My first Dry July, I survived on lime and soda for my fix of fizz.
I’ve never been a big drinker of juice or soft drinks and while going without beer for a month wasn’t hard in itself, I often struggled with the absence of a beverage when eating out or socialising — lime and soda becomes boring very quickly.
I think of it like an actor without props, or more likely the way reformed smokers sometimes express it — they miss the theatre of physically holding a cigarette as much as the smoking itself. And I definitely missed having a glass of beer at hand, in my hand. After a while, lime and soda just doesn’t cut it. You’re totally aware that your “prop” is a fake.
That Dry July turned into an empty, soulless month in which even my wife was bored by me.
To do Dry July now would be a breeze. I could go virtually anywhere and get a non-alcoholic beer. I can take six-packs of the stuff to friends’ houses. As I write this, I have a stash of some 30 non-alcoholic cans in the fridge (I know, I know, in theory I need one more!)
The truly wonderful non-alcoholic beers on the market make it easier to socialise sober. There’s no FOMO. And quite frankly, some of these beers are delicious in their own right.
The boom in NA drinks in terms of flavour has moved the market past the “functional” category when non-alcs served the sole purpose of giving designated drivers something to do.
Now, people want to drink non-alcoholic beers — sometimes it’s still functional, but more often it’s about lifestyle, health, self-care.
I’ve dabbled in these beverages for the past three years including trying many from big international players such as Vandestreek, The Athletic, Heaps Normal, Big Drop … and most of them, hand on heart, are not as good as what Kiwi craft brewers produce. Admittedly imports suffer from the journey to get here — with no alcohol to protect them, NA beers are less likely to survive bad storage and transport.
Two years ago, I would have struggled to recommend three non-alcoholic craft beers but now I’d struggle to whittle down a Top-10.
Bach Brewing, Behemoth and State of Play all have three non-alcoholic beers in their stables, Garage Project and Sawmill each have two. There’s 10 quality products, right there.
Then there’s Good George Virtual Reality, Brothers Beer Fill Yer Boots, Emerson’s Little Bird, Sprig & Fern Wingmate, Epic Super Zero, Deep Creek Zero, Waitoa … as well as Mac’s Freeride (and you may still find Stunt Double in certain outlets).
Plus, there are the big brewery zero versions of Steinlager, Heineken, Asahi Super Dry and Peroni and many more.
There will always be critics of non-alcoholic beers — those who will argue that it’s not really beer, that they’re awful — but from a personal and professional level, excellent non-alcoholic beer is a godsend. With great can art, fantastic flavours and some social cachet, I never feel any FOMO when I’m having a non-alc. Plus, they are great beers to have with food, trust me.
My Top 10 non-alcoholic beers (with a little cheating!). And with the rejoinder that I prefer my non-alcs the same way I prefer my normal beers — clear! If you love hazies, just lift Nos 7-8-9 up the list.
1. Bach All Day Range
Bach Brewing are the Kiwi craft industry leaders in the non-alcoholic market. They were the first craft brewery to bring out a non-alc and All Day IPA continues to be the benchmark for the style. It won a trophy at the Australian International Beer Awards last year, beating a raft of international entries from some of the most famous breweries in the world, so we can safely say it’s a world-class example. It’s generous on all fronts and will satisfy the most discerning critic. This has all the aroma of a real IPA and a depth of flavour to boot. Bach also have a hazy and a pilsner in the All Day non-alcoholic range. If you prefer the hazy style then that’s you’re option but if you like your beer light and bright, their non-alcoholic pilsner is excellent too.
2. Garage Project Tiny Range
Garage Project have the original Tiny Hazy IPA and this year added the Tiny Anytime XPA. Both are excellent options but I found the Anytime XPA a cleaner and a closer facsimile to real beer. The original Tiny, in the orange can, is much-loved and always selling out, and is always found in our fridge as my wife swears by it. But to me Anytime XPA (in the green can) has wonderfully long, satisfying, and well-balanced, bitterness.
3. State of Play Range
After a long career with DB/Heineken, Grant Caunter gave up booze and reformed himself, shedding 45 kilos and becoming the biggest advocate within the industry for non-alcoholic beer via his dedicated non-alc brand State of Play. The original IPA has been tweaked, I think, to be brighter and hoppier and more IPA-ish. For me, the star of the stable is Nectaron Unfiltered. Juicy pineapple and orange with a soda water dryness and outstanding bitterness. It’s the best hop hit you can get in the non-alc department.
4. Behemoth Range
Behemoth have just launched an audacious non-alcoholic mixed six pack — Hangover Free. Actually, given the state of the sector, maybe a mixed sixer it’s not that audacious. The Pilsner is the pick of the bunch for me. Clean, vibrant and refreshing. The non-alc West Coast IPA does a good job delivering maximum hoppiness and the Responsibly Hazy IPA is right up there with the offerings from GP and Bach in the hazy department.
5. Sawmill Bare Beer Range
Sawmill’s original Bare Beer was a clear pale ale and while it took a couple of iterations to get the bitterness right, it is a clean and well-balanced beer. I do love to slug this one straight from the bottle (and on that note, it’s the only “craft” option in glass)! The hazy iteration steps it up a notch with body and hoppiness and it comes in cans.
6. Emerson’s Little Bird
Just out from Emerson’s, this riffs off their Bird Dog IPA and has the same hop character, albeit slightly muted as you’d expect. The palate is decent and clean with the hoppy character lingering long after the last sip. A really good beer.
7. Good George Virtual Reality
A showcase for Riwaka and Nelson Sauvin hops this is fresh and lively with just enough body to hold those hop-driven flavours afloat. Good carbonation, low bitterness and high-end drinkability.
8. Sprig + Fern Wingmate
I was taken by the super-clean texture and aroma of this beer. It’s technically excellent, hazy but not chalky, and has a pitch-perfect lingering bitterness and aftertaste that makes it quite moreish.
9. Brothers Beer Fill Yer Boots
This is surprisingly thick for a non-alc beer, it’s dry, fruity and packs a hefty dose of hops to keep your lupulin pangs at bay during Dry July.
10. Asahi Super Dry 0%
I wanted to make this an all-Kiwi list but couldn’t overlook this new release. If someone gave you a glass without telling you it had all the alcohol removed, you’d be amazed. Japan’s biggest brewery has bided its time before entering the zero market a few years behind the big European breweries but that’s allowed them to perfect the technique. Basically tastes not far off a normal strength macro lager.