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You have to learn to drink non-alcoholic beer, just like you did with 'normal' beer

Last Tuesday was World Women's Day. As part of that, I interviewed someone from Pink Boots Society, the network of female professionals in the beer industry. In that conversation she said something that got me thinking about my taste development in non-alcoholic beer. She talked about the beer (with alcohol) that has become her favourite: Cantillon artisanal kriek. And how there was once a time when she found it necessary to add crumbled sugar cubes in order to drink that mildly sour beer.

I like to drink non-alcoholic beer, but there was a time when I drank it with considerably less pleasure. Is that because the non-alcoholic beer was less tasty then? Or does it mainly have to do with how my own taste has developed?

Did you like 'real' beer right away?

The first is undeniably true. But like all beer, you have to learn to drink non alcoholic. Many aficionados who say they only like beer with alcohol think that's just nonsense. Because if something is good, you don't have to learn to drink it. At times like that, I like to start a discussion. Then I take my conversation partners with me in a small thought experiment: to the moment in their secondary school days when they tasted 'real' beer for the first time. Did you like that right away, I ask? Most have to admit that beer with alcohol also takes some getting used to.

It is not strange that this is the case. It has to do with the primal function of taste. It is in our genes that we like or dislike certain smells and tastes. Our brain automatically likes aromas and taste impressions of foods that are originally good for you. But there are also smells and tastes that act as an alarm signal for things that are not good for our health: sour or bitter, for example.

“Blèh!” our consciousness shouts

If there is one thing that is not good for our body, it is alcohol. It is therefore not surprising that our consciousness automatically shouts 'Blèh!' the first time we allow an alcoholic snack to reach our mouth. We need to train our awareness that it's okay to have a beer. And most of us manage to do that quite nicely.

The reverse situation occurs if you start drinking non-alcoholic beer. Your consciousness has created certain schemas about how beer should be. And that non-alcoholic beer only partially meets that requirement. It doesn't taste nearly as exuberant as beer that does contain alcohol. To really enjoy beer without alcohol, you don't just have to first wean off a whole load of deep-seated subconscious expectations that your taste has about beer. You also have to put everything you've taught yourself about how beer 'should' be with the garbage.

Really so good that you don't miss the alcohol

There used to be a brewery that advertised with the slogan: “So good, you don't miss the alcohol.” That was definitely a bold statement, because in that 'Stone Age' of non-alcoholic beer it was really something for go-getters. Fortunately, non alcoholics have undergone enormous development. I now really come across beers that can easily stand up to that claim. From the Polish Maltgarden, for example, or from the Rügener Insel-Brauerei. In the Netherlands, too, brewers are marketing non-alcoholic beers that are particularly worthwhile. How about vandeStreek, Maximus or De Leckere. From this perspective, Utrecht appears to be the alcohol-free beer epicenter of the Low Countries.

In the past, non-alcoholic beer was less tasty. One last tip in this regard. If a newly released non-alcoholic beer doesn't convince you, don't just serve it off. Certainly for smaller, craft breweries, they constantly adapt and improve their beers where necessary. For example, I often come across that an alcohol-free product that is only 'so-so' at first has really improved a bit later. Just like a lanky teenager with greasy hair and acne on his face can stand in front of you at some point further in time. Grown into a nice young man.

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