At first glance, Naperville’s Go Brewing feels like your regular taproom experience: the signature smell of hops, a vibrant bar area, build-your-own custom beer flights, your occasional food truck pop-up or live music event, and happy faces all around. There’s only one thing missing—and it’s a big one: alcohol. But you wouldn’t be able to tell from either the surroundings or the taste of the brew.
With more breweries than any other city in the United States, Chicago is a mecca for craft beer. Why do we need a non-alcoholic option, you might ask? Better mental health, better sleep, a baby on the way—just a few reasons driving no- and low-alcohol (NoLo) products through the roof while turning the sober-curious movement into a multibillion-dollar industry. Buzzy-but-not-boozy trends in the form of alcohol-free beer, wine, cocktails and hard-liquor alternatives pop up with no signs of slowing down. The NoLo revolution is reshaping the future—and our social lives (think: a cold plunge at a beer garden!). Enter: the award-winning small-batch craft beer coming out of Go Brewing’s barrels, which could make you a convert.
“We get it,” declares the team behind the hops. “It’s natural to grab a beer when we’re out with friends relaxing after a long workday or celebrating—and there’s always something to celebrate. You want to grab drinks with friends. You don’t want to wake up feeling like crap. And the two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.” Hoping to change the way many of us think of alcohol, the story of Go Brewing starts from ground zero when Joe Chura and his wife, Heather, made a pact to stop drinking for seventy-five days. “Drinking is just one of those things,” says Chura, who started drinking socially as a teen. “Some weeks I’d have one drink. Others, I’d have six or seven in a night. But I never thought I had a problem. And till I was in my forties, it was just one of those things. Then COVID hit.” Blaming booze for developing unhealthy habits, making bad food choices, and nursing nasty hangovers, the couple decided to start fresh. And they never looked back. As the world started to open up, they noticed that their options were limiting. “It was all about alcohol. We loved the ambience of bars and breweries but didn’t have a lot of options if we didn’t actually want the alcohol!” And so Go Brewing—the first non-alcoholic brewery in the state—was born.
The concept is simple: keep your brews under .5 percent alcohol without compromising the flavor. Master brewer James Bigler is here to make the magic. From crisp lagers to American wheats and tropical IPAs, the beer is abundantly flowing. The best part? Your NoLo beer taste-testing adventure can go on and on. Cerveza Chelada is appropriately sweet, tart and salty, Suspended in a Sunbeam Pils is deliciously fresh, light and floral, and Street Cred Nitro Bold is smooth featuring notes of espresso and cocoa. From creamy, to hoppy, to malty, to light, to surprisingly delicious sour to gluten-free, Go Brewing’s twelve NoLo beer options don’t feel limiting at all. Instead, they are inviting experimentation, good company, and guilt-free fun.
“There’s a cohort of people that may not understand the point of non-alcoholic beverages,” says Chura. “If you have a habitual pattern of craving alcohol, but want to reduce your consumption, then NA is worth a shot: you get a beer with the same flavor profile but not the alcohol,” he adds. “For me, this helped curb my habit of daily drinking, and consequently, I lost weight and was able to get in shape for the first time in a decade. That stated, this is also not a binary choice and for some, it’s important to know moderation is an excellent alternative to habitual alcohol consumption. If you mix one NA beer with a regular one you would consume fifty percent less alcohol and not miss a beat.”
But what makes a no- and low-alcohol beer great? “The biggest challenge is that alcohol has a sweetness and calories (seven calories per gram of alcohol) that give a beer its body. That’s difficult to replicate,” says Chura, before he takes me behind the scenes. From the health lab to malting, brewing and packaging—everything (including canning and labeling) is done in-house. The brewing process is as close to the real deal as it gets: similar to regular beer, non-alcoholic beer is brewed with four standard ingredients: water, grain, hops and yeast. But when it comes to the final product, there are a few different scenarios. Non-alcoholic beers are typically brewed using one of four major methods: controlled fermentation (essentially stopping the fermentation process by regulating the temperature to restrict alcohol formation); simulated fermentation (skipping the fermentation process altogether and instead simulating the effect through enzymes and other add-on ingredients); dealcoholization (removing the alcohol that’s already in the liquid); and dilution (adding water to reduce its alcohol content).
We can divide NA beer production into two categories: dealcoholized beers and fermented NA beers. For the award-winning small-batch craft brewery, fermentation is the way to go. Finally, the freshly brewed beer is not double- but triple-checked before it’s chilled to perfection. As we head back to the intimate taproom through the walk-in cooler’s automated hidden bookcase door, I realize that the 7,000 square-foot brewery and taproom is equal parts squeaky clean, cutting edge and high design.
“I feel Go Brewing has a wide range of styles that in some cases even taste better than their full alcohol counterpart,” says Chura. He’s absolutely right. The most common myths and misconceptions have been debunked: no- and low-alcoholic beer doesn’t have to suck, the taprooms can be cool and vibrant, and the sober-curious movement is here to stay. But Chura, ever-curious and ever-evolving, doesn’t stand still. What’s next? “A beer with collagen and another with adaptogens and electrolytes,” he reveals, and his blue eyes sparkle.