Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Non-Alcoholic Beer

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.


March is a very good month. This may sound like strange praise for any stretch of 31 days during which it is impossible to keep your socks dry for 31 seconds, but March has a lot going for it. In fact, March is only a federal holiday away from greatness. If we didn't waste Independence Day on a month that doesn't need any help, we could take March 4 off to drink heartily and dress flagily and celebrate our hard-earned freedom from the twin tyrannies of Britain and February.

But even though it lacks a certifiable long-weekend holiday, March is filled with little holidays that might not be as flashy but also don't require you to risk your life with lighter fluid, bottle rockets, and potato salad. March starts strong with F Off February Day on the first, and then it's Dr. Seuss's birthday the very next day! After that splash, a lesser month would take the next 29 days off, but March keeps delivering: daylight saving time (if you're one of those whiners who can't figure out how to sleep until 1:00 instead of noon one Sunday a year, please stop reading and start running laps until you receive further instruction), the Ides of March, baseball spring training, and the college basketball tournament, St. Patrick's Day, the first day of spring, and April Fool's Eve.

In my house, those are all big drinking days (on March 2, we do a shot every time someone says "Sneetch"), but I'd be derelict in my boozy duties if I let St. Patrick's Day pass without comment. St. Patrick's Day isn't a top-tier holiday for me, but I have a lot of Irish friends and I don't mind playing along. It may be that most of the Irish I know drink too much, but so do most of the Mormons I know; friends of Will and friends of Bill tend not to overlap. Which makes it all the curiouser that I spent this St. Patrick's Day drinking non-alcoholic beer.

Due to poor planning and worse discipline, I accidentally overdid the observance of March's first batch of holy days, and I woke up last Sunday feeling like unholy hell. I barely knew my own name, but I did know the answer to "How much trouble can you possibly get in with $1 Busch drafts at a mall restaurant?" and I also knew it was time to dry out for a few. I try to go on the wagon for a few weeks a few times a year; my spring cleaning usually comes in mid-April, but this year I had to move it up.

I'd never had non-alcoholic beer before I tried it yesterday. I really like liquid—I probably drink a gallon of water a day, and as soon as I find a good pork soup recipe, I'll throw away all my forks—and I can't sit in front of the TV or interact with another human being without a beverage in my hand, but when I'm not drinking alcohol, I usually just double up on the seltzer and citrus. I've got nothing against people who drink non-alcoholic beer, but to me it always seemed a bit desperate and why-botherish, like decaf coffee and declawed cats. Do non-alcoholic beer drinkers watch fully clothed porn, too? But I eat turkey bacon, so what do I know? On to the "beer."

First off, it turns out non-alcoholic beer does have alcohol, but only about a tenth as much as regular beer. Oh, and it's also not beer. I guess it's a "malt beverage." It's brewed like real beer, and then the alcohol is removed. Yay. Now that we've made it through the grueling technical portion of the program, let's drink. Or "drink"? No, it's still drinking. God, this is so confusing!

There are several brands available, but there's no way I'm trying them all. In a last-ditch attempt to salvage the spirit of the day, I went with O'Doul's and Guinness's Kaliber. O'Doul's is made by Anheuser Busch and it is abominable. Who knew that alcohol was the secret ingredient that made Budweiser drinkable? And yet if you remove it from a standard issue A-B brew, you've got this thin, sweet mess. (I tried the O'Doul's Premium; there's also an Amber.)

Kaliber's better. It's not very beery, but there's some malt character to it. It has a dark sweetness along the lines of caramel and honey. I don't suppose I'll ever drink it again, but I'd tepidly recommend it to people who like quirky foreign sodas or anyone looking to further neuter his corned quinoa and cabbage.