Wednesday, 20 January 2016

New Year, No Alcohol - Alcohol Free Drinks (Part 2)


Welcome to the second part of my guide to staying dry(ish) during the lean month of January. 2 weeks in and its been tough....So tough that I fell to pieces 1 week and 6 days ago, so rather than this being a 'Lets get through this together' piece, this is now a 'I feel your pain, but will not join you in your suffering' piece. That has not stopped me from searching out some other non-alcoholic alternatives to your Wednesday night tipple in front of the big match.

I enjoy a good beer on a special occasion (Birthdays, Weddings, Tuesdays,..), so the hardest part for me was missing out on a nice tasting brew without the big percentage to go with it. With it being the season for abstention, there are so many low and non-alcoholic beers on the marketplace to choose from, finding one wasn't going to be a problem. Finding one with flavour, bite and refreshment within the liquid could have been.

Exactly like alcohol-free wine, non-alcoholic beer starts off as the real deal. The grain is steeped in hot water, sugars extracted creating the wort (sugary liquid). The hops are added with other spices to balance out the sweetness of the liquid with the bitterness of the hops. Yeast added, this starts converting the sugars to alcohol. The difference is that rather than alcoholic brews being bottled/canned/kegged, the newly created beer is heated (to boil the alcohol away) through 'vacuum distilling' so as not to alter the beautiful beery flavour too much.

Alcohol free beer is not really a new phenomenon. It was first produced on a large scale during the Prohibition period in the US during 1920s, where brewers needed something to keep their 'regular' drinking, whilst also keeping on the right side of the law. 'Near Beers' (as they were called) were so popular that near 1 billion litres were being produced by 1921, with all the major beer producers of the day (Miller, Pabst, Schlitz) getting in on the act. Nowadays, alcohol free beer is booming, largely thanks to changing drinking cultures and a considerable boom in the Middle East. In this country, a survey conducted by AB Inbev (owner of the non-alcoholic Becks Blue brand) showed that of people looking to cut back the drink, 34% will turn to alcohol-free beer, a 20% increase on the previous year and that 19% of the people surveyed admitted that they couldn't taste the difference between 'fake' beer and 'real' beer. Now, that either shows that the tastebuds of the people who were surveyed had either been obliterated by booze to the point they couldn't detect an ABV if it smacked them in the face, or that producers had started to create an amber nectar that had all of the taste of the real thing, with none of the headache-inducing side effects. Time for me to find out...


First up to face the bottle opener was the Erdinger Alkoholfrei 'beer' (available at beersofeurope.co.uk for £1.59 a bottle). I put the beer word in inverted commas as its technically not a beer at all, but an isotonic drink that looks and pours like a beer. The problem I've always had with alcohol free beer is that it is too sweet, and this also has a tinge of sweetness, but not overly so. It really does have elements of Weissbier, that slight grainy and wheaty taste and a very full and creamy texture. I would go as far to say that you could slip one of these into a Wheat Beer drinking fest and not notice that you had a 'ringer' in the midst.

Next was the San Miguel 0,0% Limon (available at Asda for £2.50 for 4). The Lass persuaded me to grab this one, as she is fervently following the Dry January concept. San Miguel isn't really my tipple, but I have tried the 'added Lemon' fad with beer before and not found it too bad (Fosters Radler isn't a bad summery drop). This wasn't really my drop. Tasting slightly like cooled down Lemsip, you get bashed with a smack of sweetness and, although it is refreshing, it's just too artificial for me and you may as well be downing a pint of Lemonade.

Last in line was Sainsbury's own Czech Low Alcohol Pilsner Lager (£1.20 a bottle from Sainsburys). Now I know this isn't an alcohol-free beer, but I had heard really good stuff about this and at 0.5%, its still considered low alcohol, so I shall include it (na, na, naa, naaa, na...). I wasn't disappointed. Made by the Staropramen brewery, I like their own brew and this one is just as good. Clean, crisp, it has the sharpness you want from a lager and still has the slight bitter kick of a fully hopped version.

So, having tried both alcohol free wines and beers, I have to say that I am impressed with how similar some of the examples I have tried are to the real thing (or at least have crammed in some flavours that stop you from wishing they were). Is it enough to get me to quit the drink permanently? Evidently not from my statement at the start of this article. I am coming from a slightly biased point of view (as I obviously work in the industry), but my mantra has always been 'Drink less and Drink Better'. Binge drinking is always a bad idea, but if people feel they have to give up having a drop of the good stuff for a whole month to 'give their liver a breather', then they are really telling themselves that they are drinking too much in the previous 11 and feeling guilty about it.

However, will I turn my nose up at the offer of an alcohol free beer in the pub, in favour of over-sweetened carbonated brown fizzy slop? Not anymore...

What is your opinion of the alcohol-free drinks market? Have you tried any that would recommend to Vinspire readers? Comment on our twitter page or on our facebook page!

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