I’ve denied my age for as long as I can, but it’s become increasingly obvious that I am in fact getting old. I find myself ogling other people’s minivans (is that a built-in vacuum cleaner? That’s so hot). My social calendar is dictated by how much standing will be involved at any given event (because standing is the worst). And I can often be overheard asking the bartender for “the lowest ABV beer you have.” I’m simply too old to deal with hangovers anymore. One wild night results in 72 hours of wallowing and lost ambition. In an effort to take it easy, I’ve become obsessed with session beers and have even started mixing a few non-alcoholic beers into my drinking sessions. So, I’m always on the lookout for new beers without booze (check out my surprisingly good experience with Heineken’s version), and was psyched to see Well Being Victory Wheat hit the shelves. It’s a non-alcoholic wheat beer that’s being marketed as a “sports brew.”
We questioned the marketing behind Well Being’s Victory Wheat when we first came across the superlative-filled press release, but like I said, I’m old and I need to consume less alcohol. And it turns out Well Being has a few different NA beers (a wheat, amber and stout) so I decided to take the whole lineup for a whirl.
While I’ve been pleasantly surprised by recent entries into the non-alcoholic beer market, I’m skeptical of NA craft beer and have found that trying to replicate a lager without booze is an easier trick to pull off than making a tasty no-ABV IPA or stout. Trying Well Being’s Amber and Coffee Cream Stout reinforces that skepticism. The Coffee Cream Stout doesn’t taste much like a beer at all; somehow it comes off more like a chai tea. It’s neither creamy nor roasty and has a berry-like sweetness that caught me off guard completely. The Hell Raiser Dark Amber was even more disappointing; at no point during my tasting was I under the illusion that I was drinking a beer. The one thing I require non-alcoholic beer to do is to trick me into thinking I’m drinking a normal beer. It’s not an easy accomplishment, but that’s the baseline requirement, otherwise I’ll just have a glass of water or a Coke or orange juice or something.
While Well Being’s Coffee Cream Stout and Hell Raiser Dark Amber don’t pass that test, their Victory Wheat goes above and beyond. It looks like a beer, smells like a beer with a zesty and citrusy nose, and has a creamy but light mouthfeel. It’s crisp and zesty with a hint of orange on the back end, which makes me want to squeeze another orange slice into the glass just for the hell of it. The finish is dry, and almost a little puckering. All NA beers seem to have a yeasty, almost chalky element to them, which is definitely present in Victory Wheat, but after a couple of sips, it essentially disappears and I’m convinced I’m just drinking a low-ABV wheat. Victory Wheat is totally drinkable. Like I’d drink this on purpose, and if it were available in my hometown, I’d keep it stocked in my fridge for when I’m looking to temper my booze consumption.
Now, about that non-alcoholic label. All of Well Being’s beer actually has .5% ABV, which is a trace amount similar to what you’ll find in some kombuchas. (Fun fact that’s kind of related: decaf coffee often has 5mg of caffeine per cup. Who knew?) Heineken’s 0.0 has no alcohol, but a lot of non-alcoholic beers actually hit that same “less than .5% ABV” mark.
And then you have Victory Wheat’s “sports brew” advertising angle, which does seem a little ridiculous but is absolutely on point in terms of the current beer/marketing trends. Remember when Sierra Nevada bought Sufferfest a few months ago? Here’s why “healthy beers” are a thing right now: because we all like the idea of being healthy without actually doing much to be healthy. Throwing some electrolytes into a beer that I’m already drinking is exactly what constitutes as a healthy decision in my mind. Well Being uses Buoy, a tasteless blend of electrolytes that you can actually buy as a standalone product and squeeze into anything you’re drinking. Victory Wheat is pretty low cal (85 calories) and has 3 grams of protein, which I guess is better than no protein, but a high amount of carbs (16). Most recovery drinks usually have more protein than carbs, but whatever…all of that is superfluous. Well Being might want to market Victory Wheat as a recovery-minded “sports brew,” but I’m not going to reach for this fake beer as a recovery aid after a hard workout. There are far better recovery drinks out there (like a glass of chocolate milk). I’m going to reach for Victory Wheat because it tastes good and it won’t send me on a three-day tailspin of nausea and self-loathing that has me questioning all of my life decisions.