On a surface level, non-alcoholic beer doesn’t make much sense. I mean, in theory, it tastes like beer, but there’s no booze (or very little in some cases), so you gotta ask, what’s the point? Why not just drink a non-beer beverage, like a ginger ale? It’s like those Flintstone cars that they had to propel with their feet. Why pretend? Why not just walk? At least that’s what I used to think, and then I started trying to drink less. Not a lot less. Just a little bit less. The occasional near-beer instead of an 8% IPA. This was maybe 10 years ago, and I got a few different non-alcoholic beers to try, popped one while cooking dinner one night (because that’s typically when I crave an easy-drinking lager), took a sip and immediately poured the beer down the drain. Did the near-beer taste like beer? Yeah. But also, no.
Since that failed experiment in temperance, I’ve shied away from non-alcoholic beers. If I’m craving a beer, but feel like I shouldn’t have a beer, I pop a sparkling water. It helps. But then Heineken sent me a sixer of their 0.0, a truly non-alcoholic beer with no alcohol at all (most non-alc beer has about .5% ABV). Heineken 0.0 has been available in Europe for over a year now, but Heineken decided to bring it to the states this month because, apparently, there are some people in the US who don’t want to drink beer. Except they want to drink beer. It’s confusing, I know, but now that I’m on the other side of that confusing equation, I get it.
O’Doul’s is the best-selling and best-known non-alcoholic beer in the US, but I can’t look at a bottle without thinking of the family of bullies in Billy Madison, (even though that family was named “O’Doyle,” my brains has made a connection that it will not drop). But I’m of a certain age so I naturally run everything in my life through a filter that includes Adam Sandler movies and Beastie Boys albums. I don’t like O’Doul’s very much. There’s a very strange aftertaste that I’ve never been able to get over. Like maybe my mouth is getting overrun by yeast. It’s the same sort of aftertaste that hits me when I try a really bad homebrew from one of those kits.
I can’t say that I’ve had a lot of Heinekens in recent years either. A very long time ago, shortly after the Flintstone foot-car time period, when you couldn’t get a craft beer on an airplane, I would drink Heineken every time I flew. It reached a Pavlovian level; as soon as I walked onto a plane, I craved a Heineken. But that was years ago, and now there’s good beer on just about every flight, so I no longer crave a Heiny. But the older I get, the more I realize a beer substitute isn’t a bad idea, so I gave the Heineken 0.0 a whirl.
And I like it.
It’s not a pale or a session IPA or a craft lager, mind you—it’s very much “yellow beer” in the vein of the macro lagers that dominated the landscape for so long. But I like it in the, “I just want a beer that I don’t have to think about while I’m painting the fence/making lettuce wraps/performing oral surgery.” I liked it so much that I decided to get an O’Doul’s and a regular Heineken to see how 0.0 compares to the competition.
There’s nothing terribly complicated with Heineken 0.0. It’s a straightforward light lager with a cracker-like element that grows on me as I work through the bottle. It has a dry finish and maybe a little baked bread on the nose. What’s weird is it doesn’t taste much like regular Heineken. Regular Heineken has this sweetness in the mid-palate that’s a bit off-putting, and also a bit metallic. Heineken 0.0 is more even keel. It’s mellow, without any harsh metallic edges or faux sweetness, and it doesn’t have that yeasty aftertaste that I still find in O’doul’s.
Put it all together and Heineken 0.0 is the clear winner. It’s a better non-alcoholic beer than the country’s top seller in that category, and I like it better than its 5% brother, regular Heineken. Not bad for fake beer.