PHOTOS AND STORY BY TIM BROUK
Whether it’s for a rhymable month, years, or just a day, a downtown Lafayette shop is giving former and current beer, wine and liquor drinkers an alternative.
Since its opening last October, Generation NA, 504 Main St., supplies non-alcoholic (NA) beer, seltzers, wines and spirits such as zero-alcohol whiskies, gins and rums to a clientele that likes to balance hard liquor with a non-alcoholic drink or those that have put down the hard stuff for years but miss the hoppy taste of a well-crafted IPA or mixing a classic cocktail. The shop that also features a casual lounge with old-school arcade games has quickly gained momentum, matching national trends in sober drinking.
“Like red meat or processed foods, people are more mindful about what they put in their bodies,” says Rob Theodorow, Generation NA owner, “beverage curator and hype man.”
“I think people will be surprised. I’ve seen a lot of people that can’t quite process it when they first have an NA beer — ‘That tastes like a real beer.’ They almost can’t believe it.”
Generation NA was the first shop of its kind in Indiana when it opened. A few months later, a similar shop was established in Carmel, Theodorow says.
In 2022, Nielsen calculated non-alcoholic beer sales in the United States at $328.6 million, up 19.5% from 2021. Globally, the non-alcoholic market is valued at $11 billion, up from $8 billion in 2018, according to Forbes.
Theodorow and media outlets point to the COVID-19 pandemic as a possible motivator for stronger sales. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported sales of alcohol increased in 2020 by 2.9%, the largest annual increase in more than 50 years. Deaths involving alcohol jumped 25.5%, totaling almost 100,000 deaths. Drinkers shifting to non-alcoholic brews is believed to be an after-effect.
Theodorow, also CEO for SFP, a downtown Lafayette web and media production company, noticed a burgeoning market soon after he stopped drinking alcohol two years ago. He invested in several regional breweries and distilleries that provided non-alcoholic products to fuel pop-up sales in his downtown office. Each sale brought in dozens of customers. When the space on Main Street became available, he swooped in, and Generation NA opened in less than a week.
More than O’Douls
Generation NA boasts numerous shelves brimming with cans of non-alcoholic brews. Some recommendations from Theodorow: Athletic Brewing, CERIA and Mash Gang.
The coolers also are stocked with more brews, as well as water and seltzer alternatives. Liquid Death’s canned waters are popular and refreshing. Some products are enhanced by CBD, adaptogens such as lemon balm, kava and ashwagandha, and even “functional mushrooms” such as lion’s mane, reishi and shiitake. These give a relaxing feeling while still staying safe and Indiana legal.
A couple recent visits saw steady customer flow and Theodorow behind the People’s tap pouring several samples and pints. Remember, Greater Lafayette’s blue collar and collegiate crowds have spilled more beer than most other cities of similar size can drink. Still, Generation NA is cutting through like Pedialyte to a hangover.
Ryan Pritchett sipped on a pint of People’s non-alcoholic APA while shopping for a six-pack and a growler to go. The Rossville man says he quit drinking alcohol eight years ago, but he still missed sipping on craft brews, especially from People’s.
“I’ve always liked the taste of beer, but I always thought the only option was O’Doul’s,” Pritchett says. “The variety here is unparalleled, probably better than anywhere in the country.”
Lafayette’s Joel Calabrese and Morgan Welker also had non-alcoholic beer and a six-pack of canned zero-alcohol gin and tonic drinks. The young couple enjoy mock cocktails at home while they cut back on alcohol consumption for 2023.
“We like beer, and we don’t really like pop so (non-alcoholic) beer fills that niche when you want something bubbly while cutting alcohol out,” Calabrese says. “We’re huge fans of this place.”
Welker concurs. “There are so many options, tons of different stuff to try. Compared to beer, you can’t really tell.”
Theodorow says his shop attracts out of town customers, most of whom are passing through Lafayette via I-65 or they drove from out of state specifically for Generation NA. Chicago, Cincinnati, and even California are the most common addresses he sees on visitors’ identification. Most are in the area on travel or vacation and find Generation NA online.
“I really wanted to make this a destination place for Lafayette,” Theodorow says. “I want people to come here as a destination. I want this to be something that can’t be replicated.” ★
Learn more about Generation NA at na.beer online. Enjoy free tastings every Friday.