Back in November I had a full health check. A proper service, including bloods, an ECG, lung capacity, physical resilience and fitness. It went really well and without wanting to brag, I’m the very specimen of a human being. A god amongst men. Well, that’s what the doctor said, anyway. I’ve never been one for resting on my laurels though and made my own assumptions from the results that my cycling performance in 2019 would benefit from me shedding a few kilograms. I looked at what I was currently doing and decided that booze and sugar could go. In mid-November I stopped drinking and eating biscuits.
I’d done this before, about 5 years ago, when cutting down on the worst stuff and improving my diet led to me losing ~38kg. I only wanted to lose about 5 or 6 this time, and I already knew the drill.
Going into December as a non-drinker was a tricky prospect. So many nights out that I didn’t want to miss. So much Christmas ‘celebration’ to be done. I didn’t know how I’d deal with that or how those around me would take it. I didn’t know what I’d drink on those nights out. I didn’t fancy pints on pints of cola.
And then in a supermarket aisle, I discovered something I’d never even considered would be a thing: A small selection of low and non-alcoholic beers and ales. I also discovered that many of the bars and pubs I was frequenting on Christmas nights out had at least one brand of <0.5% beer in the fridge, and that I would be able to drink with friends without feeling like the odd one out.
Over the last couple of months I’ve trialed a number of these beers, partly because I’m curious, partly because I like variety. What follows is a bit of a review on a selection of those I’ve tried.
TLDR; I don’t really like lager, I like hoppy ales - this follows with non-alcoholic beverages.
I’m not really a lager drinker - not like I was in my teens and twenties. The only time I’ll order a lager these days is if there’s nothing else available. And that’s where we find ourselves with non-alcoholic lagers. In a lot of bars and pubs, if you want a non-alcoholic beer, then it’ll be a lager you’re offered.
This seems to be the most commonly stocked non-alcoholic beer in pubs and bars I’ve visited. It’s cold, fizzy and wet. That’s about the best I can say about it. Sometimes that’s what you want: a cold, fizzy, wet lager. On those occasions it can fulfil a requirement, but like many a poor lager, you’ll regret having more than one or two when you start to feel gassy and bloated.
It’s better than having a pint of Coke, but honestly I think I’d rather just have a pint of water.
Estrella Galacia 0.0
I’m not generally a lager drinker, but depending on the pub, a non-alcoholic lager might be your best option as the quality ‘craft’ ales can be harder to find. Estrella Galacia 0.0 is the best of these lagers that I’ve tried. Now, that’s a pretty low bar, but the Estrella at least manages to be crisp and light with a slight honey note (but not cloyingly sweet). It’s a refreshing drink and I could happily reach for it on those warm days when you really just fancy a lager.
And it’s nowhere near as gassy as the Becks or Heineken.
Budweiser Prohibition Brew
Not at all gassy like the Becks, but maybe actually a bit flat, in flavour as well as composition. It’s flat and a bit too sweet.
Tastes like Heineken. If you like Heineken, you might well like this. A little bit of sweetness, not too carbonated.
This is more of a Weissbier, a genre I’ve always struggled with. My usual experience with weissbier goes something like “Oooh, this is nice. Oh, there’s the instant hangover.” Alcohol free weissbier is a different kettle of fish altogether. Erdinger’s effort is pleasing, not too strong in flavour but strong enough, and it doesn’t come with the headache. And it’s ‘isotonic’, like Lucozade. So that’s basically beer that’s actively good for me, right?
Infinite Session IPA
I’ve had this one a few times and my views on it have changed since first taste. I’d seen it in Marks and Spencer, before I’d even considered that alcohol-free beer could be a thing. I bought a can out of curiosity and drank it that night. Honestly, I thought it was terrible. I don’t even think I finished it.
Later on, when shopping specifically for <0.5 beers, I thought I’d give it a second chance and I’m glad I did. It might be a mindset thing, but Infinite Session IPA is now one of my preferred choices.
Big Easy Pale Ale
I had this in a pub on a Christmas night out. It was the only low-alc option on offer and I was satisfied. It’s kind of fruity (lemon and peach flavours) and well hopped.
Brewdog Nanny State
Of the ales available in bars and supermarkets, this is the one I’ve seen most often. A hoppy ale, darker than I would normally choose, but I do like a hoppy beverage. I’ve heard others speak disparagingly about Nanny State, saying it’s their least favourite of the alcohol-free ales. I’ve heard that same sentiment expressed a few times and I hold no trick with it. It’s pleasant. It tastes boozier than it is, which is a trait that lends itself to certain moods and situations. It’s not my favourite, but I’ve had much worse beverages.
I’ve heard rumours that a non-alcoholic equivalent of Brewdog’s Punk IPA is forthcoming. I look forward to that.
Bernard Free Amber
I had this amber ale in Pivni, a little bar in York famous for its wide range of beers from around the world. I was pleasantly surprised to find this non-alcoholic option and even more pleasantly surprised when I enjoyed it. I’m not normally one for an amber/semi-dark ale, preferring something pale and hoppy. This is malty with a caramel taste and a pleasant bitterness. I’m not sure I’d choose this if there were other available options, but it did tick some boxes.
Nirvana Brewery Sutra IPA
This is just a good beer. It’s an IPA. It tastes like an IPA: hoppy, crisp, not too light. If it didn’t say it on the label, I wouldn’t know it was <0.5. I would order and drink this whenever it’s available. I’ve given this to my drinking friends and family on nights out and they’ve subsequently ordered one for themselves.
Big Drop Pale Ale
Really nice. Another one on the list of “just a quality beer, regardless of ABV”. It’s just a good pale ale.
Nirvana Brewery Kosmic Stout
Delicious. I’m not normally a stout drinker but since starting this alcohol-free experiment I’ve tried a couple that I’ve really enjoyed. This is one of them. (The other is Big Drop’s Milk Stout).
Rich and velvety with a chocolate hint. Mmmmmmm.
Big Drop Milk Stout
Again, a departure for me, taste-wise. This is good, but probably falls into second place in the stouts, behind the Kosmic. It has a little smokiness to it, along with the chocolate and vanilla.
This experiment is ongoing and I’m enjoying trying new beers (as I always have), and I’m especially enjoying doing that without getting pissed and subsequently hung over. I can have a great night out with friends on a Friday night, and still be up and out by 8am on Saturday morning for a bike ride. That’s pretty good.
I haven’t given up the booze completely – still enjoy a single malt or the occasional glass of wine – but my thirst for alcohol has gone. I think this is a positive move for me and I hope to continue on this journey.
If you want to try some of these beers for yourself, the supermarkets have a great selection. Tesco and Marks & Spencer seemed to have the most. Asda and Sainsbury’s are worth a visit too.
You can buy online from sites like Dry Drinker who have a huge amount of choice and even some alcohol free spirits. That convenience comes at a premium though.
And fortunately, as Dry January has gained a lot of momentum this year, choice is increasing in pubs and bars too as they see greater demand from non-drinkers.