“Sometimes the best wine is a beer” is the title of a chapter in my book Money, Taste, and Wine: It’s Complicated. The chapter begins with a situtation that most wine drinkers have experienced. Stranded at a charity reception with only tasteless donated wine to drink, I long for the craft beer that others seem to be enjoying so much.
At really low price points (and sometimes at higher price levels, too), I am afraid that the best wine probably is a beer, at least if you care what you’re drinking.
Recently I’ve had an opportunity to explore another situation where wine fares poorly compared to beer: when you need to avoid alcohol for one reason or another.
Non-alcoholic wines are available but they are not really much of a thing here in the U.S. — at least not yet — although they are getting more attention in Europe. Sue and I learned about Matarromera Group’s innovative “Win” alcohol-free wines during our visit to Spain, for example. Matarrommera sees potential in the non-alcohlic wine market and has made significant investment in production and marketing.
Non-alcoholic wine is a narrow category here in the U.S. I am not sure I would even think to ask for non-alcoholic wine at a bar or restaurant. On-trade people — what is your experience? Do customers request non-alcoholic wine?
Non-Alcoholic Choices Everywhere
But beer is another matter. Every bar and restaurant I surveyed during my dry week offered a non-alcoholic beer option — most at the 0.5 % abv level that qualifies as non-alcoholic (that’s about the same abv as orange juice, for example). And some had 0.0 % options, too. A Whole Foods store we visited had seven different choices, including two 0.0% options.
What did they taste like? Well, the first non-alcoholic beer I tried was an old school O’Douls and it was just like I remembered it. No offense, but I’d rather drink warm tap water.
But at dinner at a French restaurant one night and then an Italian place the next night I was introduced to a couple of German import brands and they were terrific, with the aroma, body and flavor of real beer. I guess the Germans take beer seriously and that attention extends to non-alcholic products.
I really didn’t miss the alcohol and I appreciated the fact that, because they were priced like bottles of beer, these products were considerably less expensive than many of the by-the-glass wine offerings.
I’d still rather have the wine, but I didn’t suffer with the non-alcoholic beers. It is clear that that the non-alcohol beverage market is growing and that some producers are making significant investments in both product development and marketing.
Is there space for a decent non-alcoholic wine in a single-serve container? Yes, I think so. But someone’s going to have to make the investment to establish the market. Hey, Gallo — why don’t you give this a try? You are already expanding your Barefoot brand to include hard selzer in cans. Why not take the next step with a non-alcoholic wine in a single serve can? Barefoot 0.0!
As the week was ending I found an affordable six-pack of Clausthaler Dry Hopped non-alcholic beer imported from Germany. Complex with a rich nose, amber-colored, made with Cascade hops, it seems ideal for a craft beer consumer who wants or needs to avoid alcohol.
And the perfect choice for those times when the best wine is an alcohol-free beer.
Great perspective! Especially for those who are not in it for the ABV… thanks!
Pitch-perfect, Mike. I’ve tried nearly all of the NABs, as I call ‘non-alcoholic beer.’ IMHO, Clausthaler is head and shoulders above all of them. Thanks for getting the word out!
Mike, once again we confront differences in opinions of taste. Since switching to a statin to reduce my cholesterol level about 3 months ago I decided to also reduce alcohol intake. I have tried various non-alcoholic beers and find the O’Douls Amber to be quite refreshing. To my taste the Clausthaler has a “skunky” aroma (probably from the hop choice) that I find unpleasant. To each his own.
I agree completely, Jim. Many thanks.
Sorry Jim. I have to agree with Mike on this one.
I have been drinking non-alcoholic beer since X-Beer became the first I ever heard of. I think about 40 -50 years ago. Since then I’ve tried every non-alcoholic beer that has come out. I could not even swallow O’Doul’s. Maybe for beer lovers of Budweiser which I also find undrinkable. Maybe I was spoiled by drinking German beer while stationed there.
The non-alcoholic beers that are petty good, but I have not seen recently, is St. Pauli Girl and Beck’s. However, the best right now is Clausthaler Dry Hopped. Oh, that “skunky” smell, That’s the German beer fermentation aroma I remember when visiting the Lowenbrau brewery. The vats of fermenting beer with white form had a similar “skunky” stink. LOL.
Yes. Taste is subjective. And taste is acquired. But a real bad tasting beverage is objective. Truly O’Doul’s is a very bad example of a non-alcoholic, I hesitate to call it, beer. I’ll also take the warm water instead.
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