An unusual turn of events saw me out one evening last week while in possession of motorised transportation. Of course, my drinking options for the evening were manifold, but I decided I may as well use it as an excuse to try out some of the alcohol-free beers available. Y'know, the ones I wouldn't normally dream of touching with a barge pole (unless I were actually piloting a barge, of course; then they might be appropriate).
The original intention was just to get the Erdinger and Paulaner ones, but it turns out that there's a much bigger range out there, much of which was carried by a local off-licence (I got the Paulaner in Superquinn where, oddly, the automated checkout still made sure to card me).
I lined them up for a mugshot before sticking them in the boot and off to my destination (Séan's gaff; fabulous 8% ABV stout on tap; untempted; look at me the responsible adult). First out of the traps was Cobra Zero, and I liked this, but not for any of the reasons I like Cobra. Cobra Zero makes more-or-less no attempt to be a beer. Though my bottle was rather lightstruck, what came out most on tasting was a very sweet and malty wort flavour -- porridge with loads of sugar. It reminded me a lot of the dark non-alcoholic malt drinks you get in Africa and the Caribbean, and which I really rather like. I don't know that I could drink much of this, but I did enjoy the bottle.
Beck's Non-Alcoholic didn't work so well. It's sort-of faithful to the Beck's recipe, in that it's quite sharp and hoppy. The worty sweetness is there again, mostly on the nose, but this translates to an unpleasant soapy flavour which, coupled with the thinness, does not make for a pleasant drinking experience.
I figured the Germans would be better propositions altogether and, while this broadly turned out to be true, the two beers were as different in quality as their real-beer counterparts. The Paulaner Alkoholfrei was my favourite of the lot. Yes, there's that unfermented sugar, but it's buried under a hefty dollop of fruity banana esters. It's very drinkable and is distinctively a weissbier. I'd go for it again. Not so the Erdinger Alkoholfrei which tried to do all the same things but comes out weak (well, you know what I mean) and lacking in character.
Was it worth it? No, not really. If I wasn't a ticker I'd probably have settled for drinking non-beer, and will likely do so in the future. Unless I can find some Baltika 0 or alcohol-free Bavaria, of course...