Beyond the Buzz: A Journey into Non-Alcoholic Beers

OU Kosher: You’ve been certified with the OU for a year in November. Can you give us a bit of background on how that came about?

Jonathan Zimmerman: Absolutely. We got our pilot batch together at the beginning of 2022. When discussing with the brewery, they mentioned they were already certified with the OU. Knowing the significance of the OU certification in the kosher market, I reached out to understand the process and costs. There was some initial resistance, with the brewery wondering why another certification was necessary. I likened it to the differences between Saudi Arabia and Turkey – both Muslim countries, but with distinct nuances. That analogy made it clear to them.

OU Kosher certified Atmosphere beer - non-aldoholicOU Kosher: That’s a surprising bit of information.  Let’s talk about the journey leading up to this. Can you give us an overview of your background and the business?

Jonathan Zimmerman: Of course. My professional background is  in marketing and advertising. I’ve worked with many top-tier ad agencies and Fortune 500 companies on various campaigns. Over the past decade, I felt I needed a change in my career. On a personal note, I enjoy playing the guitar to start and end my day. Often, I’d accompany my sessions with a beer or wine. But I realized that alcohol after 8 PM disrupted my sleep. I was introduced to a non-alcoholic craft beer brand from Connecticut, and it was a game-changer. The market has now grown, with excellent non-alcoholic wines and spirits. Interestingly, hops, an essential ingredient in beer, have calming effects and share a botanical lineage with cannabis.

OU Kosher: That’s a surprising tidbit about hops and cannabis! So from there, what led to your dive into non-alcoholic beer production?

Jonathan Zimmerman: After experiencing the non-alcoholic beer, I saw a potential market for pilsners in this category. There seemed to be a burgeoning awareness for non-alcoholic beers. While initially considering starting a brewery, my friend and I decided to partner with a German brewery due to their established non-alcoholic beer culture. Their approach is tied to strict drinking and driving laws, making non-alcoholic beers more prevalent.

OU Kosher: Would you say Europe is ahead of the US in this trend?

Jonathan Zimmerman: Yes, Europe has progressed further, especially in countries like Spain and Germany, where non-alcoholic beer consumption is notably high. The UK is experiencing similar growth. Europe’s shift towards quality non-alcoholic beverages is being paralleled in the US, but Europe is ahead due to various reasons.

OU Kosher: And what are the technological advancements driving this shift?

Jonathan Zimmerman: The past few years have seen a technological boom, particularly in brewing dealkylization equipment. This tech allows brewers to produce flavorful non-alcoholic beers by extracting alcohol without compromising taste. Techniques include hot syrup, vacuum distillation, and advanced filtration. Diageo, the owner of Guinness, recently invested significantly in brewing facilities for their non-alcoholic variant, showcasing the global trend.

OU Kosher: Can you elucidate the difference between 0.0 and the definition of non-alcoholic beverages?

Jonathan Zimmerman: Certainly. In the US, we recognize two categories based on alcohol content. Anything above 0.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) is labeled as alcoholic. To illustrate, kombucha might have 1 or 2% alcohol, while regular beer often ranges from 5-7%. On the other end, anything 0.5% ABV or below is considered non-alcoholic. When we talk about 0.0 ABV, we’re venturing into alcohol-free territory.

OU Kosher: From a consumer perspective, is there a perception that anything above 0.0 is alcoholic? Do some specifically seek 0.0 only?

Jonathan Zimmerman: Yes, there’s a subset of consumers who prefer 0.0 due to health, sobriety, or increasing awareness about alcohol’s adverse effects. To some, the distinction between 0.5% and 0.0% may not be apparent. Around 60% of non-alcoholic beer drinkers still consume alcohol, albeit less. For them, 0.5% is acceptable. But others, due to various reasons, lean towards 0.0. For instance, a pilot friend doesn’t drink 48 hours before flying due to concerns about FAA spot checks. However, he’d consider a 0.0 drink because it’s devoid of alcohol. It’s essential to note that many foods we consume, like bananas or bread, contain trace amounts of alcohol due to the presence of yeast and sugar.

OU Kosher: Does non-alcoholic beer still provide that relaxing effect, which is somewhat ritualistic with alcoholic drinks?

Jonathan Zimmerman: It varies by individual. Some seek the health benefits of non-alcoholic beer as opposed to sugary sodas. The taste alone, reminiscent of its alcoholic counterpart, might provide that relaxation to habitual beer drinkers. If you’re enjoying it with friends or after work, the setting plays a role. I find it refreshing, and when out, I can enjoy it all night and stay clear-headed.

OU Kosher: Concerning market distribution, how are you handling it, given that the product is made in Germany?

Jonathan Zimmerman: Initially, we started small, distributing just three pallets last summer. But as of yesterday, we’ve received 240-foot containers in New Jersey. These will be dispatched from a warehouse to various distributors, expanding our reach. As our stock grows, our marketing endeavors, particularly on social platforms, will intensify. A notable trend aiding our cause is the rise of sobriety culture in the US. Influencers, non-alcoholic bars, and other establishments are increasingly recognizing the demand.

OU Kosher: How does the kosher certification fit into conversations with distributors?

Jonathan Zimmerman: With distributors, I emphasize that we are OU Kosher certified. It serves as a testament to our adherence to the German beer purity law, which mandates only four ingredients: yeast, water, hops, and barley. Our product doesn’t contain additives like some 0.0 beers. The OU certification assures potential buyers of our quality and purity. In some circles, particularly within the Jewish community, the kosher label holds significant weight. I’ve also found international interest due to our certification, notably from distributors in places like the UAE.

OU Kosher: Are you currently on shelves in Boston or other markets?

Jonathan Zimmerman: Not at the moment. We’ve secured a few restaurants and stores in the New York area over the past year with our pilot batch. Distributors will start picking up our product at the beginning of September. We’re eyeing “sober October” as the major launch for Atmosphere in stores.

OU Kosher: Can you detail your launch plans?

Jonathan Zimmerman: With the beverage industry, there are specific times earmarked for promoting nonalcoholic products, such as “sober October”, “dry January”, and a yet unnamed period in April. We plan a soft launch now, with full branding and product launch in late September and October.

OU Kosher: How are you differentiating yourself from competitors?

Jonathan Zimmerman: We’re backed by a 400-year-old German brewery, producing 0.0% alcohol-free beer. Many on the market come from major brands like Heineken, Coors, and Budweiser, as they have the equipment and volume to economically produce it.

OU Kosher: Your branding seems fresh and futuristic. What was your aim with that?

Jonathan Zimmerman: We’re trying a new approach. We’re not a heritage beer or a craft beer brand. We saw an opportunity to introduce a non-alcoholic beer that’s more upscale and elegant, without the constraints of traditional beer branding.

OU Kosher: Are you targeting a younger demographic?

Jonathan Zimmerman: Non-alcoholic beer appeals across age groups. Boomers are rediscovering it, Gen X is exploring it due to its practicality, and millennials value health and wellness. Gen Z doesn’t feel as pressured to drink, perhaps due to their digital socializing habits and the societal consequences of reckless behavior. The rise in good non-alcoholic beverages is due to both a change in societal behaviors and improved product quality.

OU Kosher: Do you have any advice for others starting up a food or beverage company?

Jonathan Zimmerman: Choose something you’re passionate about. I’m enjoying this journey because I believe in our product. I get to meet new people daily, and it’s exciting. Plus, our product is healthy and, importantly, kosher.

OU Kosher: Thank you for sharing your insights and journey with us. We wish you continued success and can’t wait to see what the future holds for Atmosphere Brewery.