The Dry January taste test

From Italian premium lager to a jazzy Norwegian IPA, from Brewdog to Brooklyn, from drinkables to edibles… presenting The Face’s superbowl of no-alcohol beers.

Diluted dog-meat. Feet. The outside of a cheap Italian restaurant. Morning piss. Dry January? I’d rather Die January.”

As brewers, high street and craft alike, were considering how best to tap into the booming no-alcohol market, they probably weren’t aiming for results that smelt and felt like that.

From beardy railway arch to shiny Big Beer mega-brewery, the focus was undoubtedly on crispness and hoppy-ness. On citrus notes and caramel twangs. On creating something aromatic, charismatic and, crucially, authentic. Alcohol-free, yes. Pleasure-free, no. 

Fake beer has to taste like real beer, right? 

It shouldn’t suggest cheese, feet or urine (or, worst, cheesy feet you’ve peed on).

These, unfortunately, were some of the findings of a Dry January taste-test undertaken at The Face Fun Pub, aka our offices. 

We were mindful of the big money associated with sober drinking: in the year to last spring, Britons spent £57 million on low- or no-alcohol beers, up more than a third from the previous year. That translates as 12.5 million pints. Accordingly we made our dozen-booze beerathon as scientific as possible. We conducted it on the v. grey, late afternoon of Friday 17th January: the start of the third weekend of the month and long before payday, when any DJ (Dry Januarian), no matter how stoic and committed, would be beginning to crack.

A range of non-alcoholic beers – domestic and imported; lager and IPA; mainstream and artisanal – were purchased, both from the craft-friendly indie shop round the corner and from the nearest Tesco. 

Finally, to guard against palate bias, we recruited a tastebud tag-team. Joe and Joel are cheery lads who work in the nearby Crisis café. Unlike me, these employees of the charity do proper jobs, running a training establishment that, as well as being an excellent dispenser of flat whites and thick sandwiches, helps homeless people off the streets and into employment. You should donate to Crisis here.

It’s thirsty work, for sure. Which is why the responses of Joe and Joel – who are both superstar DJ’s – to a bunch of booze-free boozes was particularly important. 

It’s been a struggle,” acknowledges Joe of his Dry January thus far. As soon as I told myself I couldn’t have anything, I instantly wanted everything. But I like the challenge. And it’s a good way to focus the mind, because I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.” 

Joel, meanwhile, hasn’t received the official Dry January hairshirt that Joe and myself are wearing, but he’s done it by accident. Although I did have half a Guinness to celebrate passing my driving test. Or to prepare for it,” he says, jokingly (I think).

But we all agree that in the UK we all just want to get smashed every weekend”, so cutting down in general is a good thing. And if that means drinking fizzy parmesan mixed with Pedigree Chum, so be it.

Notices and disclaimers: Joe and Joel are both of legal drinking age. They’re commenting here in a personal capacity. And none of the stuff up there about cheese and pee applies to any of the brands discussed below – we binned the worst offenders.

And remember: we did this so you don’t have to.

  • We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.”  We all just want to get smashed every weekend.” 

Stout from The Big Drop Brewing Co.

They say… With notes of coffee, cocoa nibs and a lingering hint of sweet vanilla, this beer is dark, rich and indulgent.”

We say… Joe thinks it tastes OK but it’s fizzier than a stout should be. That’s just not normal.” Joel, on the contrary, considers it like cold coffee”, which would please the brewer bods at the three-year-old, award-winning Ipswich-based independent. I think it’s very drinkable.” 

Joe: “‘Drinkable’, though – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”

In sum: it lacks weight, and is too far from the real thing so it’s no substitute”.

No Worries IPA by Lerwig 

They say… A lightly hopped and pleasantly refreshing pale ale, fermented with a brewer’s yeast which cant [sic] ferment Maltose.”

We say… A jazzy-looking” 0.5% vol. offering from a Norwegian brewer with a smörgåsbord (yes, we know that’s a Swedish word) of jazzy-looking beers. It has a lip-smacking richness to it. But too much richness for Joe (he is from Middlesbrough) and perhaps too much cost for me (I am from Scotland), and too much froth for Joel (he is from Merseyside). All that said…

Joel: It tastes like a proper bevvy.” 

Joe: It’s got a proper taste.”

Me: I don’t like IPA but I’m converted.” 

Nanny State by Brewdog

They say… A brigade of speciality malts and North American hops sends bitterness to the brink and back.”

We say… Another feat of agit-marketing from the punks” at the ballsy Scottish brewers. The Face’s brand director explains: With the name Nanny State, they’re taking the piss out of the government trying to control and curtail our worst excesses. They’re being facetious. And it’s doing fucking brilliantly for them. Brewdog are a billion-quid company.”

Ooh, it’s a bit like Newcastle Brown,” breathes Joe – which, coming from a man from the English northeast, is praise indeed.

It’s nice, that,” agrees Joel. Leaves a nice taste in your mouth. That could fool me. That one and Lerwig would both do well in a blind taste test.”

  • Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.”  Drinkable – is that a compliment for a drink? It’s like saying food is edible.” 

Free Star

They say… The first truly alcohol-free beer… [and] better for the planet. Our process creates 70 per cent less waste and uses 80 per cent less water than other methods.”

We say… The Russian constructivist” packaging is a winner. But that zero alcohol aspect seems to cause palate problems. 

It’s not a flavour you’d associate with beer,” frowns Joel.

I’m giving it the same score as the percentage alcohol it has,” mutters Joe, pushing away his glass, unable to finish it, to disapproving frowns from Joel.

I can’t believe I just got peer pressure in a Dry January non-alcoholic taste test!” splutters Joe. Make that beer pressure. But the point stands.

Stop press: I happily drank two of these at home that night. So it can’t be that bad.

Libera by Peroni

They say… The first super-premium alcohol-free beer [in] the [UK] market… triple hopped and… brewed with the same signature Nostrano dell’Isola Maize that makes Peroni Nastro Azzurro so unique.”

We say… Joe thinks it looks very coastal, very Italian. And it’s offering freedom from the constraints of alcoholism, or staying home, feeling alone cause your mates are in the pub.”

Indeed: the packaging is reassuringly similar to its boozy big brother. You can hold this in your mitt in the pub and still feel like one of the lads/​lasses. As Joe says: I don’t want to be in the pub talking about what I’m drinking.”

Tastes like a shandy,” adds Joel. I could do a couple.”

Lager from The Big Drop Brewing Co.

They say… This darker Vienna style Lager sees a crisp, bready, biscuity maltiness coupled with a delicate hop bittering… Gluten-free and suitable for vegans.”

We say… It smells caramel‑y, and looks darker than an Anglo-US lager – in fact it’s suspiciously, whisper it, Belgian. But does it have the heft of a Belgian? No.

Joel: It tastes really watery to me. Not amazing – but if your mates were having a session, you could drink a few of them. It’s sessionable.”

And that, we agree, is one of the functions of a no-alcohol beer: letting you be in the pub with your mates without having to drink ten pints of Coke and getting diabetes. So on the crucial sociability element, this scores.

  • I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.”  I want to get things done other than pissing it up the wall every weekend.” 

Blue by Becks

They say… Golden in colour, Beck’s Blue is a classic German-style pilsner lager with over 140 years of heritage.”

We say… I drank a lot of Becks when I was a student. A big lager for a big night out. Joe agrees, in more words. 

Normally I like Becks, if it’s really cold and I’ve had nine drinks already and I’m on my way to Croatia to a boat party. Then it’s a five out of ten. But this…” He lets a wrinkled nose do the rest of his talking.

Special Effects by Brooklyn Brewery

They say… Brooklyn Special Effects tastes just like a regular beer, but therein lies the special effect: it’s not. Special fermentation method… generous dry hopping… resulting in lively hop notes and a clean finish.”

We say… A hoppy lager”. But as Brooklyn Lager is relatively heavy for a lager, a diluted, de-alcohol’d version becomes – hey presto – like a regular lager. I’m in. So are the boys.

Joe: It’s quite coppery, but in a nice way. It’s got a nice finish.”

Joel: A lot of the other ones tasted like beer-flavoured water. But this has a bit of weight to it.”

Mixed Fruit Alcohol-Free Cider by Kopparberg 

They say… “[D]elivers a delicious punch of raspberry and blackcurrant flavour without compromising on taste.”

We say… We thought we’d go off-piste at the end and treat ourselves to a cider. Hmm. In one regard, this is appropriate: this tastes like dessert – if Vimto made puddings. Or, it evokes Ribena Spark, and summer Friday afternoons after school if you’re 11. The alcohol has been replaced by a fair bit of sugar. 

I put myself off cider by drinking £3 bottles in the woods when I was 13,” reveals Joe, then vomming on myself. This isn’t changing my opinion.”

I can feel my teeth rotting,” says Joel. But at least his liver is tip-top.

Last orders, please!

On pure taste alone, Joel and Joe will both have a Brooklyn, thanks. In sum: Quite syrupy, quite thick, consistency was good, nice balance of sweetness and bitterness – it was quite accurate. Quite close to the real thing. It’s also quite cheap – £1.69 a bottle.”

The Lerwig and Brewdog came joint second. But with the benefit of alco-VAR, Brewdog is deemed offside for having too much Big Beer money behind it, meaning the Norwegians steal it. 

Time, gentlemen, please… After a dozen Dry January-friendly drinks on a Friday afternoon, we’re of course far from pissed. But we do, between us, feel a bit nauseous, a bit sleepy and not a little headachey. Joe or Joel – I’ll spare the patient’s blushes – later admits to some, ah, bowel rumblings. 

Just like the real thing, then, no- or low-alcohol, taken in excess, can lead to some unexpected toilet time. It’s enough to drive you to drink. 

All of which, this Dry January 2020, leaves only one crucial question: is it February yet?


Loading...
00:00 / 00:00