Human history glistens with innovation. As the years pass, great ideas and inventions unceasingly break through, advancing human understanding and sophistication. From the first controlled use of fire, through the invention of beer (of course), the wheel, iron smelting, the printing press, the steam engine, powered flight, the internet.
Beneath these glistening jewels of human achievement, however, lies a carpet of junk. And right at the bottom of that, we find the most base and arse-backwards idea of all:
I know, let’s encourage everyone to make major, difficult changes to their lives right in the middle of the coldest, wettest, most depressing month of the year!
And thus, the New Year’s resolution was born.
While 2019 might be the year of everyone getting exercised about Veganuary (mostly, it seems, because Piers Morgan has expressed a dislike towards it), one month-long exercise in self-flagellation stands out ahead of all others. No, I don’t mean No Nut November.
Dry January. Having spent the month of December overindulging, I can concede there’s a degree of reasoning to this madness. My liver would probably thank me for a couple of months off to recuperate. What I can’t understand is why anyone would choose to take a month off beer, then actively choose to drink the bizarre facsimile that is alcohol-free beer.
It’s not that alcohol is the sole reason for drinking beer: far from it. It’s that the methods used to create beer without ethanol tend to result in something that retains none of the smell, taste, or spirit of actual beer. Take, for example, the three alcohol-free beers I tasted this week – so you won’t have to.
Erdinger, Alkoholfrei <0.5%
There’s a lot going on here.
The blue and gold label is very pretty, I’ll give them that. What stands out to me, however, is the way this beer is being marketed. “REFRESHING ISOTONIC DRINK”, the bottle reads. Erdinger is trying to muscle in on Lucozade’s turf.
At least this looks like a beer. It’s pale gold with a thick, enthusiastic head.
But the aroma…wow. In technical terms, this beer smells bready, glutinous, and a little sour. In personal terms, it smells like dinner at Grandma’s house. It’s like I’m sniffing a table laden with buttered wholemeal bread, pickled onion, and cheddar, ready for a quick bite before we hop in the car home.
Fortunately the nostalgia trip ends when I take a sip. There’s orange on the palate, followed by a soft, hazy wheatiness. And then…it stops.
It’s not that this drink is missing something. It doesn’t taste like beer minus a few factors – it tastes like something entirely different, and far too healthy from all the additional vitamins they’ve enriched this stuff with. While I admire the balls of whoever decided to market an alcohol-free wheat beer as an isotonic workout drink, this is leaning more towards Lucozade than actual beer. 1/5
Schneider Weisse Tap 3, Mein Alkoholfrei 0%
Either there’s something about the Germans, or there’s something about wheat beer than invites brewers to try an alcohol-free version.
The Scheider Weisse is a little darker than the Erdinger, verging into copper, and with a slightly less lively head. The aroma is less aggressive too – now I only feel like Grandma is serving a mixed platter in the next room, not right in front of me.
In many ways this is like the Erdinger again – mostly orange, a bit of soft wheatiness. The sourness is stronger than with the previous beer, and the fruitiness more apparent. And, as before, this doesn’t taste like beer.
It’s fine, but it’s not beer. I genuinely can’t see a situation in which drinking Schneider Weisse would be preferable to tonic water, or indeed regular tap water. 1/5
Brewdog, Nanny State <0.5%
Given that this is alcohol-free beer, Nanny State coming in a smaller bottle could be considered a blessing or a curse. One thing that should surely be considered a blessing by one and all is that there’s actually some hop aromas in this one.
A little darker again, but with a less energetic head, Nanny State looks more like the sort of beer I would choose to drink on a regular basis – a good sign. The aroma is powerful – very hoppy, perhaps a little fuggy.
There’s more hoppy bitterness on the tongue, transitioning to a hint of sourness. But after that? Nothing. There’s no malt behind it. It’s weird, like a song being cut off right before the chorus. Eventually we reach a bitter finish, which feels like the aftertaste once you’ve finished a glass of dispersible paracetamol.
Unlike the Erdinger and the Schneider Weisse, Nanny State starts off by tasting like a beer…but with a bit missing. Of the three, it tastes most like a beer, so I’m obliged to give it a higher score…but only slightly. 2/5
Marks & Spencer, Indian Tonic Water 0%
Clear and colourless, with a lively effervescence and no head. Citrus aroma, sweet, aromatic palate, slightly bitter finish.
Alright, I know it’s not beer. But hear me out.
There’s a lot of reasons you might not want to drink alcohol on occasion. Maybe you’re driving later. Perhaps you and your partner are trying for a baby. Possibly it’s for a reason that isn’t entirely sensible, like Dry January. In any of these situations, I’d argue you’re better off drinking pretty much anything other than non-alcoholic beer.
Non-alcoholic alternatives to beer – whether you’re drinking tonic water, orange juice, or even some sickly cola rubbish – at least taste as they’re intended. They’re different from beer, but intentionally so.
These facsimile beers, however, taste like a poorly made copy. I imagine you’d get a similar result if you typed a description of beer into a computer and told it to produce a chemical slurry with the same characteristics. Yes, in some ways these beverages are “beer-like”. But in more ways, they are not.
What reason is there for drinking alcohol-free beer? To fool your friends into thinking you’re drinking with them? Sounds like you need better, more understanding friends. Do you miss the flavour of beer and want a reminder? Forget about finding it here. Because you’re writing an alcohol-free beer review in an attempt to cash in on it being Dry January? You should be ashamed of yourself.
If you really must deprive yourself from something enjoyable for a month, just switch to water or something that isn’t trying to be something it’s not. Me? I’ll continue happily drinking my beers. Hopefully tonight I’ll find something that pairs well with quorn sausages.