Don Kavanagh: Strength in weakness

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Low-alcohol beers can tickle the taste buds, as Don Kavanagh discovers

Some low-alcohol beers are a fine sup. Photo / Thinkstock
Some low-alcohol beers are a fine sup. Photo / Thinkstock

It's amazing how strong the power of suggestion is. I remember being at a party many years ago when I was at school. We had scored some beer and cider and were doing what teenage boys did in those days - trying to be cool in order to make girls talk to us, all the while panicking in case the girls did actually talk to us.

Among our number that night was an annoying, bumptious little twit, who we shall call Pat.

Pat was, like the poor and dandruff, always with us, hanging around and generally being an irritating little swine.

So we started giving him glasses of a beer called Kaliber until he eventually felt drunk and fell asleep in a corner.

Now, before you start worrying, Kaliber was - and remains, I assume - an alcohol-free beer. It contains less than 1 per cent alcohol, meaning that by the time you'd ingested enough to make you feel a bit merry, your stomach would have exploded.

What amazed us was that he had gone under entirely out of his own belief that he was plastered, having necked about eight of these things.

That in itself was amazing, since Kaliber was one of the worst-tasting beer-based drinks I've ever tried, and I grew up at a time when appalling concoctions such as Barbican and Moussy were the height of non-alcoholic excellence.

Most low-alcohol beers don't taste very good, which is why they don't sell very well.

After all, most of them don't really taste of beer, but there are some honourable exceptions. I've been a fan of Amstel Light for some time now, partly because it allows me to have a few beers without worrying too much, but mostly because it actually tastes like beer.

There are some genuinely non-alcoholic beers around; Holsten and Becks do fine examples in Europe, as does Heineken with its Buckler label.

Over here, the only alcohol-free beer I can find is generally Clausthaler, which actually isn't bad at all.

Mid-strength beer (3 to 3.9 per cent alcohol) has never really caught on here, but it sells well in Australia and the UK, where many of the premium brands are sold at lower strengths.

As recently as the late 90s, Heineken and Carlsberg were brewed there under licence at 3.4 per cent and many English ales tend to be in what we would call the mid-strength range without losing any of their flavour.

Some of our craft brewers here are taking a similar approach and there can be few more rewarding hours than those spent supping Emerson's exquisite Bookbinder, which weighs in 3.7 per cent and sacrifices nothing.

There are good lower-alcohol alternatives out there, but they seem to be a cause of shame for the breweries, because no one really promotes them.

It's a shame, because they should - just because a beer isn't in double figures, strength-wise, doesn't mean it has nothing to offer.

- Herald on Sunday

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