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15 German Alcohol Free Beers Compared

This summer I am going without alcohol. I am taking three months off to give my liver a break. So I thought it might be a nice idea to check out some of the many alcohol free beers that are available in Germany.

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of zero ABV beer. The few I have tried so far didn’t appeal to me at all, so I usually have other non-alcoholic drinks instead of seeking the illusion of a proper beer.

But somehow I wanted to find out anyway if there might be any enjoyable alcohol free beers around, so I decided to compare all the ones I can readily buy at the local supermarket which has a fairly decently sized beverage section.

I tasted beers of three categories: Bavarian Helles (4), Hefeweizen (6) and Pilsner (5). Scores are on the 100 point scale. Here are my findings:

Bavarian Helles

Paulaner Münchner Hell

Colour: Dark gold
Nose: Pure malt
Palate: Malt, corn flakes. One dimensional and quite sweet.
Finish: Very long, with a surprising slight bitterness

Overall: Liquid bitter corn flakes. Dreadful.

Score: 30/100

 

Hacker-Pschorr Naturtrübes Helles

Colour: Bright gold, slightly murky
Nose: Very weak, slightly malty
Palate: Essentially water with a hint of malt
Finish: Short, popcorn

Overall: Reminds me of Bud Light.

Score: 35/100

 

Löwenbräu

Colour: Medium gold
Nose: Almost nothing, a generic weak “beer” nose
Palate: Quite mild, mildy hoppy, sweet cereals
Finish: Long and sweet

Overall: Better than Hacker or Paulaner but the hop bitterness is slightly unpleasant.

Score: 45/50

Oettinger

Colour: Dark gold
Nose: Light malt, cereals
Palate: Mild corn flakes, slightly hoppy
Finish: Medium long, mild and creamy

Overall: This is recognisable as beer but still a bit heavy on the corn flakes.

Score: 50/100

Hefeweizen

 

Benediktiner

Colour: Bright amber
Nose: Nothing
Palate: Corn flakes
Finish: Medium long, sweet corn flakes

Overall: Not resemblance at all to weissbier, very similar to the Paulaner Hell.

Score: 30/100

König Ludwig Weissbier

Colour: Bright amber
Nose: Very weak
Palate: Thin, slighly sour
Finish: Short and meaningless

Overall: This is very close to mineral water with a bit of lemon, but it is less fruity.

Score: 40/100

Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier

Color: Reddish amber
Nose: Weak, freash, slightly fruity
Palate: Slightly sour and slightly sweet, a hint of yeast
Finish: Medium long and slightly bitter

Overall: Definitely better than Paulaner Hell. This is almost enjoyable but the balance is a bit off.

Score: 55/100

Schneider Weisse TAP 3

Colour: Dark amber
Nose: A slight whiff of weissbier
Palate: Very odd, a slightly sour and almost “chemical” taste, impossible to describe
Finish: Long and strange

Overall: This beer has a dominant flavour component, possibly a specific ester,  that may work in a regular weissbier but here it is overwhelming. It is not really unpleasant but you have to get used to it.

Score: 55/100

Erdinger

Colour: Dark gold
Nose: Slightly malty
Palate: Corn flakes, slightly hoppy
Finish: Long and slightly sweet

Overall: You can notice this is beer, but I don’t get any specific wheat flavours. An unoffensive drink, not unpleasant.

Score: 60/100

 

Franziskaner

Colour: Medium amber
Nose: Fresh, slighly yeasty
Palate: Rather weak, a hint of citrus, mild, but not very sweet
Finish: Medium long

Overall: It is a bit weak in flavour but the overall balance of aromas makes it taste quite close to the real thing.

Score: 65/100

Pilsner

Jever Fun

Colour: Bright gold
Nose: A faint whiff of hops
Palate: Very sour attack, almost like olive brine (really!), rapidly turning bitter.
Finish: Long and bitter

Overall: This one surely is different. Regular Jever is a quite hoppy pilsner but without alcohol this is just over the top.

Score: 30/100

Krombacher

Colour: Medium gold
Nose: Weak, slightly hoppy, a hint of citrus
Palate: Slightly sweet, a hint of corn flakes, a hint of hops

Overall:  Nothing stands out here, the generic cereal notes are present but not prominent. Not the best, not the worst.

Score: 50/100

 

Beck’s Blue

Colour: Dark gold
Nose: Hoppy
Palate: A hoppy attack fading into corn flakes
Finish: Medium long and rather sweet

Overall: The beer is off to a prominsing start but on mid-palate the taste becomes generic.

Score: 50/100

Bitburger 0,0

Colour: Bright gold
Nose: None
Palate: Slightly sour corn flakes
Finish: Medium long

Overall: This actually isn’t too bad, but it is only remotely beer-like.

Score: 55/100

Clausthaler

Colour: Bright gold
Nose: A hint of citrussy hops
Palate: Lime, lemon zest, sweet malt
Finish: Long and slightly fruity

Overall: The pioneer of German alcohol-free beer delivers a nice citrus-forward pseudo pilsner.

Score: 70/100

Summary

There are a few interesting observations to be made here. The most important one:

Ignore both your personal preference for or the reputation of a beer brand when choosing an alcohol free beer!

I have tasted at least one regular beer from each of the breweries featured here. When I look at the scores and my own preferences it becomes clear that the cards are reshuffled when it comes to brewing alcohol free beer.

For example take Oettinger. This is a bottom shelf brand that has an “alcoholics’ favourite” reputation because of its low price. And their regular Helles can only be described as liquid boredom. But somehow they manage to brew an alcohol free beer that can stand up against brands with a higher profile.

Another observation is that apparently it is easier to brew a halfway decent alcohol free pilsner or weissbier than a Bavarian style lager. Bavarian Helles is one of my favourite beer types, but overall I liked the other types better.

And then there is the “corn flakes” thing you might be wondering about. This really struck me with quite a few of those beers. I was surprised to notice the exact same flavour in so many different beers, especially as it is normally not really prominent in regular brews. I don’t know enough about the production of alcohol free beer to say how this can happen, but somehow this seems to be a common DNA of many Zero ABV beers. But then again there are a few that completely lack this flavour.

To wrap it up, only two of the beers I tried I would consider drinking again or maybe even buying. With some others I was close to pouring the rest of my glass into the sink. The Franziskaner is not just a decent approximation of a Hefeweizen. It tastes like the real thing, albeit somewhat toned down. And I have to say that Clausthaler is quite a nice pilsner. I am not the greatest fan of this style, and actually I like this beer better than quite a few regular German pilsners.

So if you are seriously looking for an alcohol free beer that you like, my advice is to try as many different ones as possible. Because the variability of quality is much bigger here than with regular beers.




{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Rod Graham July 10, 2017, 2:24 am

    I can recommend Rothaus Tannenzäpfle

    (As it happens, I too am having a spell of not drinking – but just the two months!)

  • David Van Cleve July 23, 2017, 8:03 pm

    When I worked retail (many years ago) I stocked over a dozen N.A. varieties, and this was before so many N.A. Weizen (imports, of course) brands were available. We actually sold quite a high volume of N.A.!

    Overall Clausthaler Amber was the most flavorful and ”beer-like”, but as a mostly-Pils drinker the Bitburger “Drive” had a fairly nice amount of hop sharpness and I imagined I might drink that regularly if I were to ever make the switch to N.A.. : P

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