Why non-alcoholic beers are good, but they could be better
Over the last few years, non-alcoholic beers have become more popular and readily available. I understand some people are sceptical of them and if I’m honest, I initially didn’t understand the point of them either. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to like them and understand that they have a place. I’ll discuss both the reasons I like them, and the ways in which I’d like to see them improve.
THE GOOD BITS — TASTE
I’ve tried a variety of low or no alcohol beers over the years. These include some of the big names (e.g. Becks Blue, Heineken 0.0 and Brewdog Nanny State) as well as some at the cheaper end (e.g. Bavaria 0.0 and Lidl’s Perlenbacher 0.0).
I’m not as knowledgeable or sophisticated in the tasting department as some people. Indeed, I’m not even convinced that human taste buds are sensitive enough to pick up the ‘notes of toffee’ or ‘hints of citrus’ that some people claim to be getting. That said, I’ve yet to come across a no alcohol beer that I didn’t like the taste of. Granted some are better than others, but none have been off-putting to me. I’ve even heard from some non-drinkers that they still like the ‘malty’ taste.
As you’d expect, the non-alcoholic beers tend to have fewer calories than the ‘real’ thing. If you’re watching your calorie intake (as I usually am, although it went out the window during the festive period), they might be a better option for an evening. Having said that, they aren’t by any means calorie free (for example Bavaria 0.0 still has around 79 calories per can) so you might still have to be mindful of how many you have, depending on your circumstances.
As I said at the start, non-alcoholic beers have become more readily available over the last few years. I’ve been noticing a bigger selection in supermarkets and more pubs and restaurants now have them. I had my work’s Christmas night out a few weeks ago and one of my colleagues drinks non-alcoholic beer. Despite it being a fairly small town, every pub had at least one or two available. I’d imagine the availability will increase even further as more people choose to go down this route.
If, like me, you’re both a car person and a beer lover, these offer a good compromise. You can have something approaching a beer, but still be fit to drive. Granted ‘non-alcoholic beer’ can contain up to 0.5% alcohol (some have even less or none at all), but even the 0.5% ends up being a negligible amount. My understanding is that even with 0.5%, it isn’t possible to get drunk on it due to the way our bodies process alcohol.
There is also a cultural element involved where driving is concerned. Although (for example) half a pint of ‘real’ lager might not put you over the drink driving limit, it would be seen as socially unacceptable (in most circles) here in the UK. I’ve been to some other countries (e.g. Australia and the US) where it is more accepted to have one or two and then drive, but this isn’t the case here. Non-alcoholic beer is a way around this problem as it removes any possibility of being impaired or over the limit.
I’m still at an age where if I go to a pub/restaurant but can’t drink for whatever reason (usually because I’m driving, as above), I feel like I’m missing out. I understand this doesn’t bother some people but for me, if I see others walking past with pints of beer and I can’t have one, it is rather disheartening. In those situations, I often wish I lived in one of the countries where it’s ok to have a mid-strength beer (or two) and then drive. Non-alcoholic beer makes me feel less like I’m missing out and less bothered about the fact that I can’t have a ‘proper’ drink. It doesn’t get rid of this feeling altogether, but it definitely helps.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER — COST
Moving on to what could be better about the non-alcoholic beers, the first thing that gets me is the cost. If you’re buying them in a supermarket, they’re generally OK, for example (at the time of writing) you can get 4 bottles of Heineken 0.0 for £3.50 in ASDA. I’d imagine you can get even cheaper ones in discount places like Lidl or Aldi.
However, I’ve seen Becks Blue be around £3.50 — £4 in pubs/restaurants, basically the same price as a full-strength lager. I understand they’re never going to be able to sell you one for the same price as a Diet Coke, but I’d like to see the cost come down a bit, to reflect the lack of alcohol etc.
There are 2 aspects I’d like to discuss under this heading. I’ve often noticed with non-alcoholic beers that when you pour them, they don’t develop the same ‘head’ as full-strength beer does. I don’t know enough about the technology etc to know if there is a fix for this, but if there is, I would like to see it put into place.
The other thing is, it would be cool if we could eventually get them on draught in boozeries, rather than just in bottles. For me, that would make the whole experience more like a normal beer and reduce the feelings of missing out. Again I don’t know if this is do-able commercially or not, but if it is, it would be good to see.
RESEMBLANCE TO THE REAL THING
Although I generally like the taste of non-alcoholic beers, many of them don’t taste like the real thing. The closest one I’ve come across is Heineken 0.0 — it was almost like a real lager and I think if you gave me a blind taste test between it and a normal Heineken, I’d be struggling to tell them apart. Also, I’m generally not a huge fan of Brewdog as a company, or the ‘craft beer’ movement as whole, but their Nanny State did remind me of some of their other beers, and felt closer to the real thing as a result.
I’m sure in time, the no alcohol options will start to resemble their full-strength cousins more and more. I don’t expect them to ever taste exactly the same, in the same way that Coke Zero will never taste exactly like real Coke. That said, I’m looking forward to more of them getting closer.
In summary, I understand why some people don’t care for non-alcoholic beers, but I like the taste of them, and the fact that they make me feel less like I’m missing out if I’m not able to have a proper beer, among other things. I’d like to see the cost come down and for them to taste and behave more like the full-strength lagers. As they develop more and more, I’m sure we will at least get the latter in the end.