Wine Guy: The new world of near beers

The Wine Guy veers off course, taking a look at three 'near beers'

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In a first for this column, there will be 0.0 per cent A.B.V. discussed this week. The thing is, the other day I was at my local grocery store and I came face-to-face with full of cans of de-alcoholized beers — not to mention “beer alternatives” more broadly.

“Near beers” galore, and well I couldn’t pass up an impromptu tasting.

The trend makes sense, there’s also been a swing to light beers lately — and well lifestyles and schedules such as working-from-home have many proactively minding their health. So let’s have a go at a random sample of three, but don’t hold your breath over a column on alcohol-free wines anytime soon, though I do like grape juice!

Grolsch 0.0% Non-Alcoholic Beer, Netherlands ($2.49 for 500mL can, available at grocery stores)

European non-alcoholic beers have long been available in local grocery stores, but in full disclosure I’ve never paid them much attention. That said, I certainly recognize the Grolsch name, so it jumped out at me from the shelves and made for an easy pick. Pouring a bright golden in the glass, it brings evident citrusy hops with an ample malt underlay. It’s refreshing up front and there’s nice body and character overall, but some awkwardness builds on the finish as cereal-like malts take over and linger.

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Bottom line: B-, Traditional near beer

Sober Carpenter IPA Non-Alcoholic Craft Beer, Montreal ($3.49 for 473mL can, available at grocery stores)

“Non-Alcoholic Craft Beer?” Admittedly, this terminology had me scratching my head, but there’s no denying that recent North American entrants into the near beer category are attempting to follow the footsteps of their cool full-test craft beer brethren. Still, while I take some umbrage at the overtly obvious branding there’s no denying that this is a tasty beverage. The can states “42 IBU,” and indeed this slightly hazy, light golden number brings all the tropical fruit and citrus aromas one would expect in a west coast style IPA backed by a bracing bitterness — without the bite.

Bottom line: B+, Contemporary near beer

Bine Sparkling Hop Water, Vancouver ($1.79 for 355mL can, available at grocery stores)

Is it even necessary to attempt to recreate beer if you’re simply angling for a non-alcoholic, beer-inspired beverage? As evidence consider “sparkling hop water.” As Yeast Van’s Off the Rail Brewing Co. explains it, “What began as a beer sabbatical has evolved into a wonderful hop fuelled, sparkling clean carbonated water drink.” And that’s exactly what it is: zero sugar, zero calories — just sparkling water infused with hops (Centennial and Simcoe in this can’s case). Well if you like hops this is fantastically refreshing and fun — full of nice tropical fruit and citrus aromas with a zippy, bracing finish.

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Bottom line: A-, No where near near beer!


The Swirl: Local wine clubs

Continuing to consider the glass half-full, one creative wine initiative I’ve enjoyed seeing come to fruition in these pandemic-driven times is the establishment of curated, home-delivered wine subscription clubs (or packs). For example, Wine Vikings Wine Club offers six wines delivered quarterly, with each pack hand-selected by noted sommeliers or restaurateurs (winevikings.com). Similarly, Apéro Mode offers monthly four-bottle mixed wine packs curated by award-winning sommelier Maude Renaud-Brisson, delivered and nicely packaged with informative and fun write-ups about each producer (aperomode.com).

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