I sling my bag over my shoulders, put my earphones carefully in, push play on my new January playlist and begin the familiar post-work ten minute walk to the pub. Here I take a seat at the bar, order the bottled non-alcoholic beer offering and settle in for at least the next hour as per.
Less than ten minutes in I can tell that something isn't right. The surroundings, scents, atmosphere and voices are all familiar. The beer has a surprisingly decent bitter finish to what I am used to in the low-alcohol style. It is slightly thinner in body but in terms of taste is more than acceptable for this slightly-dryer-than-December January.
What it isn't satisfying though is that usual post work desire for relaxation. I am still agitated in my bar seat; anxious as ever. My eyes are skittish. I'm neither comfortable in conversation or just staring at my phone in solo bliss. I quite fancy a cigarette for the first time in about seven years.
Beer is my vice. Beer is a pre-evening aperitif. Beer has a function still in a dying tea time crowd. The first slump in your favourite armchair. The first drag on a lunchtime cigarette. The first feel of wind on your face after a twelve hour flight. Or, at least, that is how it can feel on many occasion to me.
Those moments cannot be filled by non-alcoholic beers.
Like the rather unsurprising discovery that my beer preference is a 3.8% pale ale on cask, this revelation has been prevalent for many for years. It is no different than the traditional glass of wine with dinner or the fireside dram of brandy from the decanter. Heck, one of those large 8% IPA cans would do the trick too. My version, like it is for many, is around 3 pints at the end of the bar after work.
Whilst Dry January was never an option I considered, I used the first month of the year and ensuing weeks to try, for the first time, some of the non-alcoholic offerings available both in bars and at home. I did begin to sense a place for non-alcoholic beer in my life for the first time, at moments when the three-pint buzz isn’t a requirement. A Sunday at home, for example, when I am are already quite relaxed, is sometimes punctuated by watching televised football solo. I’ve previously opened a beer at this point to live the cliche. However, I realised last month that this can be completed with the mere suggestion of beer. Here, non-alcoholic offerings serve a purpose, presenting the lips with the taste without the mild poison, because in truth I don’t need the three pint buzz on my sofa on a Sunday afternoon.
There are other times when they could find a place; sunny afternoon barbecues potentially being another. I even tried a couple with my dinner at work and enjoyed them. Whatever the time or place, they exist away from those moments when my mind craves the buzz.
For all the improvements in non-alcoholic beer over the last few years – the developments in range of styles, mouthfeel and flavours – they are still missing a key ingredient: alcohol. The one aspect they cannot replicate is that door-planing, edge-removing, linishing effect that the end of day beer provides.
Whilst many of us know that to be the case, the conversation has turned to make the enjoyment of alcohol into something repulsive. The continual lobbyists are winning the battle, convincing those of us who either work or play in the drinks industry that there may be something wrong with alcohol. Indeed, I’ve previously argued, and will again, that it is society’s determination to demonise drink that increases the problems with binging and secret drinking.
More serious conversations aside though – and I do want to have those serious conversations at some point this year - January only led to a reminder that there a few greater pleasures for me than the first sip of a full bodied, well rounded, hand pulled, beer by the pint at the end of the day to blunt the edges of life’s sharpness. There may be those that find it irresponsible to speak on the three-pint buzz but the more we deny what beer is the more dangerous it becomes. We need not deny what beer is to still enjoy all the other positives derived from its being in this industry.
Be Safe. Be Happy.