As people get older and responsibilities stack up, they tend to consume less alcohol. “The 40-year-old liver is not the same as a 25-year-old liver,” said Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, which introduced Fuzzy Details, a hazy I.P.A. that is 2.5 percent alcohol, at its taproom in December. Mr. Oliver fondly recalled the brewery’s Black Light, a 2.2 percent stout. “I could have a pint and just go straight to the gym,” Mr. Oliver said.
When Luc Lafontaine brews, he doesn’t drink much water. “I drink beer,” said Mr. Lafontaine, an owner and the brewmaster of Godspeed Brewery in Toronto. His go-to is Baby Světlý, his Czech-style pale lager that, at 1.5 percent alcohol, is a warm-weather favorite.
Building quality low-alcohol beer is a balancing act. Brewers must use less malt — the grains supplying the sugars that are fermented into alcohol — and too many hops can create clashing bitterness and flavor. Mr. Lafontaine uses imported Czech malt and hops, and carefully adjusts water chemistry. “I want to go as low as 1” percent, he said of Baby Světlý’s alcohol level.
One complaint about low-alcohol beers is that they can taste watery. To brew Buzzard, a 3 percent “hoppy small beer” released in January, Matt Young, the director of brewing operations at the Chicago brewery Half Acre, boosted the body with wheat. He also leaned on fragrant hop extracts and Cosmic Punch, a yeast strain that imparts complementary tropical aromas. Buzzard costs $10.99 for four 16-ounce cans, or $1 less than several stronger I.P.A.s.
“Just because there’s less alcohol doesn’t means that it was cheaper to produce,” Mr. Young said.
Mr. Boisson released two versions of Bella Snow Soft Ale, flavored with mandarin or grapefruit, in four-packs of 12-ounce cans sold for $7.99. “It was a low enough price point where people would try it,” Mr. Boisson said, adding that half the return customers are baby-boomer men. After decades of drinking, “they just know they shouldn’t have as much,” he said.