Welcome to Like A Virgin, a new column in which we’ll recommend a different zero-ABV drink each week. They’re not “near beers,” they’re not “mocktails”—they’re delicious beverages that anyone and everyone should try at least once. Got an idea for a future Like A Virgin column? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For this, the sixth installment of Like a Virgin, we at last wade into the waters of non-alcoholic beer. There’s a reason it’s taken this long: historically, a tall glass of ice water was preferable to most non-alcoholic beers. I cannot count the number of times I’ve gone to meet friends at a bar and had to spend the night sipping a bottle of O’Douls that tasted as if it had been languishing in a storage closet for several years. I never drank NA beer because I actually enjoyed it; I did it because I wanted to feel like I still fit in. For far too many of us, the first thing that happens when we get off the sauce is losing all our friends. I’m not sure if non-alcoholic beer was ever designed to be truly enjoyed, or if it was meant as an act of charity. I was grateful for its existence, but hot damn did it taste terrible.
Years of bad experiences made me write off NA beer for good, and eventually, I stopped missing beer altogether. But last fall, Partake Brewing—a Canadian microbrewery that produces only non-alcoholic beer—offered to send me a sampling of free beer, and I figured, what the heck? Maybe, since it was a specialized operation, the near-beer would be crafted with actual standards, instead of the “you get what you get and you don’t get upset” position taken by the big beer conglomerates. Plus it was free, so no matter what, I couldn’t really be disappointed.
Partake sent me five different beers, and even though I was not thrilled with the taste of every one, I was thrilled by their very existence. In my drinking days I enjoyed a wide variety of beer styles, but once I got sober, my choices were pale imitation lager or nothing at all. Partake’s Dark lacks the heft or gravitas of a proper stout—but even though I didn’t find it drinkable on its own, it was quite nice once I added scoop of vanilla ice cream to my glass, and I found a great home for a second can by baking it into a cake. (Oh, how I’d missed stout cake!) The IPA reminded me that I hate IPAs, so I suppose if you enjoy this style of beer, this might actually be a ringing endorsement.
As for Partake’s three other beers—Red, Blonde, and Pale—I have nothing but kind things to say. These are not the sort of microbrews that inspire quiet savoring; they’re just good ol’ fashioned drinking beers, like the kind you swig while manning the grill or casually knock back while mowing the lawn. I hadn’t gotten to enjoy a red beer in over a decade and had forgotten how much I enjoy their moderate hoppiness and soft acidity. Same thing with the blonde, which tasted like a bright summer’s day when all is well, reminding me of days spent staring at clouds and running my toes through warm grass. The pale was lightly citrusy, friendly and drinkable, and would probably be best consumed while lying in a hammock.
At $55, a case of Partake is a bit more than double the price of those brands that nearly put me off NA beer forever, but I’m more than happy to pay $2.29 per can for something that, for once, made me remember the good days instead of all the bad ones. I’m back to liking non-alcoholic beer, and I can’t wait to explore what else is out there.