Wednesday, February 3, 2010

If beer didn't contain any alcohol...?

If beer didn't contain any alcohol, but still tasted the same, would you still brew/drink it?

Yes - 76%
No  - 23%

With 241 responses this was one of the more popular polls I have posted to date.  The votes were divided, but a clear majority like their beer with or without the booze. 

If beer didn't contain any alcohol there are some days (and times of the day) that I would drink more and some that I would drink less, but I would certainly still be a homebrewer and a beer drinker.  I mean how great would it be to have a rich creamy alcohol free oatmeal stout for breakfast before heading off to work?  How nice would it be to go to a tasting or beer festival and not have to worry about driving home afterward?  It really is a shame that there aren't any "good" alcohol free beers out there.

Granted there are times when some alcohol adds to my enjoyment of a beer or situation, but by and large (for me) alcohol is a necessary distraction when it comes to drinking good beer.  This is especially true this time of year when the big/rich flavors of strong beers are on my mind.

It really comes down to the fact that I enjoy eating and drinking plenty of things that are non-alcoholic, so why would my love of beer change if the alcohol went away?  Of course this isn't to say I wouldn't trade out some of the beer I drink now for wine/mead/sake/liquor, but I don't enjoy any of them nearly as much as beer.

Happy to hear comments from those who agreed with me, but I'd be more interested to hear from the people who answered "No."

If you are reading the feed, visit the blog to vote in the new poll.


Eric said...

I didn't vote, and I would definitely still drink beer, but without alcohol it wouldn't be quite as good. The great thing about beer is more than just how it tastes - it's how it feels too. And it's not just the buzz either. The alcohol can give you a nice immediate warm feeling.

jaymo said...

I voted "yes." Part of my assumption was that the beer, minus alcohol, would be the same. I interpreted the question as meaning it would have the same warmth, mouthfeel, etc.

I can do without the buzz and other alcohol induced effects. As it is I don't find myself drinking nearly as much in one sitting as I would have years ago. A big part of the experience of godd beer for me is similar to enjoying any good food. It just happens to be a food with side effects!

Aaron said...

Back in my younger days, I used to buy a six pack of O'Doul's Amber on occasion for when I couldn't have real beer with me (namely, playing D&D on campus - oh yes, I was a rock star).

I remember it as not that bad, but it's been literally years and back then Guinness was the beginning and end of beer for me. I'm curious to know what I'd think of it today, although not curious enough to buy it again. I do still have one bottle of the last time I bought one sitting in a refrigerator in Pennsylvania... now I'm wondering how well NA beer ages.

Matt said...

I was at Churchkey with my wife last night and was SHOCKED at the spread of beers on the menu. The median ABV was 8.5%. I personally get sick of "extreme" / "imperial" / "doubles" of beer. I enjoy a good session beer and would definitely enjoy a low of NA beer IF it tasted good. I drink Berleinerweiss a lot, hefes frequently, and even milds. I definitely love me a low ABV beer and would still drink beer even if there were no "side effects"

Seanywonton said...

Sorry to sounds shallow, but no. Well, I would probably drink it, but not as much. I would probably not brew it, unless it was more like cooking or baking and it was done in a day or 2.

I really, really enjoy low alcohol session beers, but there is something about catching a little buzz that's just nice. I like to think alcohol is a substance that humans have evolved with. It's a part of our culture, spirituality in some instances, and it helps us be happy and relieve stress. It obviously has its dangers too and even us beer geeks that supposedly drink just for the flavor sometimes take it too far, risking our own health or the health of those around us.

Omar Buhidma said...

I didn't vote either; but largely because I could see circumstances that would lead me to either approach.

I can't get completely behind Eric's statement that beer wouldn't be quite as good without the warming feeling it provides; in my experience, you can completely remove that feeling just by eating it with a healthy dose of high fat food - cheese, for example. Yet I've never found myself turning down a cheese plate out of concern for detracting from my enjoyment of the beer.

That said, there are times when I seek that warming feeling. If beer never offered it, I may occasionally opt for an Irish Coffee or some sort of hot toddy when I might otherwise have selected a Barley Wine or a Belgian Strong Ale.

Beyond the warming issue (or anything related to any degree of intoxication), some of my favorite beer flavors and smells are actually yeast flavors and smells. For me, beer is at its best when it's bready and rich in esters. While I'm sure it's possible to process the alcohol out of such a beer after the fact, I doubt it could be done without significantly altering the flavor profile. Perhaps it would be possible to breed a yeast that can produce a high level of the side products but a low level of alcohol? I'm skeptical. If I were exclusively a hop head, I'd probably be more welcoming of the possibility.

Still, if it were possible to create the same range of tastes and flavors without alcohol in the beverage, I would still drink it - and probably quite nearly as frequently. There are just too many times I have a beer when I explicitly DONT want intoxicating effects.

At this point in my life, I'd also continue to brew beer, given the ability to brew the same styles and tastes without alcohol (a huge caveat, as I mentioned before). The real question in my mind is: would I have started brewing originally if it weren't for beer's intoxicating effects?

It's hard to say - I do a lot of cooking; but I don't bake with anything near the frequency I cook. When I bake, I do so largely to contribute to a social atmosphere during holiday parties. Freshly baked pastries and breads warm a place up with all sorts of delightful smells and seem to encourage more people to join the chef in the kitchen.

Without its intoxicating effects, homebrewed beer wouldn't quite be as inherently social a beverage. On the otherhand, it'd still make for some tasty wassail; which wouldn't lose any if ITS social qualities. Given that, I probably would have eventually been attracted to homebrewing; but much later on and with a great deal less frequency.

So, a strongly qualified yes; across the board.

Chris said...

I will say that if beer didn't have alcohol there would be no beer. Beer has been refined and revered in all of its forms because of the alcohol. There is no denying that it has been modified and shifted throughout the years but one thing has not been taken away and that is the buzz.

I get it. I understand wanting a low alcohol beer from time to time but often I just drink less of a strong beer. I am over the recent idea among geeks that there is something wrong with getting a buzz. Sorry I am venting here, but man, it is a silly concept. If you don't want booze then drink tea.

Beer and the alcohol are meshed in my mind anyway. Try drinking a six-pack of Kaliber you will be drinking Dr. Pepper after two of them. IMO anyway.

jaymo said...

I may have overstated 'I can live without the buzz.'

As others mentioned, there are times I'd really love a beer when drinking would be inappropriate. (For example, when teaching music lessons to my younger students, as much as I'd love to have a few drinks, it might be frowned upon by their parents if I came out of the lesson wielding a pint glass of IPA.)

I agree with Omar's point about the social aspects of alcohol though for sure. If I woke up tomorrow and good beer had no alcohol, I'd still drink it, probably brew it, and appreciate it a lot, but I know there are times I drink beer now where I would find myself reaching for wine, whiskey, etc instead if beer had no alcohol.

I love to cook and that tends to be alcohol-less. Beer could occupy a similar place in the proposed circumstances. I don't enjoy flat-out drunkness like I did at certain times in college, but I'm certainly not afraid of alcohol either.

I have a hard time believing most homebrewers would not drink beer without alcohol. If it weren't due to enjoying good quality as well, most of us would just opt for a mediocre beer off the shelf instead of putting in the effort, wouldn't we? (maybe I'm wrong on this part, but it makes sense after the few bottles of non-non-alcholic Magic Hat brews one of my not so young students brought me today!)

Paul! said...

+ 1
to what Chris and Sean said. Poll aside, making beer or wine for it's alcoholic benefit has thousands of years of history behind it.
That said I call "bullshit" on anyone that says no.

It's funny I work in a national specialty grocery store as the beer buyer. In this position I'm allowed to see beer buyers as well as wine buyer's and how they interact when looking for recommendations. I frequently joke with our sommelier about how funny the wine buyer's are. They are generally wealthy and not very knowledgeable yet are soooo concerned with the image or complexity the wine will convey.
My message is ( wine or beer) it doesn't matter!
first and for most these are alcoholic beverages, they should be viewed as this directly before being evaluated more.
I think this keeps brewer's and drinker's ego's in check.

jaymo said...

I'm not disagreeing at all about the history and development of beer. It would not be around today were it not for its alcohol.

I'm just saying if I woke up today and it were magically missing its alcohol but otherwise exactly the same, at this point I'm hooked!

Anonymous said...

I was a 'no' voter, because without fermentation brewing loses a lot of the magic for me. I don't need the buzz, but I do need the process of brewing in order to stay interested in it as a hobby.

If the question was simply would you keep drinking beer w/o alcohol, the answer would have been 'yes.'

As an aside: It would be interesting to see how you might replicate the desirable part of alcohol warmth in an n/a beer.

Fermento said...

Probably would not drink it. I like the fementation aspect of it and I think the health benefits of a little alcohol are real. Would probably drink and make wine instead