Perhaps I’ve been unfair to non-alcoholic beer. My review of the mass-market versions left a bad taste in my mouth (quite literally), but I’ve since tried a few smaller breweries’ versions and found them superior. In fact, I’d actively searched for NA beers I can recommend, a goal I haven’t stopped working toward.
The growing interest in low-ABV and non-alcoholic beers seems part of a general American reckoning with drinking and how it affects our health. If you’re someone for whom the concept of non-alcoholic beer is complete anathema, then feel free to just close this browser tab now, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. But if you’re like me, a person who enjoys beer but sees the occasions for which a non-alcoholic option makes sense, then read on.
Surreal is a small brewery out of Campbell, California, founded by Tammer Zein-El-Abedein and his wife Donna Hockey after she was diagnosed with cancer and stopped drinking alcohol. But they’ve since found that it’s not just people who abstain from alcohol who buy their beer; it’s also regular drinkers who just want a break from the booze sometimes.
That’s where I see this beer fitting in for me: When I’m drinking in my backyard during a party, for example, I try to alternate my beer with a can of seltzer. Surreal’s kolsch would also serve that purpose without feeling like I’m switching to another type of drink entirely. Made from malted barley, hops, and yeast, the beer hits familiar aroma and flavor notes. Some light fruit esters, bright lemon, and a little cornlike sweetness waft off the glass, while the sip delivers a more neutral, Cheeriolike malt flavor accompanied by a touch of green pear. It’s not a kolsch like you’d find in Cologne, Germany, but it’s eminently drinkable and doesn’t have any of the strange artificiality of other NA beers.
My friend Molly, whom I used to drink wine with quite regularly, once bemoaned that wine, you know, has alcohol in it. “Sometimes I just want to drink an interesting beverage on a Tuesday,” she sighed. I think Surreal’s kolsch fits that bill, too. The popularity of flavored seltzers and kombucha and drinking vinegars and fancy iced teas indicates we do get bored of flat water, and this is a beer you could drink on a Tuesday afternoon guilt-free. Oh, and it has just 17 calories per can, which is even less than the watermelon kombucha I just finished.
Surreal’s beers are available nationally at Total Wine & More and through Surreal’s website.
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