Ceria Brewing Co. taps into the nonalcoholic beer market

Arvada-based Ceria Brewing Co. became a pioneer of THC beverages when it debuted its first beer in 2018. Now, it’s looking to lead the charge in another growing sector of the market: nonalcoholic beer.

In January, the brewery announced it’s taking its two nonalcoholic recipes — the flagship Grainwave Belgian white ale and newly-released Indiewave India pale ale — nationwide thanks to a partnership with retailer Total Wine. Six-packs of Ceria cans are expected to roll out at more than 200 stores from coast to coast in February.

For Ceria Brewing’s husband-and-wife co-founders, Keith and Jodi Villa, the move was a natural fit. Ceria’s THC beers are brewed traditionally before being stripped of alcohol and infused with water-soluble cannabis extract. To create the new line, they simply skip the last step of the process.

Keith Villa, brewmaster and creator of the famous Blue Moon Belgian White Ale, said he heard from truck drivers, military and police officers who loved the beer, but couldn’t drink the infused version because they get drug tested. When they asked for a sober version, Ceria obliged.

“We make it anyway,” Jodi Villa, Ceria’s CEO, said in a recent interview. “It’s our base product, so we might as well carve some of it off.”

Thirst for nonalcoholic beer is expected to grow into a $7.3 billion global market by 2024, according to a recent study by Market Research Future, as drinkers reach for healthier and low-calorie beverage options. In 2019, the Great American Beer Festival, the world’s largest beer competition, added a category for “Non-Alcohol Beer,” proving industry experts believe this is more than a passing fad. The category had previously been included, but was removed in 2006 due to lack of interest and participation, said Julia Herz, the association’s program director.

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“Within the last five years, there have been people really having different motives to search out great nonalcoholic products, whether it’s health reasons, religious reasons or whatever,” Keith Villa said.

The NA shelf is still stocked with stalwarts like O’Doul’s and Heineken 0.0, but craft breweries are catching on. Brooklyn Brewing Co. debuted a nonalcoholic beer at GABF last year, and Athletic Brewing Co. was founded in 2017 to produce booze-free recipes exclusively. Still, Keith said Ceria’s flavor is what sets it apart.

“The tough part was making the beer taste like beer without alcohol, because that’s really hard to do,” Keith Villa said. “We think we’ve come close.”

Ceria Brewing is headquartered on a scenic residential drive in Arvada, where the Villas test out new recipes on a two-barrel pilot brewing system, but beers are commercially brewed at and distributed from facilities in Denver and St. Louis. He expects production will increase “hundreds fold” to keep up with demand in 2020.

Ceria’s expansion isn’t just about dominating the nonalcoholic market. Because cannabis companies are excluded from many traditional forms of advertising, the Villas are hoping to build brand recognition that entices customers to try their THC products when visiting cannabis-friendly states.

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Grainwave (5 milligrams THC) and Indiewave (10 milligrams THC/10 milligrams CBD) are widely available at dispensaries in Colorado and poised for a boost should cities approve hospitality cannabis lounges where customers could buy and consume them onsite. The infused beers are also soon going to be sold at dispensaries in southern California, and the company is eyeing other adult-use states to which it could expand. Long-term, the Villas envision partnering with chefs for cannabis-infused beer pairings and dinners, and are even working on one-way kegs for their products.

If nothing else, Ceria Brewing’s network for distributing nonalcoholic beer sets the stage for future success should cannabis ever become federally legal.

“We want to push the envelope,” Keith Villa said. “We said we’re hundreds of times bigger now. We need to be thousands of times bigger to fill the national pipeline.”

Updated Jan. 23 at 10:49 a.m.The following corrected information has been added to this article: Because of incorrect information from the brewery’s press rep, in an earlier version of this story, the name of Ceria’s CEO was misreported. Her name is Jodi Villa.

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