Over dinner last week, an expectant friend and I were lamenting that we would be setting aside the pleasure of sipping beer on hot days this summer. So for the sake of summer barbecues and pregnant women, Aron and I did our best to judge some commonly found non-alcoholic beers.
The contenders: Kaliber (Ireland, from the brewers of Guinness), St. Pauli (Germany), Clausthaler (Germany), Beck’s (Germany), Buckler (Holland), and O’Douls (U.S., Anheuser-Busch). We had hoped to add Paulaner to the list, as I recall theirs being good, but not a lot of liquor stores stock more than one non-alcoholic option (shocker).
I did a quick Google search for some beer-tasting pointers (Head? Smell? Color? First impression? Mouthfeel? Lingering flavor?), and set up a tasting station for us. I couldn’t keep the taste-test entirely blind (someone had to pour the beers), but I used my best “pregnancy brain” to quickly forget which beer was in which glass. And that worked pretty well! Every beer but the Kaliber had the same light amber color, so all but that one seemed indistinguishable to me once we began.
With that, and with there being narry a head of foam in the bunch, we went straight to smell and starting taking notes:
Aron noted that beer #1 (which turned out to be Beck’s) was malty with light bubbles and I noted that it tasted like any generic light beer–pleasant enough for a hot day by a pool when your envious of others’ Coronas, but nothing special. #2 (Kaliber) was a big disappointment to Aron who thought the overly sweet, wheaty beer was coasting on its affiliation with Guinness (“the only thing good about this beer is that it says Guinness on the bottle”). I found it less offensive and thought it deserved some points for being the most distinct of the bunch, with toasted coffee on the nose. As for #3 (St. Pauli), I wasn’t a fan of its bitter aftertaste. However this should be offered with the disclaimer that I don’t care for hoppy beers. Aron remarked that this one brought him back to the Oakland Coliseum where he’d watch A’s games, and to that lingering smell of Bud Light. He enjoyed it enough and ranked it second. #4 (Clausthaler) got high marks from both of us: the smell is slightly sweet–like honey–and the first taste is fruity, but the finish had more hops. In other words, this one actually had range! #5 (Buckler) was, like Beck’s, pleasant enough and gave one a sense of drinking something akin to a Heineken. It was generally light with a bit of grain: non-offensive. (What a ringing endorsement, right?) #6 (O’Doul’s), we both agreed, was the closest approximation to water (“PBR?” I asked. “No, that would be better than this.” “Natty light?” “Yep, more like it.” “Yeah, this is prime frat party drinking game material.”)
The unanimous winner (in this house): horse number 4, Clausthaler!
It should do you well for barbecues and pool parties this summer, but I think fans of craft brews (or dark beers or Belgians) will be sorely disappointed. You might stick with that pitcher of mocktails.