is an award winning
member of the North
American Guild of Beer
Writers. His column
Adventures in Beerland
is now a regular feature of
|Shelf space in the cooler of just about any beer store is about as hard to get as finding a man with B-negative blood
who isn’t doomed to be a pessimist, a guy with a beer gut who doesn’t really think it’s a protective covering for his
rock hard abs, or receiving a raise from BeerNexus management. Although rare, those things do happen
occasionally (except for the raise).
It’s no surprise that shelf space is a prized commodity since it is so limited. Even more, not all shelf space is created
equal with the more desirable cooler areas harder to come by as craft brands expands and mainstream competitors
fight back. How that precious space is organized is important too.
There is some logic to organizing a cooler. Generally you’ll see a section for craft, one for macro’s, and one for
imports. Then within each section the beers might be arranged alphabetically or by the brewery. Another
organizational method is to give key shelf space to beers with the biggest profit margin or to distributors that give
the store manager the most, shall we say, incentive. Care to guess two are the most common?
My go to beer/liquor place is located in a Wegman’s supermarket. It has a long, long, long cooler. I usually start at
the craft section and stay there. If you like good beer there really is no reason to move on except for the exercise.
That is just what I needed on my last visit; hey a calorie burn is a calorie burn. I leisurely strolled past 35 varieties of
Bud, dozens of products from Coors and Miller, and what seemed to be an endless section crammed with alcoholic
seltzers and hard ciders. Finally I came to the imports. That’s where I saw it - Heineken O.O. Needless to say the
only other 00 I knew was followed by a 7. I looked again, no number of any kind, this was simply 0.0. The cardboard
cover of the six pack spelled it all out: Z-E-R-O.
My first thought was this beer was named after one of my favorite old time movies, The Mark of Zorro. I was wrong. It
was a zero, as in nothing, or more specifically, it said that inside the package was zero alcohol beer. It wasn’t a light
beer, it wasn’t even a non- alcohol beer which has .05 % ABV. This beer does not have a trace of anything
intoxicating. For some unknown reason it seemed proud of that. The only consolation was that at least the masked
avenger Zorro’s reputation wouldn’t be ruined by association with it.
Honestly a .05% beer doesn’t make much sense to me but a 0.0 alcohol beer enters the unbelievable territory of a
Twilight Zone episode gone bad. I guess this beverage is supposed to taste vaguely like beer, but the fact it has no
alcohol begs the question, what’s the point? A Coke or Pepsi would have more flavor and a glass of orange juice
more Vitamin C to protect you from scurvy. Hey, don’t be a cynic. When was the last time you saw an OJ drinker
suffer that malady? Now that I think of it, I haven’t seen many Coke/Pepsi drinkers with it either.
Maybe that 0.0 proves there are more than a few people in the US, and the world for that matter, who don’t want to
drink beer but have a secret desire to do just that. Those people differ from even Miller 64 aficionados who also don’t
like beer but want a touch of alcohol in their water. That group in turn differs from people who simply want a beer they
don’t have to think about. The standard generic macro lager fills their needs perfectly. That might be the only group I
understand. See, I’m not the beer snob I’m usually accused of being. As Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a
cigar. His twin brother Anheuser Freud put it more succinctly when he said sometimes a beer is just a beer.
I have no idea however what Sig or Anh would say about a beer not being a beer.
But why zero alcohol beer at all? As Sherlock Holmes said, once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no
matter how improbable, must be the truth. No, it couldn’t be about money, could it? Well, it may be hard to believe
but that might be it. Statistics show that sales for major breweries have not grown and in fact have dropped. These
folks are understandably on a mission to figure out just why that’s happening. Interestingly, they have yet to consider
their fizzy yellow liquid is not very good and have instead come up with some non-self incriminating reasons. They
claim that the lifestyle of their consumers and the population in general is changing; that more and more people are
focusing on a healthier living. That translates into drinking less alcohol. Clearly, that’s too high a price anyone I know
would be willing to pay.
The now enlightened brewers say it is their duty is to do all they can to help their constituency achieve health and
happiness. What better way to do that than come up with more low to no alcohol options. While you might think
Poland Spring and their ilk have that market sewed up the big brewers disagree. Yes, they seem to be angling to
position zero-alcohol beer not only as a beer alternative, but as an alternative to sodas, and dare we say, H20, too.
Not surprisingly there are a few curmudgeons like me who don’t quite believe the sincerity of the big brewers. Could it
be the reason for the brewers’ sudden interest in 0.0 beers is that they offer higher margins mainly because those
beers are subject to lower taxes?
I sometimes get confused about the real difference between non-alcoholic and zero alcohol beers. While I admit to
never losing sleep over it I guess it deserves a mention. In the United States, beverages containing less than 0.5%
alcohol by volume (ABV) were legally called non-alcoholic, according to the now-defunct Volstead Act which also
defined Prohibition, that wonderful experiment in trying to make the US so dry you’d have to prime a man before he
could spit. Yes, Prohibition, when the country yielded to the temptation of denying itself a pleasure. It was an awful
flop as alcohol consumption, albeit illegal, remained steady during the decade while leaving a trail of vice and crime.
The Heineken 0.0 can is nicely designed. Big letters scream this is different while still keeping the focus on their
traditional logo of a big red star which is unsettlingly reminiscent of the star used by the USSR’s notorious Soviet
KGB. Could those Dutch brewers’ have been colluding with the Kremlin? Not possible you say? Then explain why
the can is only 11.2 ounces. That cheats we American 12 ounce can drinkers out of around 8% of beer. Then
again, since we’re talking about zero alcohol beer many we should thank them.
I’m embarrassed (proud) to say I’ve never had a zero alcohol beer before. I was however prepared to take a hit for
the team. I picked up the six pack of Heineken 0.0 and looked at the price - $7.49; you might be able to get a case of
Natty Light for that, maybe two. And Natty Light has alcohol, a whopping 4.2%! Undeterred, I put it in my shopping
cart with my other purchase and headed to the checkout.
Wegman’s has a strict policy that everyone buying an alcoholic beverage must show ID. You may be a 98 year old
great, great, great grandmother with a Social Security card number of 00002, in a wheelchair under an oxygen tent
with a priest giving you the last rites and they still demand proof you are over 21. Common sense, logic, and any
scrape of intelligence be damned, that’s their policy and they’re sticking to it. Don’t ask me why but feel free to write
them for an explanation at their national headquarters in Rochester, NY 14603-0844.
As I approached the cashier my anxiety level began to soar. What if someone I know sees me buying this stuff?
More than simple embarrassment, there’s a clause in my BeerNexus contact stating that something like this could be
grounds for firing. I pulled my well worn Yankee cap down as far over my head as possible and put on a pair of
sunglasses. Fortunately I also had an instant disguise kit left over from last Halloween in my pocket. A quick turn
down the champagne row kept me out of sight while I applied a fake nose. I didn’t care who saw me now.
The heady enjoyment of my transformation quickly faded as the cashier asked for a picture ID. I had no choice but to
remove the disguise so I would match the mug on my driver's license. I explained my appearance by saying I had just
left a off, off, off -Broadway play audition. She didn’t seem to care one way or the other. She then looked me in the
eye and said “I see you got the good stuff”. Just as I was ready to laugh at her I noticed she was pointing to the four
pack of Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout I had also put on the counter.
We both just smiled as I said, “right”. You see I’m not a dummy after all.
I’ll let you know how the Heinekin 0.0 tasted in a future article, a very future one. I am however confident it will be the
best zero alcohol beer made in Holland by the second largest beer company in the world that I’ve ever had.
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