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A taste test of 26 zero-alcohol beers.

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Jun 20, 2022 Drinks

Non-alcoholic beer hasn’t just sprung out of nowhere into existence in the year 2021, though you might be forgiven for thinking so considering its exploding popularity, particularly in the craft beer scene. People are drinking less, people are drinking better, people are drinking smarter. Zero-alcohol beer, apart from having zero alcohol*, also tends to have less calories and sugar — a plus for anyone who has to watch either of those things. So many pros! Very little cons. (Although, to be fair, the one con for some is obvious and unavoidable — the lack of alcohol.)

For those new to the show, I’m one of those people with a severe alcohol intolerance — and beer, for some unbeknownst reason, has always been one of its worst triggers. The enticing rich golden liquid, with its pillowy layer of white foam, has never been able to receive my full appreciation. But no longer! So, full disclosure, I come into this non-alcoholic beer taste test with perhaps a slightly differ- ent perspective than a normal panel of beer writers might — less inclined to compare it directly to the real stuff, more appreciative of all the options we now have.

Although a common way of making non-alcoholic beer is just to brew it like usual then strip out the alcohol with high heat, this will usually affect all those malty, hoppy flavours. There are a few other ways to do it which don’t: reverse osmosis, for example, using high pressure to separate the water and alcohol molecules from the beer; or with a controlled fermentation process, like using low-sugar grains.

You can buy some of the beers on the list from your local supermarket and/or bottle shop, but others may only be found on specialty websites like Clear Head Drinks, which was Aotearoa’s first non-alcoholic online booze store.

*or more accurately, <0.5%

 

VERY GOOD

1. Vandestreek Playground Non-Alcoholic IPA — BEST IPA
I’m surprisingly very into this hoppy (five different types of hops!) unfiltered beer all the way from the Netherlands — not as sweet, with a dry finish. It’s full-bodied, and I would 100% believe it if I was told there was alcohol in this. You should probably like IPAs to like this one, though. Heaps of bite. “Not for everyone,” I wrote in my notes. But fortune favours the bold! So it’s boldly my number one.

2. Tiny — BEST HAZY IPA
Sometimes popular things are also … very good? Garage Project’s Tiny is a hazy IPA, the only hazy on this list, and extremely hard to get hold of, which may slightly con- tribute to my enjoyment of this. Hazies are bright, fruity, vibrant — less aggressively bitter than IPAs, which is what makes Tiny such easy drinking, and, probably, a perennial people-pleaser. Tasted with other IPAs, it stands out in a line-up, like the crisp smell of fresh laundry.

3. Bach Brewing All Day IPA
Quite a strong smell compared to the others — deep, complex. There’s a really good flavour, tropical-esque, with a classic bitter beer finish that will appeal to usual beer-drinkers. Plus, locally made in Tāmaki!

4. Lucky Saint Unfiltered Lager — BEST LAGER
“Nice!” I wrote in my notes. I unashamedly (actually, no, in this pale-ale climate, sort of shamedly) have a slight pref- erence for lagers, because they’re so smooth and clean and my face never scrunches up after drinking them (plus, my dad’s drink of choice is actually Clausthaler, a non-alcoholic lager that I did not taste test but would recommend). This unfiltered lager is a beautiful golden colour, and has a great lingering aftertaste.

5. Lowtide Brewing Co NEIPA the Cosmic Turtle
If you can look past the name, you’ll get a really flavourful drop that does give you those bassy notes of booziness, but with lovely citrus notes. A little bit more “watery”.

 

GOOD

6. Sawmill Bare Beer — BEST PALE ALE
A well-rounded beer — starts out really fresh and fruity, then finishes (and lingers and lingers) on a bit of sharp- ness.

7. Lowtide Brewing Co West Coast Hop Lock
Very bold, with that sort of hoppy juiciness associated with West Coast IPAs.

8. Heineken 0.0% — BEST MASS MARKET
As I sat at the table with my head in my hands, trying to make sense of the 26 beers I had just taste-tested, my friend asked me: “Which of these would you bring with you to drink at the beach?” I immediately thought about this Heineken. It’s intensely refreshing, has no cares in the world, is exactly what you think it’ll be. I love that for her.

9. Grüvi Sour Weisse
I feel like a lot of people would disagree with me on this one, because it doesn’t taste like beer per se — a little dish-soapy, not very sour, thin with a light body. But tasty!

10. Heaps Normal XPA
I got this at Everyday Wine, so you know it’s cool. Great branding! Amazing branding even! Like it says on the can, it’s very refreshing — almost has a sparkling water feel, very light. The Almighty of alcohol-free craft beer.

11. UNLTD IPA
There’s only 13 calories in this bottle, if that matters to you. It doesn’t to me, but that’s still a little crazy to think about. “Same kind of vibe as like … Lion or Estrella,” my friend mused. Would easily reach for it if it was around.

12. Grüvi Pale Ale
A harmonious balance between a bitter hoppiness and a sweetness — doesn’t have the intensiveness. A Perfectly Nice Beer.

13. Vandestreek Grapefruit Non-Alcoholic IPA
A real zestiness that curbs the hops. “Tastes like lychee,” I wrote.

14. UNLTD Alcohol-Free Lager
So easy to drink, I could down the whole bottle without flinching.

15. Drop Bear New World Lager
Ditto! This one, though brewed in Wales, uses hops from New Zealand (and apparently only 7.5 calories — okay, second time I’ve mentioned calories, sorry, but that’s truly wild). Quite fruity for a lager — and a little bitter, so maybe a happy medium for IPA lovers.

 

OKAY

16. Drop Bear Yuzu Pale Ale
Not actually aggressively Australian like the name suggests, but brewed in Wales (!?). Drop Bear’s Yuzu PA is extremely citrus-forward, pretty yummy.

17. Peroni Liberia 0.0%
Oh, Peroni! Very pleasant, an easy switch for any brand loyalists. Sorta sweet and watery.

18. Grüvi IPA
The lightest in colour of all the IPAs, this one tasted less traditionally ‘hoppy’, especially in a line-up of other IPAs. Could be a plus if you struggle with that.

19. Australian Sports Brewing Co Sports Beer Pale Ale
Apparently this is a … sports beer? With … electrolytes? The can does have the same aesthetics as an energy drink, very masculine and LADBible-esque. Not sure how it does on electrolyte recovery, but this is another smooth number — none of that frowny bitterness. Very drinkable.

20. Grüvi Golden Non-Alcoholic Craft Brew
“Super normal,” I wrote in my notes. I think I probably meant “super okay”.

21. Guinness Draught
With a little nitro capsule that triggers when you open the can, it mimics the pour you’d get at the pub, so it’s all rich and creamy. There’s not a whole lot of stouts in the zero-alcohol market (as far as I can tell) so it’s a perfectly serviceable option if you’re into that. I’m guessing that it will get die-hard Guinness fans cringing though.

22. Drop Bear Tropical IPA
“Smells like soy sauce.” There is a food-like savouriness to this one, which I think comes from the prominent maltiness (there’s also some wheat and oats in there). It’s darker and earthier, less dominated by the hops, with the fruitiness only coming through in the aftertaste.

23. Export Gold Lager
Not bad, in itself, but a bit flavourless.

 

NOT GOOD

24. Drop Bear Bonfire Stout
I have to say, the colour and texture of stout just mentally takes me back to my taste test for the last issue, when I sipped on soy sauce, so maybe the stouts were on the backfoot from the start. This one is quite roasty and smoky, like drinking cold, bad coffee.

25. Bavaria Holland
I don’t even know where to begin. Somehow smells and tastes like soup? Sort of herbal? Sort of like a herbal, medicinal, sweet lolly?

26. Export Citrus — Lemon
This tastes like the cordial you buy in big glass bottles and then when you mix it yourself you get the ratio way wrong.

This feature was published in Metro 434
Available here in print and pdf.

 

 

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