Heineken recently launched its alcohol-free beer, Heineken 0.0, in Malaysia and it has caused quite a stir.
While the biggest issue raised has been the fact that it is a non-halal drink meant for non-Muslims only, there has also been chatter among beer drinkers about the beverage itself. Most of the feedback I’ve heard has revolved around whether the 0.0 actually tastes like beer, and the point of drinking beer when there is no alcohol in it.
First of all, here are the facts about Heineken 0.0. It contains less than 0.05% alcohol, which allows it to be legally called an ‘alcohol-free’ product in Europe and the United States.
Contrary to popular belief, the drink is not made by merely taking the alcohol out of regular Heineken beer. It is apparently brewed from scratch using traditional beer ingredients such as water, malted barley and hop extract, and the alcohol is removed via a ‘natural process’ later.
Now, let’s move on to the important bit – what does Heineken 0.0 actually taste like? Well, to be honest, it actually DOES taste like beer, or rather, lager beer, to be precise.
There’s that familiar hoppy, fizzy bite in the beginning, the malty notes in the initial palate, and that same crisp, refreshing feeling in your mouth. The only difference between the 0.0 and regular Heineken beer is perhaps a lack of body and mouthfeel, and a light, fruity citrus finish in the end.
So, what is the point of a non-alcoholic beer then?
For one, non-alcoholic beer and even non-alcoholic ‘spirits’ are growing in popularity overseas, with a recent report published by the Brewers of Europe, showing that non-alcoholic beer now accounts for 2% of Europe’s beer market.
With numerous reports about how people are being more health-conscious and drinking less alcohol, it’s not surprising that beer producers are now producing non-alcoholic products to cater to this growing segment. (Hey, if that extra revenue means they can still continue to make their regular beers, then by all means.)
Also, if we are going to be serious about reducing drink driving, then products like the 0.0 and other non-alcoholic drinks are essential for the market. So if you’re the designated driver at a gathering but still want a beer, you should probably have one of these.
Let's face it, non-alcoholic beer and spirits are here to stay. Most major beer brands in Europe now have at least one alcohol-free product in their portfolio. It's not just the commercial brands that are branching out into this segment either - craft beer giant Brewdog recently launched Punk AF, an alcohol-free version of its hugely popular Punk IPA.
Worldwide, there is also a rising trend of low-ABV cocktails, with lower alcohol spirits like vermouth gaining more popularity as a base spirit. There are even non-alcoholic spirits being produced as well, such as Seedlip, reportedly the world's first 'distilled, sugar and additive-free non-alcoholic spirit', apparently made like a gin, but is not a gin.
Ultimately, non-alcoholic beer and spirits may seem like strange products to those who like a tipple or two, but like it or not, it is a trend that is definitely not going away.