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Near beer yet so far away

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

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Dry January is almost over. If you’ve made it this far, keep going! You’re almost there! The world hurled embarrassing terms like “sober curious” at you, but nevertheless you persisted. It’s a big accomplishment and you should be proud, whether it ends up being a healthy break or the start of a long-term life change. If you found a good, readily available non-alcoholic beer along the way, that’s even better.

I have also stayed dry this month, but I have failed to find a convenient source for NA beer that doesn’t taste like socks.

I looked for a local option first, but I couldn’t find anything. I contacted several local breweries and didn’t have a ton of luck getting a conversation going about non-alcoholic beer, which is understandable. It’s like calling up the clown college and asking why they’re not pumping out more mimes. Removing a popular feature from a winning formula doesn’t seem like good business. And in a booming craft-beer world, maybe there’s not much appetite to revisit the “near beer” doldrums of Prohibition.

Ryan Koga, brewmaster and co-owner at Karben4, says a big hurdle to making non-alcoholic beer is the complicated and expensive process involved. To make NA beer, Koga says, a brewery needs to first brew a beer with alcohol and then use costly specialized equipment to remove the alcohol without destroying the base of the beer.

Karben4 doesn’t currently brew a NA beer but “we’d be willing to give it a try,” Koga sys. The brewery has started some discussions and was in talks with a company about testing equipment designed to remove alcohol from beer. However, Karben4 ran into an infrastructure issue. The machine needed 15-foot ceilings, but the ceilings at the brewery’s facility off of Highway 51 are only 12 feet high.

I couldn’t find a NA beer from any other local breweries either, and it’s reasonable to think that some of the same obstacles exist for them.

After striking out on the local NA search, I checked grocery stores in the area and they largely seem to have the same lineup. Some places like Hy-Vee make room for NA beer in the cooler and carry options outside of O’Douls and Sharp’s, like Hoppy Refresher from Lagunitas. Largely, though, it’s always the same stuff. Milwaukee Record has a handy ranking of the most widely available NA beers in Wisconsin if you’re going to make do.

Just across the border in Minnesota, Hairless Dog makes a truly good line of NA beers that are 0.0% ABV, beating the regulatory mandate that a beer must be less than 0.5% to be marketed as non-alcoholic. The brewery puts out a surprising IPA, slightly bitter and pleasantly malty, and just released a coffee stout that one day will be mine. However, if you want Hairless Dog, Athletic (a craft NA brewery out of Connecticut) or any other decent NA beer and you live in Madison, you need to get it from Total Wine, the massive liquor store attached to West Towne Mall, uncomfortably close to Dave & Buster’s. If you live on the east side, it’s a long way to go.

Halfway decent non-alcoholic beer can be located if you live in Madison, but not without a lot of time and effort. It might be that staying dry is difficult enough without the undue stress of questing for that NA unicorn.



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New this week:

Former Iowan Jane Burns breaks down the ugly side of the Iowa caucuses. Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

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Dirtnap Records will celebrate its 20th anniversary in June at the High Noon Saloon.

Join us for Tone Madison‘s first-ever open office hours on February 28 at the Social Justice Center.

The seven-and-a-half-hour epic Sátántangó screens this Saturday at UW Cinematheque.

The exciting dance-music trifecta of Octo Octa, Eris Drew, and Ariel Zetina spins at the Sett on Friday.

More events of note in this week’s Madison calendar.

Elsewhere on the Madison internet: Experimental project Louise Bock has a new release on the Geographic North label. Frank Lloyd Wright’s School of Architecture at Taliesin will close this summer. WORT checks in with the Artist For Equity activist groupSomething called Crossies has bought up shuttered Madison music startup Murfie’s remaining inventory.

Upcoming Tone Madison Events!

February 28: Tone Madison Office Hours. Social Justice Center, 1 to 4 p.m.

March 5: Kayo Dot, Psalm Zero, Telechrome. Communication, 8 p.m. Tickets available now, discount for Tone Madison Sustainers

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