I never thought I’d say this, but it’s a good time to be a fan of non-alcoholic beer.
For whatever reason, be it health- or demographic-related, there’s been a surge in available non-alcoholic (NA) beers popping up in grocery stores, some of which are perfectly drinkable. Not long ago, it seemed like the only options on the shelf were usually NA Beck’s, Molson Excel and NA Labatt Blue, and maybe some NA Grolsch if you were lucky. Little by little, other NA beers have popped up, including virgin versions of some big-name brews like Budweiser and, look at this, Heineken!
Just how ubiquitous is regular Heineken? I had no trouble finding it in cans at gas-station convenience stores in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, almost two decades ago. It was the “import” beer on menus before the likes of Stella took over the bland-but-allegedly-fancy international megabrew category. Heineken was the beer you could order if you were in a hotel lounge somewhere and didn’t want to try anything unfamiliar and local.
It was the worldwide standard pale lager during the early era of massively multinational globalized brands, when drinking the same thing as everyone else on the planet was far cooler than drinking something interesting from closer to home. Worth noting: The Heineken company website claims that 25 million pints of their beer are sold every day, spread between 192 countries. Good lord.
No hate here, bro
Even having said all that, don’t think I dislike Heineken. Hell, I’ve even been on the brewery museum tour in Amsterdam. It’s a fine example of a refreshing pale lager, and it’s a nice option to have in bars where the only other choices are Bud and Bud Light. It’s unremarkable, but it still quenches a thirst.
I’m interested in this NA Heineken because I know how much uniformity and quality control matter to the Heineken brand. Much like a Big Mac or a Starbucks Latte, you’d expect a Heineken to taste the same wherever you are. So if they’re making a NA version, they’ll take the time to get the NA taste to match the original pretty closely.
That’s the theory, at least.
Here’s their pitch: “Introducing new Heineken 0.0. Heineken 0.0% is a refreshing non-alcoholic lager, brewed with a unique recipe for a distinct balanced taste with refreshing fruity notes and soft malty body, which now allows you to enjoy a Heineken beer at any time of day.”
What’s it taste like?
The Heineken 0.0 is nicely dry, with a taste that’s somewhere between malty shredded wheat and white grape juice. It’s crisp and inoffensive, and tastes like … a very rudimentary beer. Which is the goal, really.
By comparison, real Heineken has a more skunky hop profile, with a fuller, more complex taste. It’s not as dry, but the malt sweetness is assertively countered by more than enough grassy hop bitterness. It’s not puckeringly bitter, but it’s not limp like some other pale lagers.
With the two side by side, it’s obvious which one the real Heineken is, and it’s also just as obvious that the NA version is a lacklustre imitation. I’d hesitate to describe the two as being related beers, in that the NA version doesn’t taste much like the real deal at all. However, as a NA beer, it’s fine as an alternative when you can’t, or choose not to, drink alcohol.
Price: $9.99 (on sale) for a six-pack of 330 mL cans at Safeway in Edmonton.
Value for Money: OK, I guess. Because of the lack of alcohol tax mark-up on NA beer, I expect it to be substantially cheaper than the real deal.
Availability: Slowly becoming ubiquitous. Grocery stores, but also some bars. I spotted posters up at the Rose & Crown in downtown Edmonton advertising it. It sounds like Heineken is really pushing this effort with marketing dollars, so expect to see it everywhere soon enough.
Nutrition: 70 calories per 330 mL can. That’s less than a regular Heineken, but not no-calories either.
Verdict: Not as good as the original, but pretty good for a NA beer, especially by the old NA beer standards of a decade ago. It’s light and refreshing, especially when served ice cold.