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What’s the Deal with ‘Zero Alcohol’ Beer — Is It Sober-Friendly?
Fun fact: Some of them still have alcohol in them.
On a warm night recently, my boyfriend and I were seated on a restaurant’s patio, and he ordered a beer. “Jerk,” I muttered.
He looked at me, surprised. I sometimes jokingly lament his ability (or, rather, my lack of ability) to drink hard alcohol, but never beer. Beer was just never that important to me. I’d drink it, of course — that’s how alcoholism works — but it made me feel full faster than it made me drunk, thus it wasn’t very efficient for my purposes.
Which is why I was just as surprised as he was by what came out of my mouth.
Usually, he just laughs when I give him crap about the booze he can drink that I can’t; he understands where it comes from, and that I’m not really mad. This night, however, because it was about beer, he looked at me concerned.
I was. But apparently, somewhere in my subconscious, I associated a warm summer evening with the taste of a beer.
For as long as I’ve been sober, I’ve been told that nonalcoholic beer is a bad idea.
“Near beer” — a phrase that makes me nails-on-a-chalkboard cringe for reasons I don’t totally understand — is triggering to people in recovery, I was told.
The argument is that drinking something with the look and taste of actual beer will make the person want the real stuff.
That may well be true. If you’re in recovery and beer was your jam, you’d probably want to think very carefully about popping open a nonalcoholic beer.
A love for real beer isn’t what’s kept me away for so long, though. It’s the fact that most nonalcoholic beers actually aren’t alcohol-free.
In the United States, anything that’s less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) can be labeled “non-alcoholic.” And to be fair, you’d have a hard time getting even a slight buzz off a beer that’s 0.4 percent ABV. (Most regular beer has an alcohol content of around 5 percent ABV.)
But as someone who was so severely addicted to alcohol that some mornings I drank cough syrup or mouthwash just to get my hands to stop shaking, I don’t mess around with even small amounts of alcohol.
I’ve been sober for 11 years. It wasn’t until last year that I was willing to try kombucha, which also has trace amounts of alcohol. (Even then, I only tried it in an effort to get some good bacteria in my wonky stomach.)
I don’t think it’s inherently bad for recovering alcoholics to drink nonalcoholic beer.
It’s just never been something I’m comfortable with for myself… drumroll please… until now!
That’s because, finally, I can partake: Brands like Heineken and Budweiser have started producing alcohol-free beer. Not “a little alcoholic” beer, but genuinely 100 percent alcohol-free beer.
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As much I know we live in a society obsessed with alcohol and there’s nothing wrong with not drinking, it kinda sucks to feel like the odd person out, holding your glass of tap water in a group of drinkers.
I know I need to be sober, and I’m proud of my sobriety. But no one likes feeling like the odd one out in a group.
Plus, when tap water and Diet Coke are the only nonalcoholic beverages at an event (which, trust me, is very often the case), it’s just nice to have one more option.
So if, like me, you’re zero-beer curious, I’ve put together a list of your options.
There are companies making beers that are 0.05 percent ABV; that’s such a low amount of alcohol, I’m including them on the list. You’d literally have to drink 100 of them to get the alcohol content that’s in one regular beer. However, I’m marking them with an asterisk, so if you want to stay 100 percent alcohol-free, you can.
I haven’t actually had a chance to try any of these yet, but I’m totally going to!
Here are a few alcohol-free beers:
- *Beck’s Blue (0.05 percent)
- *Bitburger Drive (0.05 percent)
- Budweiser Prohibition Brew (0 percent)
- Heineken 0.0 (0 percent)
Interestingly, there are a TON in the United Kingdom, but when I was doing research, I kept getting conflicting information about whether they’re available in the United States.
If you’re reading this in the United Kingdom, or want to try shipping some alcohol-free beers across the pond, here are a few to try:
- Ambar 0.0 Gluten-Free Beer (0 percent)
- Bavaria Premium Non-Alcoholic Malt (0.0 percent)
- Bavaria Wit Non-Alcoholic Wheat Beer (0.0 percent)
- Cobra Zero Non-Alcoholic Beer (0.0 percent)
- Jupiler 0.0% (0 percent)
Some very fancy alcohol-free “cocktails” have recently come on the market, most notably Curious Elixirs. While I love anything that gives us more alcohol-free options, $35 for a bottle that makes two cocktails isn’t really in my price range.
In contrast, you can get six bottles of Heineken 0.0 for $32. Pricier than your average beer, but still something I might try every now and then on a warm summer night.
For me, for a special occasion? It’s nice to have the option.
For any people in recovery who don’t want the taste of beer because it might be a trigger, I’m a big fan of seltzer with a splash of your favorite juice mixed in.
Bonus: It tastes delicious and looks pretty in a cocktail glass.
No matter what’s in your glass, know that you’re the one in charge of your recovery — and whether alcohol-free beers are a part of yours is entirely up to you.