Does 0% = 0 taste?
This months article is about alcohol-free beers. And it's a common theme. One of the hardest parts of my sommelier life is when I have to combine it with the marathon running part of my life! Every year there's another marathon, and the (self-imposed) restriction on beer. So the other weekend saw a beer festival of epic proportions - 10 drinks, all alcohol free. All graded.
The results were:
Also, on the way home I had:
When I originally wrote this article it was the only one of its kind on teh interwebs! As if I was the only one that cared. Or brave enough to take the onslaught of "not man enough for a real beer"-type of abuse. (Hey - this is the Internet, I've been vilified for less!) Now, everyone and their dog wants to virtue signal their love of the blank brew and be some kinds of "zero hero!"
I found St Peters "Without" in the supermarket, next to the usual suspects reviewed above. And what a surprise. Not only because it was pleasant drink with light touches of nut and fruit but that it was dark! A proper dark beer, repleat with soft caramel and sweet malt. For the most part it has echoes of a "Supermalt" on steroids. Partially because I find Supermalt to be lacking in any "beery qualities". And partially because with such a range of lager-based zero percenters in my pantry I had no preconceived notions of what to expect.
Therein lies its problem.
It's a great drink. But only a good beer. Most of the time, that would be enough to warrant my ordering of a few cases. However, in this case, the look of the beer detracts from its taste. It's missing more than just alcohol. Sure, it has that oily texture and light foamy head that sets you up for a proper beer, only to find it doesn't quite deliver on the taste. The car is moving forward, but it never pulls out of second gear.
It would be disingenuous to drink it for the sole reason that it's a dark 0% beer, or to recommend it for that reason. So instead, I have been recommending restaurants serve it as an alternative to other 0% drinks, rather than a 0% version of the darker beer they might normally suggest. In this way, the drinkers palate doesn't get bored with the constant barrage of Becks Blue, and it keeps the idea of 0% alive on the sales spreadsheets of the malty bean counters.
drydrinker.com [no affiliation] is a new-to-me website offering low and zero alcohol beers and wine in cases to the general public. There take is to offer proper craft beers, with a proper lack of alcohol. Furthermore, the name and branding are focusing on the 0%. This is in good contrast to the supermarket approach of offering 0% versions of the popular lagers, as an afterthought at the end of the "proper beer" aisle.
Naturally, with a comparatively niche product, the product range is ultimately limited to fewer than 20 different beers. But as customers, we can only buy what people are selling, and in the UK not many breweries are selling 0%. So DryDrinker is sourcing beers from around the world to fix that problem. Germany, Belgium, Russia, and Czech are just some of countries sending their product over here to enslave the local populous. And I think it's working!
It's only been a couple of months, and I've bought nearly everything they sell. And therein lies the problem. Some of the beers, like the Mikkeller, I've only found available here. Others are fairly ordinary and no better than the supermarket bulk buy. Again, this isn't a problem with the shop, but the product. But when it's all you sell, you need to ensure there are enough alternates product to get you coming back again and again. DryDrinker have accomplished this with a range of mocktails, cider, wines, and gin. (Yes, really, 0% gin!?!?!) At the moment, I estimate I'd be ordering a box every six months or so. Those with a palate beyond beer would frequent more, er, frequently!
As is traditional, I'll publish my reviews at some point in the future (after my paying clients have had the exclusive benefit of my experience!) In the interim I'll simply suggest you pay them, and pay them a virtual visit, to try some.
I recently discovered Braxzz, from Amsterdam. Wow! At first blush I thought I would be able to repeat my experience with the Danish Beer Consortium, when I was the first UK sommelier to take delivery of what was then, the only bottles from Svaneke Bryghuset in the country. It was an experience that you don't get often in this job - the chance to be the first (and often sole) independent voice for a product or brand.
As I say, I thought it would be the same for Braxzz. But within a week of meeting them, and trying their first three beers, the Twitter-sphere had erupted with comments, theories, and tasting notes. So who cares about mine?
Suffice to say, that the rumours are true - the beer is good. Very good. In fact, their porter is one I could put side-by-side with a non-null porter in a blind taste test and get a few converts. It's not that the taste is anything special and changes the oeuvre about what a porter can be, but that it doesn't. The same random mix of chocolate, espresso, date, caramel, figs, and other stuff you might expect in a traditional porter you get in this, the world's first non-alcoholic Porter. So when I say "nothing stands out", it's meant in a good way. Nothing stands out screaming "look at me, I'm 0%". Those that have blind tasted other brews that provide a "normal" and "zero" of the same beer will know how I mean.
They currently have two other beers, both low (0.5%) alcohol : Orange IPA and Amber ale, of which I prefer the Amber. Both are good and show a brewery heading towards becoming leaders in this space. That said, they are in the process of making a Belgian style triple. Anyone who's read my books, or talked to me for more than 30 seconds, know my love of triple so this is going to be one I truly study. I have to. You know... for research!
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