As people age and responsibilities pile up, they tend to drink less alcohol. “40-year-old liver is not the same as 25-year-old liver,” said Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver, who introduced Fuzzy Details, a cloudy IPA containing 2.5% alcohol, in its December tasting room. Mr. Oliver fondly remembers the brewery’s Black Light, a 2.2% stout. “I could grab a pint and go straight to the gym,” Mr Oliver said.
When Luc Lafontaine brews, he doesn’t drink a lot of water. “I drink beer,” said Mr. Lafontaine, owner and brewmaster of Godspeed Brewery in Toronto. His go-to is Baby Světlý, his Czech-style pale lager that, at 1.5 percent alcohol, is a warm-weather favorite.
Building a quality low-alcohol beer is a balancing act. Brewers need to use less malt – the grains providing the sugars that are fermented into alcohol – and too many hops can create conflicting bitterness and flavor. Mr. Lafontaine uses imported Czech malt and hops and carefully adjusts the water chemistry. “I want to go down to 1%,” he said of Baby Světlý’s alcohol level.
One complaint about low-alcohol beers is that they can taste watery. To brew Buzzard, a 3% “small hoppy beer” released in January, Matt Young, the brewing operations manager at the Chicago brewery Half Acre, boosted the body with wheat. He also relied on fragrant hop extracts and Cosmic Punch, a strain of yeast that imparts complementary tropical flavors. Buzzard is $10.99 for four 16-ounce cans, which is $1 less than many stronger IPAs
“Just because there’s less alcohol doesn’t mean it’s cheaper to produce,” Young said.
Mr. Boisson released two versions of Bella Snow Soft Ale, flavored with tangerine or grapefruit, in four packs of 12-ounce cans selling for $7.99. “It was priced low enough for people to try it,” Mr. Boisson said, adding that half of returning customers are baby boomers. After decades of drinking, “they just know they shouldn’t be drinking so much,” he said.