It was Saturday night, and, in keeping up with the true spirit of the weekend, I was somewhere between a decent buzz and stepdad drunk. For those who have been there, you know the difference – we’re wobbly when we use the pisser, but the kids aren’t hiding underneath the bed yet. This was not an uncommon occurrence, mind you, as I have spent the majority of this long life washing away the loathsome nature of the workweek with enough booze to drown a small village. The way I see it, it’s cheaper than therapy, and if it’s not – I’ve never really checked the rates — at least the installment plan is reasonable. So, I have a tendency to emerge on any given Sunday, looking as if I should be holding a sign on a street corner somewhere begging for enough spare change to get my next bottle. And then, of course, there are those times when I’ve really poured it on and I begin the Lord’s day with a little prayer, just like the rest of God-fearing America. “Dear mighty Jeebus, if you can find it in your heart to get me through this hellacious hangover, I swear to shit — to you and all the Xmas elves — that I’ll never drink again.”
That’s how I woke up the day of Super Bowl LIV. I’ll spare you the gruesome details. Let’s just say that my liver was sitting on my chest, staring at me with disapproval, as if I had, at some point in the night, tried to finger its asshole. And I might have. Who really knows? The point is that I crawled out of bed that morning, fully prepared to cut back on the drinking. I’ve sworn off the stuff enough times to know that quitting just isn’t in the cards. It’s not that I would consider myself a raging alcoholic, but living in this world completely sober just doesn’t seem like the way to go. But I could pull back on the throttle a little – notching it down from full to even half — that was surely a modest task that even a longtime drinker like myself could handle without issue. I thought, “Hell, I’ll just give some of those non-alcoholic brews a try, that should do the trick.”
For months, I had seen articles on the Internet about these people who were actually enjoying non-alcoholic beer and not missing the booze. Every publication from Men’s Health to Bon Appetit posted a version– all of them reporting that the flavor was still there and blah, blah, blah. I think I read every one of them because, as you might imagine, I was not only curious about the kind of weirdoes who would dare blaspheme the art of drinking by sucking back suds with no alcohol but also, well, that was pretty much it. I was full of contempt, to say the least, and chalked up all of this non-alcoholic beverage business to being another hipster trend — like well-groomed beards and beanie caps in the Summer — destined to suck America further into the abyss of wussydom.
It’s not like non-alcoholic beer is a new thing. It’s just that now, people are claiming to actually like the stuff. I remember back in the day how hardcore alcoholics on the mend would sit at the bar and drink O’Doul’s all night in hopes of continuing to feel like one of the boys. But those bastards were never happy. And many of them eventually went back out and got drunk enough to do some real damage. The debauchery has a way of catching up with a man. Still, fast forward to present times, and this non-alcoholic booze trend is being considered economic salvation for a lot of beverage companies. Some predict the sector alone will be worth $28 billion by 2027. I’m not going to lie, that’s fucking insane to me. So much beer is being sold, but nobody is feeling it.
Still, on the morning of Super Bowl, I bought in. If there is one thing that a raucous hangover will do to a person, it’s give them the will to negotiate with their soul to get them through another day.
It was 10:35am.
I had plans to attend a party later that afternoon – the typical testosterone-induced soiree with booze, weed and lots of meat on the grill. For whatever reason, I thought the event would be the perfect opportunity to launch myself into the world of non-alcoholic beer. Makes sense, right?
So, I stopped by the liquor store along the way to pick some up. I should have known by the way the clerk looked at me when I asked where they kept the stuff that I was on the wrong path.
“Well, we don’t sell much of that,” he said. “I guess, just look for the bottles covered in dust.”
There wasn’t much of a selection to choose from. There are a shit ton of these non-alcoholic beers on the market right now – everything from domestic piss water to IPA’s — but apparently, the trend hasn’t caught on enough in some parts of the country for liquor stores and other booze slingers to carry a wide variety. The only flavor they had aside from O’Douls was the new Heineken 0.0. I thought, “If they are good enough for James Bond, they’re good enough for me.”
I grabbed two six-packs and made my way to the cashier.
“You sure this is what you want,” the clerk asked, still eyeballing me as if I was bat-shit crazy for buying it.
I was a little embarrassed.
“I suppose,” I replied.
“Alright, that’ll be $21.32.”
Admittedly, the smug tone of the clerk didn’t bother me as much as the price of the beer. I mean, what in the hell is happening in this country when booze-free brews still cost as much as the real thing? It only stands to reason that these beverages should be less expensive since, well, you know, they don’t lead to questionable choices. Experienced drinkers should get a discount for trying to better themselves. At least that’s my logic anyway. The price definitely made the purchase difficult to stomach, I have to say, but I paid the man anyway and made my way to the party. Little did I know, the ridicule I would experience over this non-alcoholic beer had just begun.
No one could tell that I showed up packing a couple of sixers of near beer. It’s not like they were looking, though. None of the guys in my crew would have ever suspected that from me in a million years. I didn’t think much of it, either. I’ll drink what I want, you know? So I just put them in the refrigerator like I would any other beer at any other time, and then grabbed one and joined everyone outside.
The, ah, drinking began.
I was fine with the overall flavor. Honestly, it wasn’t any different than a regular Heineken, not really. It still sort of tasted like I was giving a dead skunk a rim job. But the bottle felt good in my hand, and I was technically still drinking beer, so I thought, “You know what, this just might work.”
It was 3:35pm
I was standing in the kitchen, on around my third or fourth beer, when I heard my buddy Toby say something like, “What the fuck are you drinking, Adams?” I was caught. Of course, I tried to explain the situation, telling the story about how I woke up to my liver ready to press assault charges against me after a really wild night. But he didn’t give a shit. “Dude, you picked a fucked up time to go on the wagon.” More people began filing in to get in on the conversation. “Holy shit, Adams is drinking non-alcoholic beer,” I heard one guy say, followed by another who just called me a pussy. I hadn’t felt peer pressure like that since I was in my teens. What made it worse is that I totally understood their confusion. I had knocked back several bottles of it and was still sober as a judge. There was none of that slight head change that one typically gets after drinking a few, and the taste of beer flowing down my gullet didn’t make up for the fact that my brain was still bored. But I was still feeling pretty rough from the night before, which is the reason I decided to stay the course. I drank eight of those fucking things throughout the evening. And by the time the game ended, I was still completely sober and able to drive myself home.
While non-alcoholic brew might be a reliable option for someone who doesn’t do much drinking, it will never be a viable alternative for those who actually do. Sure, I had survived the Super Bowl without knocking back copious amounts of booze, an impressive feat, that’s for sure. But I was left knowing that non-alcoholic beer was never going to be a weapon in my arsenal of self-loathing.
I needed more.
The non-alcoholic stuff isn’t all bad, though, I hate to admit. I have learned since the Super Bowl that they are a relatively good way to moderate on those nights when nothing at all stands in the way of complete and total debauchery. I just toss one in every so often to trick my brain into thinking that I’m still going full-blown Leaving Las Vegas. They are almost like a governor for the liver that allows a man to tear it up without all of the savage repercussions of actually doing it.
Let’s call it stunt beer.