is an award winning
member of the North
American Guild of Beer
Writers. His column
Adventures in Beerland
is now a regular feature of
|Over the past couple of weeks the economy of several communities has declined, most notably due to a severe drop
in bar revenues. No need to call in Larry Kudlow or summon the ghost of Milton Friedman since I can tell you the
main reason for this downturn. It was an unprecedented outbreak of pneumonia. No, it wasn’t a town wide epidemic.
The most important person I know had it. Me. I’ve been sick with it which meant my pub visits for two weeks totaled a
big (or small) zero. I did however drive by three bars on my way to the doctor. Does that count? Probably not, even
if I did stop in each of them just to leave a tip out of habit.
I can now officially say that my time without beer was as frustrating as using floss just slightly too short so you're re-
wrapping it, listening to Madonna's cover of American Pie, going to a meeting about a meeting, or being stuck in a
slow moving line next to someone who just plastered on Ben-Gay and thinks that smell of menthol /eucalyptus
doubles as an enticing perfume.
Rewind to 14 days ago. I had felt poorly for 10 days before that. Then my keen perception noticed several things
the less observant sick person might have missed. My temperature hit 103 degrees. I knew it was an accurate
number since I used the same thermometer I use for home brewing. I could still taste the hops on it. My second clue
was barely being able to move. A guy cleaning the Statue of Liberty with a toothbrush would finish before I rolled
from one side of my bed to the other. The clincher was I didn’t feel like pouring Guinness on my Cheerios. In fact I
didn’t even want the Cheerios.
It was only a short wait in the doctor’s office until I was ushered in. A nurse - I was almost moved to physical violence
when she asked me in a cheery voice “how are you?– led me down several short hallways to a non-descript room.
She said the doctor would be in shortly and asked if there was anything I wanted. I immediately said “a bottle of 18%
Dogfish World Wide Stout”. She thought I was kidding. At that point the doctor walked in and brought me back to
reality. Her first words were “you look sick.” Everybody thinks they’re a comedian.
After blood work, chest x-ray, and a thorough exam I received an injection and prescription for some sort of
antibiotic. All was progressing nicely until the doctor added, “and no alcohol while you’re on the medicine and none
for a week after you finish it since it will still be working in your system.” What, no beer? Is she a real doctor? Did
she get a mail order degree from Wossamotta U?
Now I knew what people meant when they say the cure is worse than the illness.
I told the doctor how much I love drinking good craft beer. I told her I work for BeerNexus and drinking beer is a job
requirement. I told her that beer protects your heart, can prevent kidney stones, and can lower bad cholesterol. She
was unfazed. Then she said “would you rather not drink beer or be stuck in a hospital bed with all sorts of tubs in
you?” There was a long pause. She asked the same question again. There was another long pause. Exasperated
she said, “Well are you going to answer?” I responded, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking."
Fortunately I knew that on the ultra extreme periphery of beer there are so called malt beverages that often go by the
annoying name of no alcohol beer. Yes we’re talking about those infamous NA things. I realize a lot of craft beer
drinkers totally dismiss them but they’re liquids that deserve their due. The truth is they really do taste like beer, well
at least more so than a lot of things like say broccoli juice, melted M&Ms, Evaporated Soy Milk, orange juice (from
concentrate), or Bud Light.
Desperate times demand desperate actions. I bought six packs of Buckler, O’Doul’s, and Heineken 0.0. They were
not that easy to find which I guess is a credit to a discerning marketplace. I found O’Doul’s in my local supermarket.
It was in between bottles of Maalox.and Phillips' Milk of Magnesia. I hoped that wasn’t an omen. I found the Buckler
well hidden on a bottom shelf in the last aisle in my regular beer store. Just to approach it I had to wade past cases
of Colt 45, King Cobra, Steel Reserve, and the scary Bud Light & Clamato Chelada. The Heineken 0.0 was the
hardest to find mainly because it was placed in the regular beer section in the cooler. I think that’s called hiding in
I started with the O’Doul’s. It comes in a real brown beer bottle. Brown is the preferred color of course since it
generally keeps the beer from getting “skunked” by sunlight. I’m not sure NA beer can be skunked. I mean, if it did,
how could you tell? Using my years of drinking experience I decided to do the opposite of what I’d do with a serious
craft beer. First I put the bottle in the freezer. Then I put a glass for the beer next to it. In the absence of any
mountains turning blue, I knew they were both ready when ice crystals began to form. Fortunately I had a pair of
insulated gloves handy so grabbing the glass and pouring the beer went smoothly and comfortably. The colder the
beer the less I’d be able to taste. It was a strategy worthy of a Master Cicerone.
A quick look at the label calmed my growing trepidation. It said “Premium & Extra Smooth”. What’s not to like there?
I would have settled for just smooth; extra was a bonus for sure. Even more assuring was some small print on the
packaging -“O’Doul’s is brewed as traditional premium beers – fermented and aged to full maturity…with a full, rich,
balanced and delicate flavor.” Its flavor was likely too delicate for some as BeerAdvocte rated it a 49 (“Awful”) and
Untapped gave it 2 out of 5 stars. They probably drank it cold, not frozen like mine. I found it quite quaffable. The
only caveat was you had to drink fast. Once it warmed even a degree or two the 49 rating/2 star ratings were overly
Next I had a bottle of Buckler. It’s brewed in Holland so it’s an import. That alone means it has to be good or at least
pricey. It comes in a green bottle making it very millennial friendly. According to the Total Wine (a local adult
beverage shop) website the beer is rated 4.5 stars out of 5. Impressive; I was ready for the Pliny of NA beers. Then I
saw the BeerAdvocate rating – 62 (“Poor”) while Untappd gave it 2/5. Is someone lying? Did Total Wine consult the
Houston Astros for the ratings?
Buckler’s website says the beer has a “sweet, grainy aroma with hints of lemon grass and husky corn. Tastes of
sweet malts and grainy corn with a lingering tartness and metallic zing.” Hey, a metallic zing is just what I want in a
beer. Unfortunately I didn’t get any zing when I drank a bottle just metallic. Maybe I should have kept it in the freezer
Next up was the Heinkein 0.0 which is brewed in the Netherlands. Their slick TV commercials tout that unlike NA
beers that have 0.5% of alcohol, they really do have zero, as in ZERO, alcohol. I’m guessing that’s a boon to those
who find themselves getting tipsy drinking 100 gallons of standard NA beer, but my concern was how it tastes. I was
ready for a home run when I saw that its rating on Beer Advocate was in the stratosphere compared to the others –
68. I know that’s still in the “poor” category but it’s less poor that the others. In other words, it’s a good poor as
opposed to a poor poor or a poor good. .
As my days of drinking NA and 0.0 beers wound down I’ve reached several conclusions about beerless beer. First if
you're pregnant, can't drink, won't drink, need to operate heavy machinery, have to drive in the Indianapolis 500, are
related to the Surgeon General, or simply don't want a hangover NA beers will do the trick. Second, if you need to be
hydrated NA beers are worth drinking. For example (admittedly a preposterous one) assume you had pneumonia
and the doctor said to drink a lot of “liquids”. Knocking down some NAs will do a better job than you might think
since they are isotonic, meaning your body absorbs them quickly. So of course is water which some might say
tastes better. And lastly, I discovered that some NA beers are better than others, a revelation proving how low you
set the bar is important
I’m able to drink real beer in two days. While I’m looking forward to it I’m not going to forget my new NA friends who
sustained me these past weeks. In fact I just might order a Buckler every now and then at the bar since it was my
favorite of the bunch. I will however be sure to cover the label with my hand. I have an image to maintain. And
besides, no one likes being laughed at.
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