I  am a serious beer drinker. Making a run for the nearest liquor shop after a longish working Friday is a sacred ritual. I don’t store a lot of it because I don’t want to consume a lot of it. The ruthless Delhi summer sun often makes me reach for a chilled wheat or lager over a canned beverage and, sometimes, even water. But before you misconstrue my beer-loving eccentricities for habitual dipsomania, let me apprise you of the salient characteristics of a Serious Beer Drinker, or SBD, if I may. 

First, it’s not about the alcohol. An SBD would rather not drink at all than knock back a Haywards, Godfather or a Kalyani Black Label, the super strong beers (with 8 per cent ABV, or alcohol by volume) that tickle the common Indian sensibilities. And that’s not the case with over 80 per cent of Indian beer drinkers. Case in point: we are different.

Our interests are skewed towards taste, flavour and a lower ABV. More recently, a lot of us have taken to visiting the tapas bars and microbreweries blooming in almost all major cities because of our love for fresh craft beer. The bottled Bira, Simba, Beardo, White Owl, White Rhino, Wittlinger and Proost69 are just the tip of the iceberg. If you share my strong feelings about flavourful beers, try the fresh beer at Clock Tower or Raise the Bar if you happen to be in the Gurugram side of the National Capital Region.

These sumptuous beverages that quite closely emulate the properties of the ‘real thing’ are unabashedly free of any hint of alcohol
Last Friday, however, there was a deviation from my sacred ritual run to the nearest liquor shop. I found myself looking for a trendy convenience store in Gurugram that sells the newest iterations of the Dutch-made Heineken and Indian-made Kingfisher. I bought a few cans and happily decided to pop one for the road. Another thing about SBDs, we don’t ever D&D. The catch: these sumptuous beverages that quite closely emulate the properties of the “real thing” are unabashedly free of any hint of alcohol. My fellow SBDs, before you spew profanities, hear a brother out.

India is, of course, late to the sober party. According to Euromonitor, while global sales of beer are on the slump, beers with zero or very low (0.5 per cent) alcohol are gaining momentum. It’s already two per cent of the total beer consumption in Europe. Dear SBDs, I know you don’t care for trends or numbers, this information is for newbies. But here’s why I’d like to make a case for these zero-alcohol pale liquids.

I recently invited a few SBD comrades and did a blind tasting at home. Heineken 0.0 (zero) was served along (but not mixed) with the alcoholic version. Four out of us five, including myself, were easily able to distinguish between the two tastes, simply because it was light-bodied, less acidic and had a less bitter aftertaste. But the zero is by no means a gimmick. It comes unbelievably close to the original taste and the mouth feel. The beer ingredients remain the same — water, malted barley and hop extracts — the yeast is fermented and the alcohol removed.

These sumptuous beverages that quite closely emulate the properties of the ‘real thing’ are unabashedly free of any hint of alcohol
Kingfisher Radler (non-alcoholic) has a combination of added flavours of mint, lime and ginger in different variants, which come in bottles similar to the Kingfisher Ultra’s, and are malty but with very distinctive tastes. It’s more a replacement for a high-calorie soft drink — Radler has 32 calories per 100 ml — than beer. I guess they don’t want their two products to compete with each other.

Ramesh Viswanathan, chief new business officer, United Breweries, says that malt is a key ingredient of the Radler. “It provides body to the drink. 100 per cent natural juice is added for flavour along with a bit of sugar to balance the overall taste,” he adds.

Next on the shelves of grocery stores will be non-alcoholic versions of Budweiser and German Wit beer Hoegaarden from the house of Anheuser-Busch InBev. They also plan to produce the beer and dealcoholise it. “However, to maintain the integrity of the product we have changed the brewing process a bit to avoid the acidity. This creates a more balanced taste of real beer,” promises Ben Verhaert, president, South Asia, AB InBev.

So, fellow SBDs, you are free to drink and drive, drink more when you shouldn’t drink more, drink only to socialise or, like me, just grab a chilled can or two every day in the summer. Remember, we are beer lovers first and then guzzlers. And there’s more to love than what’s on offer at the closest thekas.

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