I love beer... Or do I just love alcohol?

Andrew Misell | July 2018 | 6 minutes

When you work for an alcohol charity, lots of people assume that you don’t drink. But I do. Why? Well, the thing is, I love beer.

I go on about beer like some people go on about wine, or fine food, or fast cars. I love the way it looks, the way it smells, the way it tastes. I love it in all its varieties – from hoppy IPAs, through amber winter warmers, to deep-roasted stouts.

Now, I’ve thought a lot about this – about whether I’m just fooling myself, whether I don’t really like beer half so much as I like alcohol. Do I really love hops and malts and yeasts, or do I just enjoy that warm, foggy feeling that happens when C2H6O hits the human brain? It’s a difficult question because that warm, foggy feeling is so normal for so many of us, we barely notice it.

So, in the spirit of scientific enquiry, I decided to investigate just why I love beer. Is it really all those marvellous colours, aromas and flavours, or is it the alcohol? I decided that the best was to find out was to see what beer is like without its intoxicating side-effects. Could I enjoy a beer with no alcohol in it? Such beers do exist, and have done since the 1970s. But they’ve had a bad reputation, and it’s a reputation that many of them fully deserved.

Part of the problem was that many early alcohol-free beers were brewed to a normal alcoholic strength, and then went through something called ‘reverse osmosis’ to get rid of the alcohol. If that doesn’t sound like a traditional brewing technique, that’s because it isn’t. It’s basically boiling, and ‘boiled beer’ sounds about as appetising as, say, boiled cabbage.

In recent years, however, some brave brewers have been working on creating high-quality beers with little or no alcohol in them from the start. So, no need for ‘reverse osmosis’. These are the beers I’ve been drinking as part of my investigation. Here are just six of the best ones I’ve supped so far. Some are easier to get hold of than others, but they’re all worth seeking out:

To return to my original question – do I love beer or just love alcohol? Like most questions about alcohol, it’s hard to answer without any ambivalence or ambiguity. Like most people, I’m used to alcohol in my life, in a way that’s hard to imagine for most other psychoactive substances. What the drinks on the list above (and a few others) have given me is a chance to explore the other elements of beer – the bits without which beer is just C2H6O.

After about a year of regularly drinking beers at 0% or 0.5% ABV, I think that I can say with some confidence that it really is all about the beer. It is all about the hops and the malts and yeasts, more than it’s about the alcohol. I do still revisit some of my old 4% and 5% ABV favourites. They’re all good. But often, that warm, foggy feeling is just not what I’m looking for. So I’m glad to have a few alternatives on hand that give me the beer experience and leave me with a clear head.

Read more alcohol-free and low alcohol beer reviews here.