Jeff Hollander and Paul Pirner stopped drinking alcohol a few years back, but they never lost their hankering for craft beer.
Of course, there are plenty of non-alcoholic (NA) beer options: O’Doul’s, Sharp’s, Heineken 0.0, to name a few examples. But those fell flat for these craft beer aficionados.
“We noticed there was no product out there for people like us,” says Hollander. “For traditional NA beers, the alcohol is boiled out. When you do that, it takes away a lot of the nuances that make a craft beer delicious and interesting.”
So, Hollander and Pirner decided to try out a new method. After four years of experimenting, they launched their own line of non-alcoholic beer in late 2018. During their brewing process, alcohol is never introduced, unlike traditional non-alcoholic beers.
That means their beers register as 0.0 ABV brews, opposed to regular NA beers, which can contain up to 0.5 ABV.
The two brewers won’t divulge all the details of their brewing process, but they say it’s very similar to craft brewing, with a few steps changed.
Hollander and Pirner called their venture Hairless Dog Brewing. The two started out with a test batch of 1,000 cases late last year and sold it at a few retailers in the Twin Cities. The beer sold out in about two months, Hollander says.
Back then, Hairless Dog was still a small, at-home operation.
“Paul and I were basically hand-labeling and silk screening the six pack holders,” Hollander recalls. “We were very much doing it on our own.”
Now, the two brewers hope to expand beyond the Twin Cities. On Tuesday, Hairless Dog announced a national distribution deal with alcohol retailer Total Wine, which operates in 24 states.
Hairless Dog's NA black ale and IPA beers will be the first to hit the market. There are plans to launch a coffee stout before the year is over, Pirner says.
Hollander and Pirner believe there’s a strong market for NA craft beer, even in the Midwest. (In USA Today’s 2018 rankings of the drunkest states in America, Minnesota came in sixth. Its closest neighbors – North Dakota and Wisconsin – came in first and second, respectively.)
Still, there are plenty of folks interested in a sober lifestyle, both locally and across the country, Hollander says. And even among those who do drink, there’s a growing number of people who decide to take occasional breaks. For Hollander, that’s another untapped market.
Hollander also points to the “sober curious” movement – folks who are vaguely interested in cutting down on drinking.
“People are starting to question everything they put into their body,” Pirner notes. “People are curious about what life is like sober, whether for a short period or a long time. So, our product did seem to resonate with people.”