Every now and then I give my body (the liver in particular) a break by going off the alcohol for a couple of weeks or so. I usually undergo this cleansing exercise after a holiday – a time where I do not necessarily drink excessively, but I have a beer or two almost everyday day.

I find staying off the booze is relatively easy, but choosing a refreshment supplement is the bigger challenge, as my beverage preferences are very limited. Ranked by volume, I usually consume water, beer, coffee, tea and whiskey.  I cannot stand fizzy drinks; even the smell of coke, lemonade or sugary performance drinks disgusts me.

Off the beers, after a few days of high water consumption and more tea than usual, I hit a point where I crave something savoury and refreshing. After years of exposing my taste buds to hoppy bitterness, alcohol-free beer seems an obvious substitute – a beer style extremely popular in Europe and for many of the breweries over there, it’s the fastest growing product in their range.

To my knowledge, none of the New Zealand craft breweries have embraced non-alcoholic beer. Sooner or later, this trend will reach New Zealand – and the first brewers to produce an enjoyable alcohol-free version of their products could gain an advantage over their competition.

Although not entirely free of alcohol, 8 Wired’s Ghost Chips needs an honorary mention. Weighing in at 1 per cent ABV, it’s proof that balancing flavour with a reduced alcohol content is possible.

On the big beer shelves, the range is surprisingly good. Individual cans, six-packs and some even available by the dozen. I purchased a few individual beers and even took the risk of buying a couple of six-packs – fully aware that they could be a big disappointment.

Yes, there were quite a lot of overly sweet or watery products with no flavour to rave about. However, some beers from European breweries really surprised me and (until the NZ craft brewers discover the market opportunity) might even become staples in my pantry – just to cover the days when I want a beer but do not want alcohol.

Here are my recommendations should you consider giving it a go. Both beers are from the Bavaria brewery in the Netherlands:

Bavaria 0.0% Wit

Reminiscent of a Hoegaarden – obviously with a little less mouthfeel, but the perfect isotonic refreshment on a hot afternoon or after mowing your lawn.

Bavaria 0.0% IPA

The clear winner. I had to double check that there really was no alcohol in this beer. Heaps of flavour and savoury bitterness.

Editor’s Note: Check out our review of Mac’s Stunt Double which was released after this story was written.

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