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Dry January Dispatch 02: Alcohol Free Beer

Words: Jessica Sweetman
Artwork: Paul Smith

Jessica Sweetman dives into the muddy non-alcoholic waters of Dry January so you don’t have to. Each week we’ll be posting a Dry January dispatch that will check in with our guinea pig and provide an objective and scientifically impeccable study of a non-alcoholic beverage. This week Jess gets saved by promising developments in the fields of alcohol-free beer technology.

We are now in the depths of January, alcohol is but a distant memory… Like warmth. And haircuts. Things are going tentatively well, I’m definitely not missing the booze as much as I was, and this is down to a number of factors; (a) something around dependence psychology, the longer you abstain the less you crave blah blah, (b) chocolate and lots of it and (c) seriously tasty alcohol free beers. It appears the secret to cracking Dry January is to trick yourself into thinking that you are in fact drinking. Genius. 

This experience has also made me consider all the scenarios when I love a drink, which is most scenarios to be fair. But since socialising doesn’t exist anymore, I haven’t had to contend with pubs and the temptations of social events. A cop out if you will. The other, less socially acceptable drinking time is at the end of a stressful day. Grabbing a beer from the fridge, sharing a bottle of wine with dinner, whipping up a G&T or a nip of Paddys, it’s all good stuff. This week I found a legitimate alternative to that post-work drink and it’s kind of a game changer. 

Brewdog’s Nanny State 0.5% (about the same amount of alcohol as a banana!) 4 bottles for €8 in Blackrock Cellars or 4 cans for €4.70 in Tesco. 

Non-alcoholic beers in general are a pretty good alternative if you love the taste of beer or don’t want another sickly-sweet soft drink. Heineken Zero tastes basically the same as regular Heineken (for better or for worse) and some of the other industry big dogs have inoffensive zero alcohol offerings. But it’s when you start looking at the crafty boys that things get interesting. As a big fan of Brewdog’s Punk IPA and Elvis Juice, I thought I’d give Nanny State a whirl. The second you open the bottle you know everything’s going to be alright. Unlike non-alcoholic wine this actually smells like beer, good hoppy, malty beer. It tastes great too, fruity and bitter, it’s like eating an orange with the peel on, but in a good way. You would also have no idea it’s alcohol free, it actually tastes like a high-percentage IPA. Weirdly, when I tried it from a can it tasted very different to the bottled version, much more bitter and harsher in general. Maybe there’s some science behind the way it interacts with the packaging or maybe it was just a different batch but I’ll be sticking to the bottles. 

Unlike non-alcoholic wine this actually smells like beer, good hoppy, malty beer. It tastes great too, fruity and bitter, it’s like eating an orange with the peel on, but in a good way.

If you’re looking for a great Irish option, Kinnegar’s Low Tide is my runner-up. It’s spenny, at over €3 a can but delicious. Lighter and more quaffable than Nanny State, it’s still encouragingly hoppy and fills the alcohol-shaped hole in the heart. SoBeer deserves an honorable mention too. It’s not so much beer as a fizzy, grapefruity soft drink with a suggestion of lager, but it’s tasty as hell. It gets docked points for its lack of beeriness and also for its suspect marketing, ‘powered by ImmunoBoost technology to support your immune system’. Calm down lads, take a vitamin.

Amazingly, I can see myself reaching for these guys long after Dry January. They’re a handy tool for cutting down alcohol without even realising it. Perfect for midweek cravings, designated drivers and day time sessions when you’d like to be able to string a sentence together by dinner. It’s a hell yes from me.