No alcohol beers are a show about nothing


What’s the point?

Whenever the offer of a no-alcohol beer comes in conversation that short, sharp but simple question dominates the discussion.

Let’s be honest. There are two reasons why consumers drink beer.

One is for taste. And the spike in the amount of variety of brews, generated by the craft renaissance, has provided a plethora of tongue tinglers to enjoy – and not like so much.

The other factor that draws in beer buyers is to get drunk. This in indisputable. But there are levels of drunkenness. Some like to feel a little bit tipsy on a Friday night following a busy working week. Others drop the wonder nectar as if there is no tomorrow – an appropriate claim considering such an act will have a considerable impact on brain and body over the following 24 hours.

So the emphasis on no-alcohol beer is a fascinating exercise from breweries and raises the spectre of what is the motive.

The Sip this week put three of the alcohol-free brews to the test. And the conclusion is that the beers are nothing more than a marketing exercise aimed at those who can’t drink the real stuff.

The new Carlton Zero and Heineken 0.0 were put on the table along with the Holsten Alcohol Free Pilsener as part of the tasting flight.

The verdict was the Holsten was by far the best of a bad lot. The tasting team was able to finish the 330ml stubby. But only one. There was no going back for seconds.

If the guinea pigs trying the beers had eaten 20 Granny Smiths there still wouldn’t have been as much apple flavour as what was in the Heineken, which could go part of the way to explain what changes to the brewing process the proud brand uses to extract alcohol from the beverage.

The Carlton Zero was slightly better but still not sufficiently flavoursome to keep the panel drinkers interested.

As a result we can rule out the two reasons for downing a no-alcohol beer. They certainly won’t put you in a more open frame of mind and they won’t satisfy the taste buds.

This then gets back to the original question – the point of it all.

Teens!

Under 18s can’t buy “real” beer but they can fork out as much of their pocket money as they like for these stripped back brews.

And it isn’t surprising that these no-alcohol beers are popping up in grocery stores and service stations (which now serve as corner delicatessens) and can be purchased by anyone with enough money.

In Australia to be classified as a beer there has to be more than 0.5% of alcohol by volume in the beverage. Once you get over 1.15% brands have to pay excise.

It is extraordinary that a case of Holsten will set you back $35 at Dan Murphys, just $11 shy of a slab of Corona, which hits the ABV scale at 4.5%.

But get the kids into “beer” at an early age and they might be compelled to try the real thing when they pass legal drinking age – or even sooner. It’s like the Commonwealth Bank kids banking concept. Get them young and they’re more likely to stick with you as adults.

A contact in the beer distribution game said there was initial interest in the no-alcohol beers from WA mine sites, where there is ban on beer to maintain safety.

However, you would have to be desperate after a 12-hour shift digging dirt to go straight for a Carlton Zero as your thirst quencher. There would be more enjoyment from a real Coca Cola. A Diet Coke would have far fewer carbohydrates than a Heineken 0.0 if the waistline is a concern.

There is an analogy in the beer world that goes along the line of a drink can be like sex in a canoe because it is f*&%^#@ close to water.

If faced with the choice of an alcohol-free beer or what comes out of the tap then give us the H2O every time.

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