Thursday, 12 April 2012

Non-Alcoholic Beers

I have been without booze for a few weeks now (in preparation for the London Marathon), and I have a huge craving for beer which is becoming annoying, so I thought I would have a crack at some non-alcoholic beers to satisfy my hoppy urges. Without too much difficulty I was able to find several different brands, but not wanting to flood my fridge with the stuff (most were sold in 4 or 6 packs) I settled on just a few, outlined below. I didn’t search out any craft brands or go online, I just went with what was readily available as this would be the maximum effort most people would put in for non-alcoholic beers. I have ordered them best to worst.
 Bavaria Wit
This was comfortably the best of the lot. Being a wit, I suppose it has more room to manoeuvre than the lagers, but even still it was a cut above all the others. Pale, hazy yellow, it had an intense spicy clove and dried apricot flavour, with a vaguely tropical aroma matched by banana, fruity bubblegum and candyfloss on the palate. It was too sweet, but quite pleasant.

Bavaria Original
The best of the straight up lagers I tried, this looked good in the glass, shiny and golden with a full head. It had a fresher smell than its competitors, more like cut grass than wet dough which the others were. Some biscuity malt was present, and a touch of chewy caramel, but no hop flavour. A bit too sweet with nothing to balance it, but did have a tight crispness to make it thirst quenching. Reasonable.

Becks Blue
The most widely available I found, but nothing to write home about. A bad aroma like a stagnant, yeasty puddle, it actually tasted somewhere in the vicinity of beer. Slightly more bitter than the others with a pleasing crispness, and bland enough to be inoffensive. Drinking straight from the bottle it is pretty indistinct from regular Becks, which is not really a good thing.

Marks & Spencer German Lager
This was sparkling bright and golden yellow with a thick white head. It had a light aroma of unbaked bread but nothing else. Probably the least flavour of all the beers I tried, and what was there was thin and indistinct, a hint of an old cornflake sandwich leading to a harsh, empty and metallic bitterness.

Pale amber, with a thin, soapy head. It smelt of wet dough, yeasty and damp – very off-putting. The taste was one note, just delivering vague elements of cereal, corn and processed sugary cake. It was, of course, too sweet – but also flat and flabby with no crispness or refreshment. It thought this would be ok, being a pretty famous name, but it was utterly dreadful.

Overall the experience was better than I expected – they beers themselves weren’t great but they all resembled the products they were replicating, and some were more than tolerable, although admittedly a few were terrible. You miss the richness and depth that alcohol provides and none had any hop character or bitterness, leaving most with a taste of unbaked dough and sugar. But it did (very temporarily) relive my beer craving, and for not much money at all. If I ever have a no-drinking policy again (post-Christmas or on doctor’s orders per se) I would probably search out some more. It did occur to me that almost all of the non-alcoholic beers I encountered were pale lagers, and the one exception to this I tried was the most enjoyable. It would be interesting to see more styles attempted, with at least an effort to get some hop flavour in there. Has anyone had any alcohol free beers that were any good or a little different from the norm?