Sunday, 19 November 2017

Dry run

Last month, I wrote about how people had exaggerated expectations for alcohol-free beers. The problem is that, however good they taste, they’re never going to be anything more than a poor substitute for normal-strength beer, simply because they don’t contain alcohol. People choose to drink beer because it is alcoholic; they choose between beers on the grounds of taste. Therefore it makes more sense, and shows them in a better light, to consider them in comparison with soft drinks.

As I’ve been trying to have one alcohol-free day a week, I thought I would give a couple of the best-known brands a try, as an alternative to a can of Pepsi Max or suchlike while settling down to watch The Great War in Numbers or Bettany Hughes on Eight Days That Made Rome. The ones I chose, both bought from Tesco, were Beck’s Blue (6x275ml, £3.49, 58p per bottle, £2.12 per litre) and Heineken 0.0 (4x330ml, £2.49, 62p per bottle, £1.89 per litre). I think the Heineken was on a special introductory offer and the standard price would probably be £3.49.

The full-strength versions of these are not beers I would normally buy to drink at home, although I wouldn’t turn my nose up at them. The lack of volume in comparison with standard beers doesn’t really matter too much, as that’s bound up with the alcohol content. Both I found palatable enough. The Beck’s has a distinctly beery initial aroma, and is slightly the drier of the two, but has that somewhat cardboardy flavour note often found in alcohol-free beers. The Heineken, in contrast, is a little sweeter and less obviously beery, but probably the better of the two as a stand-alone drink. It possibly has a hint of lemon in it.

Are they as good as normal-strength beer? Of course not. But would I drink them again in that situation? Probably yes, although not really to wash down my lunch.

By way of comparison, I also tried an alcohol-free ale, St Peter’s Without (500ml bottle, £1.30, £2.60 per litre). This, however, was distinctly unpleasant, and most of it went down the sink. It had a thin, scummy head which quickly disappeared, and a thick, cloying, glutinous texture. I can’t disagree with Martyn Cornell when he says:

I cannot imagine what St Peter’s thought they were doing, because as a product it’s actively terrible. It smells like raw, unfermented wort, and while there is enough hop usage for it not to be sickly sweet, it’s still too much like the “strengthening medicine” Kanga fed to Roo, and nothing like the refreshing drink beer ought to be.
Martyn’s whole article is well worth reading, as he questions the periodic bouts of enthusiasm about the alcohol-free beer market. From time to time, people claim that it’s going to make substantial inroads into the sales of normal beer, but it never happens, simply because it doesn’t contain alcohol and is therefore missing the point. People will only substitute it for normal beer as a distress purchase. As he concludes,
I’m looking forward to a cool frothy pint of non-alcoholic beer tonight” said NOBODY, EVER.
They’re just not products anyone would actively seek out in the way they do normal-strength beers.

23 comments:

  1. St Peter's without seems to me to taste better when from the fridge, but as with others I may be trying to like them rather than actually liking them. But as the designated driver often I have become somewhat desperate in trying to find options. Evenings on diet coke invariably make me feel dreadful after about five.I have tested Becks Blue to death, but don't really like it. A mixture of 2 halves, two diet cokes and a couple of ginger beers and an alcohol free are my least worst combination to date. There is a market out there for good tasting alcohol free beers but they aren't quite there. Perhaps I should start a site - desperate designated drivers!

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    1. The point I'm sort of making is that too much effort is expended in trying to make them taste like beer rather than taste pleasant in their own right.

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    2. Yes, but then it's just any soft drink I suppose. Maybe my hopes/expectations are just too unrealistic in this regards. I've been waiting for agreeable alcohol free for twenty years,it may not be doable.

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  2. Brewdog Nanny State is fairly suprising as a (nearly) alcohol free tipple. Must be, I've bought it more than twice!

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  3. I question your initial assumption that people drink beer *because* it's alcoholic - I drink it because I like it. If my local suddenly put my favourite beer on tap in an alcohol-free form - and, crucially, if it tasted *exactly the same* as the regular version - I would buy it in a heartbeat. Not every time perhaps, but being able to have a few pints over lunch without impacting the afternoon's productivity? Yes please!

    The real problem with alcohol-free beers is that nobody has worked out how to make one that doesn't taste like an alcohol-free beer.

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    1. Precisely- there's a market for two of us! Yes the productivity one , not just work but life outside sometimes is a big one for me also on many occasions.

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    2. Beer - and indeed all other forms of alcoholic drink - were only initially created because of their effect. Any appreciation of them in terms of taste came much later. If beer wasn't alcoholic, people wouldn't drink it in the same quantities, or on the same occasions, as they do now.

      As I said, people drink beer because it's alcoholic; they choose between Beer A and Beer B on the grounds of taste. If you honestly believe that the fact that it contains alcohol plays no part in your decision to drink beer, then you are deluding yourself. Plus the alcohol is an essential component of the taste, which becomes more pronounced the higher you go up the strength scale.

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    3. Alcohol obviously does play some part in people's decision as to whether or not to drink beer, but like Pete and Irish Sea Dave, I primarily drink beer because I like the taste, and I find it refreshing and enjoyable.

      Now I accept that alcohol contributes to the taste as well - adding mouthfeel and warmth (depending on strength), but as Pete says, IF someone could come up with an AFB tasting exactly the same as say, Harvey's or Dark Star, then I too would drink it.

      Like many people I don't drink beer to get the affect of the alcohol; and no I am not deluding myself

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    4. I'm with Pete, Dave and Paul here.

      I'd happily drink non-alcoholic beer if it tasted the same as the full strength equivalent and was available in the same variety. I often regard the high ABVs of beer as something of an inconvenience rather than a benefit. I suspect my doctor would firmly agree too.

      I think this is one of those issues where Mudgie is correct about the majority/mainstream, but perhaps underestimates the size and strength of the equally valid minority viewpoint.

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  4. What I want out of an AFB is the hop hit and something that is a bitter alternative to sweet sugary soft drinks. Nanny State just about cuts the mustard but can't really bring myself to buy it when a Punk costs the same! I note that there are now several brewers specialising in a full range of AF styles e.g. Nirvana but these don't appear to escape the M25. I'm curious to know whether they are any good but I know I won't like the price!

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    1. My choice as a bitter alternative to sugary soft drinks is a pint of Yorkshire tea, a little milk and no sugar. Home brew it costs less than 10p

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  5. Despite the horrors of a Kaliber drunk in the late Eighties still inhabiting my nightmares, have tried a few non-alcoholic beers over the past few years to see if the new generation has anything more to offer. Collecting the (very) basic brief jottings I sometimes keep on beers - to remind to seek out again, or actively avoid - together in one place, there's a distinct pattern.

    Nanny State, BrewDog: "Aroma is enticing. Unfortunately that's where the pleasure ends. Finding drinking it verging on the unpleasant."
    Erdinger Alkoholfrei: "Has non-alcoholic beer improved in 30 years? Not much it seems, from this example."
    Innis & None, Innis & Gunn: "At better end of non-alcoholic beer field, but still got that odd taste & over carbonation they all seem to suffer."
    Maisel's Weisse Alkoholfrei: "As alcohol free beers go there are worse. Usual flaw of those beers of feeling watery, but does have some Maisel banana & clove in there."
    Without, St Peter's Brewery: "Rather different from usual non-alcoholic beers in that malty & relatively flat. Similarity is that it not good as a beer."

    Still not come across a non-alcoholic beer I'd want to drink a second time for its own sake.

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  6. One other difference, that no-one has so far noted is that alcohol acts as a mild diuretic and so when you've drunk a couple of pints of alcohol free beer you start to feel a bit bloated, whereas with the 'real stuff' you're constantly expelling liquid which you have to replace with another pint...and so it goes on through the session.

    The actual effects of alcohol on the body are, I believe, too complex and subtle to be able to ever produce a satisfactory alcohol free beer.

    I'll continue with pints of Blackcurrant & Soda Water (with ice) as my non-alcoholic drink of choice - it is far less sweet than most alternatives and way cheaper than Coke/Diet Coke.

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    1. Tea has the same mild diuretic effect as alcohol. If I have to have a cold non alcoholic drink I usually go for lime juice and soda which is not too sweet. Tonic water is another option but is rather expensive by the pint.

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    2. It puzzles me why soft drinkers feel the need to match beer drinkers pint-for-pint. OK, start with a pint if you're gaspingly thirsty, but beyond that, what's the point?

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    3. Speaking personally, I drink most cold drinks at the same rate that I consume lager, so it makes sense to have a pint as I'd be back and forth to the bar far too often with halves

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    4. Because it is slightly embarrassing to finish your drink when the rest of the party are less than half way down theirs. Somebody will make a fuss about getting you another drink (especially if you are the cherished designated driver) which tends to break up the party.

      And, like Peter Allen, there is no way that I can make a pub 125mL bottle of tonic (a small wine measure) last the time it takes to drink a pint.

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  7. I never drink soft drinks,beer only or tea and coffee in the morning.
    Our piss up down Nottingham yesterday went well,i had 10 and a half pints and three pints of home brew and the wife had 11 halfs and a half bottle of wine at home.
    Back in hospital next week so not so good,but they did say enjoy yourself so we did.

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  8. Having recently had a period during which I had to forgo the drinking of alcoholic beer, I tried quite a few AF beers. One that impressed me was Erdinger alcohol-free which had a decent enough aroma and pleasant beery taste. Poured very well with a good head that left lacing all down the glass. Good value too - £2.49 in JDW. Another was an Adnams AF beer brewed for M&S. Very hoppy and tasty.

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  9. Mikkeller Drink in the Sun is the best one I've tried.

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  10. It's why pubs are dying, this post.

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  11. If I want to give up alcohol for a while I don't go to the pub.
    And then after two days of drinking endless cups of tea,eating stuff I never usually eat like cake and biscuits because of the sweet craving I've developed and watching the shite that passes for early evening television I think bollocks to this and head to the pub where the first pint is pure nectar.
    And that's it for another year.

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  12. Late to this one but a good non-alcohol alternative to beer is a mixer bottle of grapefruit juice in a pint glass topped up with soda water. It tastes better than some of the hoppier session ales I've tried and certainly better than Doom Bar.

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