Beer Town: Rightside Brewing surprises with nonalcoholic beer

Rightside Citrus Wheat and American IPA are available in six-cans on the Rightside website. Courtesy of Rightside Brewing

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Rightside Citrus Wheat and American IPA are available in six-cans on the Rightside website. Courtesy of Rightside Brewing

I have never been a fan of nonalcoholic beer, simply because most NA brands don’t exhibit the aromas and flavors of real beer.

But recently, more craft breweries have been giving it a try, even attempting to produce styles like hazy IPAs and stouts.

In Atlanta, Rightside Brewing recently released an American IPA, after debuting its Citrus Wheat beer in January 2021.

The startup was founded in 2017, when entrepreneur Emree Woods, who was pregnant with her daughter at the time, decided there was a need for better nonalcoholic beverages.

Rightside Brewing's Emree Woods, a craft beer fan, saw the need for nonalcoholic beers that taste more like real beer. Courtesy of Heidi Harris

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

While NA only accounts for about 1% of the U.S. beer market, beverage experts expect the category to grow — maybe even by double digits in the next few years, driven by post-pandemic concerns about health and wellness.

Woods is a craft beer fan, and often visited local breweries and taprooms with her husband, before the couple started a family.

“There’s this entire craft scene for alcoholic beer, with all these different styles, but if you’re not drinking alcohol, for whatever the reason, it just became very clear to me that there are not a lot of options out there,” Woods said.

“Honestly, I didn’t find anything I really liked in the package stores. They were either mass manufactured or European imports. It’s a little different now, but back in 2017, there were really no craft styles.”

Woods noted that she tried homebrewing, but admits it was a disaster. “We didn’t do anything right, and now I have a very serious appreciation for the brewing process,” she said. “My skill set wasn’t going to help this move forward. I knew I’d need someone to help me.”

Woods did her homework, and by late 2019 she decided she needed to make a capital investment in the newest technology for producing nonalcoholic beer. But she didn’t want to own a brewery.

Enter longtime Atlanta brewmaster Glen Sprouse, co-owner of Big Kettle Brewing, a contract brewing company in Lawrenceville.

“They say it’s better to be lucky than good, and I feel like it was a complete stroke of luck that I found Big Kettle when I did, because they hadn’t opened, yet, and they were planning where all the equipment would go,” Woods said. “And they saw the market and the opportunity the way I saw it.”

For his part, Sprouse was impressed with Woods’ business acumen, and willingness to provide the equipment.

“Normally we don’t do startups, simply because they don’t realize that they’re nowhere near starting up, yet,” he said. “But we knew she had marketing experience, and knew how to take her product to market. Plus, she was investing in a new technology, and everything she did was well thought out.”

Without getting too far into the science, there are several ways to make nonalcoholic beers. But as Sprouse explained, Big Kettle and Rightside employ a reverse osmosis filtration system that produces what he calls “a very pristine product,” using traditional ingredients to make classic styles.

Of course, the proof is in the tasting. When I tried Rightside for the first time, I was surprised — and so was Sprouse.

“I was shocked,” he said. “We were all standing around with our jaws hanging open, saying, ‘Holy crap, this tastes like beer.’ And they are incredibly refreshing. I can see people outdoors in the summer, playing sports, and drinking the hell out of this stuff, and not having the alcohol issue to deal with.”

Woods is more than pleased with the progress Rightside has made in only a few months, with distribution branching out around metro Atlanta, and the ability to sell beer to customers in the other states via its website. But there’s one thing that’s been a big disappointment.

“We did not have a grand opening party or anything like that because of COVID,” she said. ”But I’m excited for our one-year party next January. I’m already planning it.”

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