Ale be right:
JACK VENING AND FRASER HARVEY SIP ON SOME NON-ALCOHOLIC BEERS.
We road test some non-alcoholic beers.
BRIDGE ROAD BREWERS FREE TIME ALCOHOL FREE PALE ALE
Look, I love beer. It’s basically a funny water that requires you to be somewhat responsible. But even a casual observer can tell that beer must be stopped. It is too powerful, too enticing. And the ramifications of one too many? Bad news. That’s where something like Bridge Road Brewers’ Free Time comes in. Very easy on the palate, it has just a suggestion of pale ale to remind you what we’re here for. Close your eyes, it says, and come with me into a world of beermagination.
The Free Time label presents its non-alcoholic allegiance pretty prominently, which is bad news if you’re nervous some yahoo is going to take exception to you not being on the big-kid beers, but good news if you’re worried about seeming uncouth crushing a tinnie at a church gathering or children’s play centre.
I was expecting big things from a German beer, and boy was I let down. Honestly, this smelled of plain flour and had the flavour and consistency of uncooked pancake batter. I was confused at first, but then it dawned on me that this was an alcohol-free beer that had existed for a long while, so when they first put it on the market it was probably done with contempt. Once, variations on ‘normal’ beer were frowned upon, which explains the (lack of) flavour and what they were trying to achieve. The most striking thing about this beer is the name: Erdinger Alkoholfrei, which sounds like a man who moved from the Berlin region to Argentina in late 1945, then promptly became Carlos Innocenté. Somehow he forgot to pack all the belongings from his former life, including any identifying documents. So clumsy.
HEAPS NORMAL QUIET XPA
The craft beer world is a relatively recent subculture of bros who’ve somehow found a gap in the market between calling wine elitist and looking down their noses at people who order a standard lager from a major brewing company. It’s a world of mental gymnastics and thin, overambitious beards, and if that’s your thing – but you don’t want to down a full-strength drink – then this is your go-to. The colour is really light and almost looks like champagne, but sadly, it lets itself down by not tasting anything like champagne. It tastes quite bitter, really, which is perfect if you’re after something that looks fancy but is the opposite, and also contains no alcohol. I do like the can for this one, though: it features a walking brain and leads me to believe it’s some kind of smart brain serum. Not sure if I mentioned, but I’m incredibly susceptible to marketing.
SOBAH FINGER LIME CERVEZA
People are starting to cotton on to the fact that beer is best used as a vehicle for other flavours (and I’m not talking about more beer flavours – I’m looking at you, hops, the most wretched clown in the beer circus). Citrus, spice, smoke, salt. No rules, baby! Sobah comes through on these fundamentals: the Finger Lime Cerveza has zing, though could perhaps be zingier. The use of bush tucker in its ingredients is inspired, as is the packaging design (it’s nice to not feel like you’re drinking a soft drink or a lifeless corpo-ale). For all this, it also skates close to the problem many non-alcoholic beers seem to have: if we’re steering away from the beeryness, why aren’t we just drinking a nonalcoholic spritz or seltzer? Why are we here at all? Is this the afterlife? Did I DIE??
HEINEKEN 0.0 ALCOHOLFREE BEER
Straight up, this is the best one. Why? Two reasons: it tastes like normal Heineken, which is one of my Preferred Beers. No joke, I really like Heineken, and have just realised the more I praise them, the more likely they are to send me free beer, so I’m gonna do just that. Whether you’re having friends round for a BBQ or are out at your favourite food court, I recommend Heineken! Fantastic. Another reason I like this is because it says ‘pure malt quality’ on the label, and boy do I love malt. Can’t get enough of it. Hearing the phrase ‘frosty cold malty beer’ instantly gives me tunnel vision for finding the nearest pub, yet I still haven’t the faintest idea what malt is or what it actually tastes like. Another masterstroke from my good friends at Heineken, who can get my address from the frankie team.
TINY REBEL RHUBARB & CUSTARD SOUR
This is called a sour, but like our friend the Free Time pale ale it’s more of a nod to a sour than a real sour beer. It’s like if you lived next door to a sour and sometimes got its mail. The winner here is the flavour choice. Rhubarb is already an ostracising root – bringing a rhubarb dessert to a dinner party is a good way to tell everyone you didn’t go to many parties in school. Custard, so often rhubarb’s beleaguered companion, is like the partner constantly making excuses for its rudeness. But Tiny Rebel knows what makes the pairing work: the softness of custard; the warmth and occasional bite of rhubarb. This is a beaut winter beer, and if they could up the sourness it could come through for summer, too, just like Dad’s traditional poolside rhubarb and custard pie on a hot Christmas afternoon.
UPFLOW BREWING CO. CLASSIC PALE ALE
The Upflow Brewing Co. Classic Pale Ale beer can immediately made me think it was going to taste like Pasito, or even the lesser version, Passiona. Which is weird, because the label isn’t purple like either of those, but blue and turquoise. Even weirder, it actually kind of tasted like passionfruit, in a way. At first I assumed I’d acquired some strange new power that allowed me to will things into tasting like Pasito, but when I tried later on some bean juice I emptied from a can of three-bean medley, it didn’t work. Regardless, this is quite a fruity little number, and if you didn’t tell someone it was an alcoholfree beer – kind of more of a 1970s punch – they’d lap it up. I know I did – I had four sips! I look forward to more, too!
NORT REFRESHING ALE
Sometimes beer doesn’t taste like much (ever had a lager on a plane? It’s like they’ve given you a picture of a beer and a phone number to call if you want to hear its flavour described), so I guess it follows that sometimes non-alcoholic beer won’t taste like much either. Enter Nort Refreshing Ale. It doesn’t promise anything in particular, and it doesn’t go out of its way to deliver. It’s that dry lager you have at a wedding because someone walked past with a tray and you didn’t realise there were other options. Sure, it whispers, this doesn’t taste like anything, but also, you don’t know anybody here, so what are you going to do?
Cause a scene? It’s fine, as inoffensive as a pre-7pm TV show, and has a plain green label that won’t raise any eyebrows at the pub. Maybe just fill it with something more fun.