The success and critical acclaim for Self Care, the line of craft non-alcoholic beer produced by Three Magnets Brewing in Olympia, Washington, is a triumph of the notion that necessity is the mother of invention.
Located just minutes from the State Capitol complex, Three Magnets — like many breweries, taprooms and restaurants — was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The process of recovery continues. But the response to Self Care has given owners Nate and Sara Reilly, head brewer Aaron Blonden, and marketing manager Tim Owen plenty of cause for optimism.
“We’ve never had dreams of taking over the world,” says Nate Reilly. “But we’d like to grow the Self Care brand enough to where it’s self-sustaining, and [we can] look at regional distribution. We threw a lot of things at walls during the pandemic to see what would stick, and we were simply amazed by the response to this product upon launch. So we’re really excited to see where it goes from here, two years into the project, as we make Self Care available to local pubs and restaurants via our new Partner Portal.”
The secret to the success of Self Care, the recipe that topped Chicago Tribune beer writer Josh Noel’s 2022 list of non-alcoholic beers for Dry January, lies in the beer’s texture, mouthfeel and nuanced flavors. “The most common way to brew NA beer is to brew regular, leaded beer and then dealcoholize it, a process that also removes many important nuanced flavors formed in the fermentation process — subtle flavors that tell your brain that you’re drinking beer,” says Nate.
“The next most common way is to arrest fermentation early before the beer hits .5 percent, but that often lends an unfinished, sweet, worty taste,” he continues. “Many other breweries brew regular-strength beer, and then liquor it back [add water] until the ABV lowers to .5%. But as you can imagine, that results in a thin beer that’s lacking mouthfeel, and can ultimately taste more like beer-flavored seltzer.
“But head brewer Blonden allows Self Care to go through a full fermentation process, start to finish, until it naturally reaches its final, ultra-low ABV (less than .5%), without the need to arrest fermentation or liquor back,” says Nate. “So it picks up a majority of the esters you’d expect in a leaded beer without compromising flavor or mouthfeel, leading to a nearly indistinguishable non-alcoholic alternative to leaded beers.”
The two flagship offerings, Scherler Easiest Premium Shitty™ American Lager and Freak Flag Hazy IPA, are available on draft at the taproom and in cans. At any given time, they also have upwards of ten one-off, rotating or seasonal selections available in cans in the taproom or to order from their website.
Three Magnets’ motives behind creating a craft non-alcoholic beer are a bit more altruistic than just improving their profit-and-loss margins. The team genuinely wants to help folks improve their relationship with alcohol, and give everyone a worthy alternative to leaded beer.
“The NA space hasn’t innovated since my dad’s generation,” says Owen. “As the craft beer scene gained momentum, those folks were left behind and ignored because that’s not where the critical mass was. Now that the average palate has become more sophisticated because there’s so much more information out there, and social norms have changed where younger people think it’s not that cool to be rip-roaring drunk all the time, we sit at an interesting place.”
Nate Reilly says that Three Magnets seeks to break the preconceived notion that non-alcoholic beer isn’t cool or that it comes with a stigma. “If we can remove that, and have more people drinking non-alcoholic beers out in public — to normalize it, maybe even make it cool — then we can get to leaded beer drinkers and really challenge their assumptions,” he adds.
“Destigmatizing the drinking of non-alcoholic beer is really the most important step toward getting folks to utilize NA beer as a tool to foster healthier relationships with alcohol, whatever that looks like for each individual,” continues Nate. “To promote not only better physical health, but more importantly, mental and emotional health as well.”
Since opening its doors in 2014, Three Magnets has always been on the forefront of innovation in Washington’s craft beer scene. Nate says their Little Juice Smoothie was one of the first (if not the first) packaged hazy IPAs in the Pacific Northwest upon its debut in 2015, heralding the haze craze that has swept the region since.
With Self Care, Three Magnets is in a familiar position, on the vanguard of an emerging market.
“The cool thing about Self Care is that it’s a vehicle for us to pay the bills while continuing to push the envelope,” says Nate. “It’s not enough in the leaded beer world right now to just do cool [expletive deleted]. There’s so much hype noise, and the space is so crowded, that it’s very hard to keep people’s attention, no matter how innovative you are. But craft non-alcoholic beer is a very young market, and it’s super awesome to have the opportunity to pioneer within this space. When we have people come in and try Self Care and say, ‘I can’t believe this is non-alcoholic,’ it’s pretty cool. And it feels really good.”
Three Self Care NA Beers to try
Glide through Dry January with these selections from Self Care, the line of craft non-alcoholic Three Magnets Brewing (Olympia, Washington). Even if you’re not abstaining, these beers are perfect as spacers between leaded brews during a night out.
Scherler Easiest is not simply a dealcoholized version of Three Magnets’ Scherler Easy Premium Shitty™ American Lager, but instead a non-alcoholic version with its recipe crafted from the ground up to stand on its own as a non-alcoholic beer. It features a light, grainy nose that yields to a crisp, refreshing drink with mouthfeel — a common theme in all the Self Care varieties. The easy-drinking yet substantive brew compensates for the lack of alcoholic punch.
The piney nose of Freak Flag Hazy IPA, Self Care’s other flagship beer, gives way to an indulgent, mouth-coating sip of hoppy, juicy beer that is likely to fool even the staunchest NA doubters.
Most would be hard-pressed to tell that Fresh Cut Fresh-Hopped Pale Ale is non-alcoholic. The perfect combination of light and refreshing with clear hop character and subtle bite is good enough to stand on its own as just plain good beer, non-alcoholic or otherwise.