I know, I know. There is a large section of society who are violently allergic to the concept of non-alcoholic beer. I also know the most common misgiving is the whole "What's the point?" question. With comparisons to sex without the orgasm and coffee without the caffeine it is a difficult sell for most people. Bear with me though and I'll explain how I got into them and which ones to try and which ones to avoid.
Last summer I was in a small-Spanish village on holiday with my family for a few weeks. There wasn't much that could be done without driving so I put my hand up for the duties, thinking I'd give my liver a well-deserved break too. Whilst out and about I noticed the sheer number of quality non-alcoholic beers on offer in both draught form and bottles, we're talking San Miguel, Amstel, Mabou, Carlsberg... loads of them and they tasted pretty damn good. In fact I got so into it I managed to spend the entire of Spain's 4-0 victory over Italy in the final of Euro 2012 in a small Spanish town, where everyone was wrecked and partying all night, completely sober.
Upon returning to the UK I decided to continue this push for sobriety and headed out to my local supermarkets to find what was on offer. After six months of searching my findings are this:
Top Five Non-alcoholic Supermarket Beers
1. Furstenberg (available in Tesco & Sainsbury's)
Undeniably the best, bar none. Aside from the obvious dearth of hops aroma it tastes like beer, behaves like beer and feels like you're having a proper beer. At £1.49 a bottle it is also unfortunately the same price as real beer. That aside it is as good as you'll get in a UK supermarket, which may sound like a sure-fire case of damning with faint praise but it is the business.
2. Bavaria Wit Beer (available in Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose & Asda)
Non-alcoholic wheat beers are unsurprisingly very popular in Germany and Holland but this offering is the sole one readily available to us Island Monkeys. Very sweet and smooth but with a full flavour and infinitely very quaffable it is a true gent of a drink. Think Hoegaarden without the dry edge or the hideous price-tag. I like this one; it's a solid, dependable type.
3. Cobra Beer (available in Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Waitrose & Asda)
Oddly enough this doesn't taste like any beer normally found in nature. It doesn't even vaguely resemble actual Cobra, which is very bizarre given its branding. What is does is take on a whole category of its own which has the physical consistency of beer but a wholly unique taste. It's not unpleasant but it's definitely not beer either.
4. Bavaria Lager (available in Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons & Asda)
A staple non-alcoholic product. Doesn't taste great, doesn't taste awful. Neither arse nor elbow but can be quite drinkable if very, very cold. The 'cooking lager' of the alcohol-free marketplace.
5. M&S Own Brand (available in M&S)
Difficult to get hold of and ball-breakingly expensive but of typically good quality and has a tangy quality that separates it from the herd. Targeted at those increasingly rare, sober, middle-class M&S punters you rarely encounter in there on a Saturday afternoon. No wonder most outlets don't stock it.
Worst Five Non-alcoholic Supermarket Beers
1. Equator ('exclusive' only to Tesco - Thankfully)
The warning was on the label to be fair. The initial premise of "beer flavoured drink" is a USP that is never going to end well. Drinking Equator and expecting it to actually taste like beer is the equivalent of chewing a chocolate-flavoured condom and wondering why it doesn't taste like Lindor. Equator is awful, absolutely no redeeming features. Avoid.
2. Kaliber (available in Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons & Asda)
Made by Guinness and tasting like it has been filtered through a bag of fire-damaged Lego, Kaliber is a long-standing and largely undrinkable waste of everyone's time. Pissy, soapy and lacking any resemblance to beer it hasn't improved, even slightly, with age.
3. Becks Blue (available in Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons, Waitrose & Asda)
Let's get something straight before I begin this review. I don't like 'real' Becks and never have. It was therefore somewhat predictable that I wasn't going to see eye-to-eye with Becks Blue. What I didn't expect though was it to taste so bad that it brought to mind the beginning stages of chemical castration.
4. Koppaberg (available in Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons & Asda)
5. Any Shandy DrinkAt school I must admit to being partial to a Top Deck Lager & Lime but to be fair I was only 12 and hadn't tasted real beer yet. As soon as I started on the cans of Castlemaine XXXX (I know, I know...) I quickly realised the folly of Shandy. My stance hasn't changed either. Whether it is Bass or those boxes of fizzy French urine it's a poor substitute for something that was crap to start out with. That's a bad substitute for a bad original product, or MK Dons as they're otherwise known.
There are better alternatives out there with the peerless Alcohol Free Shop leading the way but for ease of purchase these are your handy options. I say handy but for some reason non-alcoholic beers are subject to the same restrictions as other alcoholic products and quite a few times I've had to stand at one of those awful self-service machines whilst someone comes over any verifies I'm of a suitable age to purchase, what is essentially, a soft drink.
Putting all that aside though I am still not drinking and have found some good substitutes for beer. Not everyone's bag perhaps when on the prowl for a refreshing pint on a Friday night but the alternatives are slowly getting better.