A few days ago, I gave up drinking for six weeks. I’m going on holiday in the summer and I felt my liver deserved a holiday too. Obviously we can’t go together, so it was going first. In a bid to tackle the habitual reach for a beer when I cook dinner, I thought I’d try out a range of alternatives. I’m sure sirens were screeching at Tesco HQ as they realised I was buying products so out of kilter with my Clubcard profile, or indeed that of any sane adult, that their entire IT system must be in meltdown.
I began this experiment cautiously, sticking to the alcohol free facsimiles of recognised brands – Becks Blue and Cobra Zero. These have the visual cache of looking like proper beer. In fact, if you didn’t really like beer, you could be convinced that this was the real deal. A bit like if you were a lifelong vegetarian, you could be convinced that “facon” was a reasonable approximation of its (very distant) porky cousin. What I would say for these two, is that they are not horrible. Drinking them isn’t unpleasant; it just isn’t all that nice. Unlike drinking beer.
I’ve never drunk Kopparberg cider because it’s always appeared to be a nasty, sweet, travesty of a drink. Essentially an alcopop. If this is true (and I can’t be sure), then those clever people at the Kopparberg industrial facility have really nailed it with Kopparberg Alcohol-Free. It tastes exactly like a miserable, cloying, pear “flavour” beverage should. Like American sweets, basically. Avoid.
So, onwards, and to what can only be described as the most optimistic piece of marketing this side of the Rhine. Erdinger isn’t a German alcohol-free beer. Good God no! It’s sports nutrition. Lucozade for people who really care about the Bavarian Purity Law. If you’ve ever wondered how Germans can drink all that lager and still produce football teams dramatically better than our own, wonder no more. They’re drinking Erdinger, with its isotonic balance, folic acid and vitamin B12 fortification “which help reduce fatigue, promote energy yielding metabolism and support the immune system.” When you realise you’re essentially drinking a health food supplement, you start to quite enjoy Erdinger. Can I suggest that if you play a team sport, get the coach to bring out a tray of pints of Erdinger at halftime, while talking loudly about “being in the zone”, “winning every challenge” and “staying focused”. I guarantee you’ll win the second half as your opponents mentally crumble.
Finally, I tried Equator. I should say I am furious with the makers of Equator. On the label it claims to be a “beer flavour drink”. Equator is not a “beer flavour drink”. It’s utterly undrinkable. This miserable concoction falls at the very first hurdle. In fact, it falls over in the stable, weeks before the race, clutching its head and screaming “WHY?” Never in the short history of alcohol-free drinks for people who can’t stop drinking alcohol has anything so gut-wrenchingly despicable been foisted on the public. I can only assume it’s called Equator because the best use for it would be to test which way liquid flows down the sink at zero degrees latitude. It hasn’t even got the decency to be fizzy enough to hide the taste.
After three hellish days, I didn’t so much fall off the wagon as leap off it gleefully, push it down a cliff and set fire to it. So (and here’s the tenuous language bit), alcohol–free alcoholic drinks are just as contradictory as they sound. Don’t be lured into this false paradise of guilt-free beer. If you’re going to stop drinking, be an adult about it and drink Coke, or water, or tea. And never, ever, drink Equator.