all the time from folks thanking us for making their lives better - it makes your day!
In terms of pure marketing inspiration, I’m a fan of a bunch of UK non-alc brewers, especially MASH GANG. They’re a really interesting brewery who make nothing but no-and-low alcohol beer in collaboration with craft brewers all over the country. They’re cheeky and fun which is the way I want our brand to be. From everything I hear, the beer is fantastic too. Good Karma Beer in the UK is another brewery whose marketing I admire.
In the US, I love Athletic Brewing (of course) and Brooklyn Brewery’s Special Effects is mind blowing.
In Canada, Partake was my go-to non-alc beer before we started our own venture. They make great beer and I still drink it on occasion. Ted Fleming is a legend for creating a whole new category! We owe a lot to his vision.
What’s your favorite product from your brand and why?
It really depends on my mood, what I’m eating, time of year, etc. If I was on a desert island, I guess Jack Pine would be the one. It has just the right balance of hoppiness and maltiness. But I also love our Hazy IPA for the fruity notes, and our seasonal Marzen was a malt bomb!