My Week of N-A Beer
by Bruce Daville
I recently had the misfortune to catch the flu. It was a mild case but I
was still on medication which meant no beer. Not good but non-
alcoholic beer was certainly okay. And that's how I spent seven days
drinking the likes of Buckler, Kaliber, and O'Doul's. It's also what
prompted me to learn a bit more about these N-A brews and send an
article into Bob.
I learned that one way to cook up a non-alcoholic beer is to brew a
regular one and remove the alcohol near the end of the brewing
process using a technique called vacuum distillation. In essence the
beer is put under a vacuum and then – because alcohol has a lower
boiling point than water – it is boiled at a lower temperature to help the
alcohol evaporate. Neat.
Another method uses reverse osmosis. The beer is passed through a
membrane under high pressure. The tiny pores of the membrane allow
only alcohol and water to pass through. The alcohol is removed
through distillation, leaving the water to be added back to the sugar
and flavor compounds found on the other side of membrane.
Brewers also can manipulate the fermentation process to reduce the
alcohol volume. All of the processes, however, affect the flavor of the
final product, and it is up to the brewer to create something that is not
watery and uninteresting. Any beer’s flavor comes from the grain
used, as well as the aging process.
Of course the taste is not really good. Think of a bad light beer. Then
again some NA beers actually do taste better than many lights. Even
more, you can get some of beer's health benefits in the NA kink. One
Japanese study indicated that drinking non-alcoholic beer can reduce
the risk of cancer and heart disease, just like regular beer.
Actually there are many people select a non-alcoholic beer because
they like the taste but don’t want the buzz that comes with a regular
beer. Okay, maybe not that many but there are still some. Others
choose it because they are designated drivers for the evening and
want the flavor of a beer and something to hold in their hand.
So which NA beers did I like best? Kaliber (made by Guinness) was
decent enough. The aroma was reminiscent of caramel candy and
caramelized sugar, but little else. The beer had a definite malt flavor
profile with only a hint of bitterness. Lots of toasted grain and corn
notes. Ice cold it beats Coors Light.
I almost enjoyed the Penn's Best NA. While the taste is virtually non-
existent except for some small hints of grainy malt and hops, there's
nothing offensive about it at all which is more than you can say for
many beers, both NA and regular.
The largest selling NA is O'Doul's made by Budweiser. The taste is
sweet corn, rice, and even a touch of hop bitterness. Simply put, the
overall taste is very much like a weak US macro lager.
I can honestly recommend Clausthaler Classic from Germany. It's not
a bad tasting brew but everything is minimal, minimal sweetness,
minimal bitterness, minimal hop notes, and thankfully, minimal corn
syrup taste at the finish with low duration. This might be the best of
My NA days are now over but all things considered I learned that
having to drink NA beer is not the terrible ordeal I expected it to be.
However I don't think you'll see me or Bob for that matter, ordering
one anytime soon.
Many thanks to Bob for giving me the opportunity to write this
month's column. It's always fun to talk about beer, even NA beer!
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