Matt Place, the Northeast sales manager for Athletic Brewing Company, hands a sample of one of their non-alcoholic beers to Jack O’Brien at Bow Street Beverage on Sunday. O’Brien, who is a bartender in Portland, is doing Dry January for the first time. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

When Patrick Rowan opened Woodland Farms Brewing Co. in Kittery in 2017, he already had plans to brew a non-alcoholic beer.

His first attempt, he said, was “pretty terrible.” But after a few years of tinkering with the recipe, he launched his first successful brew. Non-alcoholic varieties now account for about 70% of the beer the brewery produces. 

Woodland Farms has since been joined by other Maine pioneers of booze-free beer, including two Portland breweries that exclusively make the non-alcoholic varieties. 

Kit NA Brewing opened in 2021, contracting with a New York company for the actual brewing and bottling process. And 1820 Brewing Co. opened in July with its own line of NA brews.

The three breweries were the first in Maine to tap into an emerging market that has many in the craft brewing industry buzzing.

And customers are drinking it up, especially this month. Whether it’s to reset after a holiday season of overindulgence or a pause for the “sober curious” to explore their relationship with alcohol, Dry January has become a busy month for brewers and the stores that offer non-alcoholic options.


Dry January is a legitimate thing at this point in time,” Rowan said. He estimated that just one week into the month, his January 2023 sales are up 400% compared to January last year.

The idea of Dry January as we know it began in 2014 as a United Kingdom-based public health campaign, but it goes way back. Canada and Czechoslovakia embrace a teetotalling February, and Finland adopted “Sober January” for a wartime boost in 1942. 

It has gained international traction in recent years, with the American Heart Association estimating 35 percent of Americans of drinking age abstained from booze last January. Numbers like that have led to an explosion of interest in non-alcoholic options.

Cameron Graham in front of their section of non-alcoholic beers in the walk-in at Bow Street Beverage. Graham, who is the marketing manager, said their selection of non-alcoholic beverages has gone up significantly in just two years. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Non-alcoholic beers, which can actually have as much as 0.5% alcohol, come in all forms, including sours, stouts, IPAs, blondes and wheat beers. The beers are brewed with the same basic ingredients as other brews, but the fermentation process is typically controlled or altered to reduce the alcohol content.

Nationally, the so-called NA beer scene really took off with the launch of Athletic Brewing Company, a Connecticut-based company that began brewing exclusively non-alcoholic beers in 2017. The company has raised more than $175 million to expand its offerings, including a $50 million investment from Keurig Dr. Pepper in November. 

Larger beer giants like Heineken and AB InBev, which owns brands like Budweiser, Corona, Michelob and Modelo, have taken note and expanded their non-alcoholic options. 


Between August 2021 and August 2022, total dollar sales of non-alcoholic drinks increased more than 20%, according to NielsenIQ. 

Non-alcoholic beverages account for just a sliver – 0.47% – of total alcohol sales in the U.S., but that small figure has grown steadily from 0.22% in 2018. And it is predicted to account for 10 percent of American beer sales in the next five years.


Portland’s Bow Street Beverage now sells 36 different low- or non-alcoholic craft beers compared to the six they stocked just three years ago, marketing manager Cameron Graham said.

Graham didn’t have Bow Street’s non-alcohol beer sales data, but he said that Maine seems to be at the forefront of the non-alcoholic craft beer trend, much like it has been for craft beer generally.

“People used to write off non-alc as a watery beer that didn’t taste good or ask what’s the point if it is not getting me drunk. But in Maine, we’re used to having a full spectrum of choices, from IPAS to sours,” Graham said. “It makes perfect sense we’d also buy a high-quality non-alc beer as well.”


On Sunday, customers at Bow Street were offered free tastes of Athletic Brewing beers. Northeast sales manager Matt Place poured samples, sometimes advertising the NA factor and asking if the person was doing a Dry January. Other times he simply offered shoppers a taste of a fine craft beer.

Matt Place, the Northeast sales manager for Athletic Brewing Company, pours a sample of one of their non-alcoholic beers for patrons at Bow Street Beverage on Sunday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Jack O’Brien, a 23-year-old bartender who lives in Portland, wanted to try them all. He said he and his girlfriend are both doing Dry January, which isn’t always easy given his job, but he thought it was a good idea – “healthy, you know?” – after some pretty heavy drinking over the holiday season. O’Brien also said he gets a lot of locals who come in looking for non-alcoholic options in January, which has him brushing up on his mocktails.

“I’d never know this was an NA if I didn’t know what I was drinking,” O’Brien said of one sample.

Bill Allen bought non-alcoholic beer from Bow Street to stock up his refrigerator for the football playoff season, when he and friends gather to watch the games. He is doing a “damp January,” which means he is restricting alcohol but not giving it up, while a few friends are going full-blown dry.

“A buddy of ours stopped drinking a few years ago, but we didn’t want him to stop coming to the games,” Allen said. “We tried not drinking at all, but that made him feel bad. Then somebody heard about all the near-beers and it solved our problem.”

Allen said he will sometimes order a traditional beer to start off an evening out and then switch to a non-alcoholic one – a trend known as striping – so that he can cut his alcohol intake and safely drive even if the meal or game runs long.


“They’re sometimes just what you need, but hell, I’ll sometimes order these for no reason,” Allen said.

Portland’s Foundation Brewing Company released its first non-alcoholic offering on New Year’s Eve.

Chelsea Mercer and Adam Mercer enjoy beers and pizza at Foundation Brewing Company on Sunday. Chelsea, who is two years sober, said having non-alcoholic beer options – like Foundation’s Intermission NA IPA – at breweries is wonderful because she and her husband love to go to breweries in their free time, and she was worried they wouldn’t be able to do that together anymore. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


Chelsea and Adam Mercer of Portsmouth, N.H., stopped at Foundation on Sunday just to try the new brew, which is fittingly named Intermission. Chelsea Mercer, 32, heard about it through an online non-alcoholic beer appreciation society.

Mercer said she gave up alcohol two years ago when she realized that “alcohol was not really serving me, so I stopped serving it,” but she was worried about what it might do to her marriage. The couple had always loved going out to breweries.

“One of our favorite pastimes was going out to breweries,” Mercer said. “When I quit drinking, I was like, ‘Are we going to survive this? Is he still going to like me? Am I going to like me?’ But now we have options. I like beer for the taste now, not the alcohol and what it does to me.”


That’s the reason Foundation wanted to start brewing its own NA beer, said John Bonney, one of the partners at Foundation and a former medical doctor. Mainers have come to think of the brewery as a public space for all kinds to come together, in much the same way that Europeans see their pubs.

Foundation worked on the Intermission recipe for months before it was ready to launch, Bonney said. It is only offering the beer on tap for now, to see how well it sells, as well as ages, but Bonney hopes to brew an NA for sale in cans one day soon. So far, Intermission has been selling well.

Kit NA in Portland also has seen strong demand.

“After dozens of R&D batches, Kit’s flagship American Blonde, On Your Mark, hit store shelves in January of 2022,” said co-founder Will Fisher. It has since expanded distribution to six states and ships directly to customers around the country.

The growing interest in non-alcoholic brews reminds Alan Lapoint of the early days of the first craft beer boom. Alan and Robin Lapoint own Geary’s Brewing Co., regarded as New England’s first craft brewery, and this year opened 1820 Brewing Co.

“I don’t think it’s quite the same, but it will have legs to run,” he said. 

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