Tuesday, March 24, 2009
A New Adventure in Beer
I have had lots of different beers at one time or another. Some I would recommend and others I would never touch again. But of all the different kinds I've tried, there still remains one type of beer that has never crossed my lips. A non-alcoholic one.
I've read that during Prohibition that many breweries turned to making non-alcoholic and legal beer just to try to keep their businesses afloat. They called their product "Near Beer". Bootleggers would purchase the legal beer and create what they called "Needle Beer" as the alcohol was inserted with a syringe. There ends my knowledge of non-alcoholic beer, and I am left with a question in my mind that I'm having trouble answering. Why?
Why make a beer without alcohol? Alcohol has been a key ingredient in beer since we learned how to make it and now you want to make a "beer" without it? Why? I can put an olive on a toothpick and drop it in a glass of water and try and kid myself that it's a martini but that don't make it so.
But you know what? This blog is all about the search for a better beer and it would be wrong of me to totally dismiss a beer simply because it is non-alcoholic. Am I such a biased drinker and writer of beer that I can claim "It ain't beer if it ain't got the kick" after never, ever trying one?
Yes, but I did anyway.
I wondered if I could tell the difference? Would it be good enough that I would drink the second one? Does it have a distinct flavor or will it taste like beer-flavored bath water? Is it as expensive as regular beer?
I decided that I needed a regular beer to compare it with, but all the N/A's I'd seen were of the standard American lager variety, so picking a regular beer didn't seem that tough. I would choose a common beer that my palate was intimately familiar with so that I had a good control to gauge by. I picked Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Say what you want about PBR, but I like it and I make no excuses for it. It is, in my humble opinion, a good beer. Not a great beer mind you, but a good beer. It is my "regular" beer as my research budget for this blog is done on a shoestring and the loose change I find in the couch. So PBR it is. By some serendipity, while shopping for the PBR I stubble upon a bright green six-pack that I've never seen before. I examine it closer and, low and behold, Pabst makes an N/A! The can reassures me that it has only 0.05% alcohol by volume which in beer mathematics means it would take a hell of a lot of these babies before your liver even noticed. I checked the price tag. $2.99, sold.
I hurried home and started the experiment with a regular PBR as it seemed right to start with what a beer is rather than what it isn't. The first one went down with ease and really set the stage for the N/A. I cracked the green can and tried to take it all in, just as I try to do whenever I have a new beer. It has a nice head and the color doesn't look any different. The smell is the same. I take a sip. The flavor isn't watered down and there is still a bit of a crisp bite at the finish that is totally unexpected. Sonovabitch! This could almost pass for beer!
I tell myself that I am jumping the gun a bit. A beer should never be judged by the first sip alone, as a beer reveals it's true character as you have each successive sip. I resolve to reserve my judgement until after I finish it. I drink it as I am reading your blog. I finish the N/A more quickly than I normally would, so I drink another just to solidify my judgement and to see if there was something I'd missed.
Final verdict: It helps alot if it is really, really cold. But even then, the last third of it requires some imagination to drink.
So if you would like to take a trip to the bygone era when Elliot Ness was trying to keep you from having a real beer or it's your turn to drive, try an N/A. Otherwise, spend a little more and get the original recipe.
P.S. After writing this, I spent the rest of the evening drinking the regular PBR and contemplating my purchase of an N/A called "Buckler" that sounded promising.