In the midst of throwing back some high gravity beers, poolside under the beautiful star-studded Napa sky, my one friend stumped me with the question, “Would you still drink beer if there was no alcohol in it?”
I knew that the question was designed to make me or anyone whose drinking has gotten out of control question my alcohol consumption, rather than my dedication and love for craft beer. And I had the most bizarre time trying to answer the question. For me, the answer is not black and white. And really, it is a Catch 22.
Would I still drink beer? Most likely, but not in the quantities that I do currently. I would probably treat it like Kombucha or coconut water — the only two non-alcoholic beverages that I drink regularly. Although I enjoy both, one is usually enough to satisfy my cravings. With alcohol, it is different. I would be lying if I said I didn’t like the magical little buzz one gets from alcohol consumption.
Now, just because I enjoy feeling a bit tipsy from time to time does not mean that I abuse alcohol. Sure, the nature of my lifestyle does put me at risk for alcoholism, but I respect fine beverages and never abuse them, at least on purpose. However, I will not deny that I have taken it too far in the past and that I have gotten myself into trouble from over-consumption. But those instances are rare and lessons are usually learned.
Since I found the question so perplexing, I thought I’d reach out to my social networks to see how other craft beer drinkers would react to the removal of alcohol from beer. Naturally, I found several different schools of thought on the matter.
SCHOOL OF THOUGHT #1: Strong YES: because beer is about the flavor, not the alcohol.
@thepaintedman: For me, it’s a straight yes.
@JasonKocina: yes. also, i wish more great session beers were readily available.
@BrendanFromBeer: magically non alcoholic beer that tastes as good as real beer? Absolutely, but maybe in different contexts.
@johnfoster: I like root beer. it’s as diverse a drink as beer.
@BeachBumChris: Very B&W for me. Everything I eat or drink is because it tastes good, period. If it’s not about taste, then what is it about?
@EntrePreBrewer: I would absolutely still drink beer w/out alcohol. I love the variety of complex flavors. It is nice tho to warm you up.
@ocbrewerswife: r u drinking 4 flavor or affect? I def. drink beer for flavor…so if there was no alcohol it wouldn’t matter
SCHOOL OF THOUGHT #2: MODERATE YES: If it tasted the same, probably. But in smaller quantities.
@bellacarrara: I’d probably say that I would still drink beer (or wine for that matter) if it didn’t have alcohol…but maybe just not as much of it as I currently do. Sometimes the consumption is all about the alcohol, and sometimes it for the non-sensory-dulling stimulation.
@stayhoppyaustin: Agreed, alc gives depth & flavor, aromas, etc…. If this was still achieved w/out alcohol, yes. But wouldn’t be as fun!
@CherylHarrison: if it tasted the same? Yea. But not nearly as much.
@sp1365: Depends, alcohol is part of the flavor. If the beer was the exact same just sans alcohol, then yes I would.
SCHOOL OF THOUGHT #3: NO: Non-alcoholic beer tastes like crap. And let’s face it, the alcohol is the best part.
@ AMan4AllSaisons: I have yet to drink a n/a beer that had a tenth of the flavour available in a good normal beer.
@timothydean: drinking n/a beer is like going down on your cousin. May taste good but it’s just not right ! Lol.
@RoadTrips4Beer: No. I don’t drink decaf coffee or put non-lubricating motor oil in my truck. It’s the essential property of the substance. If I didn’t want the alcohol effect, I’d drink water all the time.
@michaelwangbickler: Interesting question. I wouldn’t drink non-alcoholic wine, so I’m thinking the answer is ‘no’ for the same reasons.
@afatty: Duh… the way that you ought to feel without drinking beer. It’s similar to decaf coffee.. why bother. No caffeine.. no alcohol .. no thank you.
@baconator: Just say no and be realistic.
SCHOOL OF THOUGHT #4: The Logical Answer: Fermentation (aka the conversion of sugar into alcohol) is crucial to the brewing process and you cannot have most of the flavors in beer without it.
@steveparkes: It’s a dumb question. Beer tastes like beer because it has alcohol in it. Alcohol free beer anyone? A lot of the flavors in beer are only soluble in the alcohol fraction.
@damnbeerblogger: Well, I wouldn’t breathe air if it didn’t have oxygen in it. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT MAKES IT AIR.
@webster114: Taste is key but there’s something to be said for the ‘active’ ingredient.
@BrewmanceNW: I probably wouldn’t… and it wouldn’t taste the same without it. Yeasts make many flavors, as well as the biproduct.
@52Brews: alcohol content very often gives beer its depth. tricky… If it tastes good I’ll drink it. No alcohol, though, less often =D
@johnholzer: “Beer” needs alcohol to in certain amounts, depending on the style and one’s taste. IMO, if there’s no alcohol, it’s not beer… and at that point, you’re drinking something that isn’t “beer”.
@RyanARoss: non-alcoholic beer = barley-based soda. Carbonated grain tea isn’t beer.
@thebeernut: I think that part of the flavor of beer comes from the alcohol content (some beers more so than others). With that said, I think that I probably wouldn’t drink beer sans alcohol. It just seems to me that there’s less to contrast with the malty sweetness without it…
School of Thought #4: CATCH 22: damned if you do, damned if you don’t
@sweatje: I drink beer because of the flavor, however, I know a significant portion of that flavor is from alcohol. Catch 22
@Sweasty: Catch 22. Alcohol gives depth & provides other flavors. If you can capture the full depth in NA beer, then sure I’ll drink it.
Although, I fully agree with the logical argument that beer would not be the same without alcohol, I want people to forget about that factor and think about it from a more hypothetical angle — If beer was exactly the same as it is now, same flavors and complexities, with the alcohol completely removed, would you still drink it?
For me, the question still remains impossible to answer with a confident yes or no. A confident no implies alcohol abuse and little respect for the actual beverage, while a certain yes wouldn’t be the complete truth because alcohol is indeed something that attracts me to beer.
Sigh. I suppose I will settle for the moderate yes. Without alcohol, beer would probably be a rare treat, like a milkshake or smoothie. Something with a substantial amount of calories and lots of flavor, but not something that I would feel compelled to drink more than one of. Nonetheless I do enjoy and respect the nuances and complexities in beer, and would not discount it as an enjoyable craft beverage if it had no alcohol in it. However, I believe that the culture built around beer drinking is mostly a result of the effects of alcohol and its social implications, not just its flavor. After all, how many juice, coffee or tea festivals and celebration weeks exist?
Would I still be The Beer Wench? No.
And although I love wine, I would not drink as much of it as I do if it was alcohol-free. I also love bourbon, scotch and tequila — 3 beverages that I would most certainly NOT consume without the alcohol. Heck, I don’t drink decaf coffee because, although I like coffee, I also want the affects of caffeine.
And maybe this answer, in itself, confirms that I think alcohol is important to beer.
Curious to hear more feedback… bring it on!