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Non-Alcoholic Beer? Temper Your Expectations

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I haven't heard much about New Year's resolutions, but there has been a lot of talk about "cleansing diets." It's hard to blame anyone for wanting to rid themselves of the taint of 2020. The charming Mrs. M has put us both on something called a Whole 30 diet that's supposed to — well, she's explained it to me twice and I still can't tell you.

Given the way we started drinking in lockdown, though, it probably wouldn't kill any of us to give our livers a breather. To that end, if you are looking for a non-alcoholic beer to give you the taste and feel of a beer without your put-upon system begging for mercy, your best option is Beck's N/A. There isn't really anything remarkable about it other than it does taste very close to its excellent boozy sibling, just a little weaker. Not a glowing review, but it is about the best you're going to get with near-beer: pretty good.

CHANSAK AROONMANAKUL | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • Chansak Aroonmanakul | Dreamstime.com

There are other good ones out there — Heineken, for instance — and most are German or Dutch. I've never seen a truly alcohol-free ale, and I'm not sure I want to. Which is not to say that you can't enjoy a cold Beck's N/A while you're on the wagon. The trick to getting the most out of them, however, is managing expectations. Do not try to fool yourself or anyone else that you've got the real thing.

About 10 years ago, I was at a ceremony at the Benghazi Medical Center hosted by what was left of the Libyan Ministry of Health. When Muammar Gaddafi took power in 1969, he introduced national prohibition, and after his ouster, there was no push to repeal it — or a government to do the repealing, for that matter. Boredom at the reception was starting to set in when I felt an excited poke on the arm. Lisle was an Afrikaner, originally, but had moved to Amsterdam to be a perfusionist — the person who runs the heart/lung bypass machine — and found herself attached to the same medical mission as me. "Lök, es dat a bier?" Lisle's English was technically flawless, but her accent made her sound like a Katzenjammer Kid. But there they were, cold green longnecks peeking out of the ice, along with plastic bottles of water and sealed cups of fruit juice.

I'd had my last cocktail in Istanbul a couple of weeks earlier, and on deplaning in-country I'd been detained for having a bottle of Famous Grouse in my luggage. It was a misunderstanding I blame on a blonde Turkish woman in the duty-free shop, but also explains my detailed knowledge of Libyan blue laws. Granted, Libya didn't really have a government at the time (still doesn't), but this sure felt like a government-sanctioned event. Besides, I wasn't smuggling anything, this beer was already in the country. Don't sneer, nothing brings out the booze-hound in you like a civil war. We were on the bottles like a pair of deranged chimps.

Which is why I can't stress enough that there are several good non-alcoholic beers on the market, but it's crucial that you manage your expectations. You won't fool yourself. After that first pull, and it was pretty vulgar considering where we were, Lisle and I looked at each other. "Awh, dees is non-alcoholic." She looked at the bottle with a profound sadness, "Dat's juss kruel ..."

I finished mine — a Beck's N/A — because it seemed rude not to at the time. Remember, a conflict zone is no excuse for bad manners. Being genetically Dutch, Lisle wasn't used to watered-down American beer, so she was more offended than I was. On further reflection, the only thing really wrong with it — it wasn't any thinner than a Miller Lite — was that it had been malted with a special varietal called disappointment.

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