Calgary breweries sober up to non-alcoholic beers

When Graham Sherman co-founded Tool Shed Brewing (#9 801 30 St. N.E.; 10 years ago, he never imagined he’d one day be excited to be making non-alcoholic beer. But now “Zero People Skills (Tool Shed’s non-alcoholic version of their flagship beer) is by far our fastest growing product,” he says with the type of excitement and emphasis only people who have heard him speak in person can fully appreciate.

A lot has changed in Tool Shed’s first decade. First, the technology to make non-alcoholic beer has improved dramatically. Second, consumption patterns have advanced.

Gone are the days when non-alcoholic beer was limited to an insipid, thin, lifeless, gross and strange-tasting liquid that made a mockery of beer. As beer itself has moved to bigger, bolder flavours, the ingredients used to make craft beers have made it possible for non-alcoholic beer to have similar flavours. Specialized yeast strains allow the production of non-alcoholic beer using a fairly normal brewing process and newly invented equipment allows the removal of alcohol from beer without excessive heat (which is what used to give non-alcoholic beer that strange, stewed flavour).

In the case of Tool Shed’s Zero People Skills, a normal batch of beer is brewed, 100 per cent true to the alcoholic People Skills the brewery makes all the time. That finished beer is run through a first-of-its-kind-in-the-world machine that removes the alcohol. The result is non-alcoholic beer that tastes like … beer.

“This fits our DNA,” explains Sherman. “We brew beer and we celebrate Alberta agriculture. Our non-alcoholic beer uses the same amounts of Alberta barley as our regular beer and is fully-brewed.” 

Tool Shed now makes Zero People Skills and Zero Red Rage using this process, the latter of which is the de-alcoholized version of Tool Shed’s Red Rage American Red Ale.

As people have adopted healthier lifestyles, the popularity of non-alcoholic beer has exploded. In fact, non-alcoholic beer is the fastest growing segment of the beer industry. 

“Consumers today are more deliberate about what they choose to consume,” says Sherman. “And people are proud to drink more responsibly. So, people will come to our taproom and have a regular beer or two, then switch to having our non-alcoholic beers. They can love good beer and still take their kids to hockey practice later that evening, work out the next morning or do whatever it is they balance their passion for beer against.”

Village Brewery (5000 12A St. S.E.;, similarly 10 years old, also has a line of non-alcoholic beers, under the CRFT brand ( CRFT beers are brewed with a secret proprietary process. The CRFT lineup includes a pale ale, blonde ale and a stout.

“Put in your article that ours is way better than Village’s,” says Sherman. “Just kidding. Don’t print that. They’ll hate me.” 

The only way to know whose is better is to try them all yourself, which you can do and still take your kids to hockey practice.