Living a No/Low Life
One of the "joys" of a stroke is spending some time on an anti-epileptic drug (AED) and most, if not all, AEDs are contraindicated with alcohol. This is hard if, like me, you like a drink (in my case mainly beer, red wine, port and brandy).
I spent the first three months after my stroke on Tegretol, and didn't drink at all, but I could live with that as I knew it was only for three months (and Cambridge Beer Festival was conveniently two weeks after I came off it!).
However after I had a couple of seizures in October 2002 I'm now in Epilim indefinitely. Now that's not all bad news: most of the literature says you can have "one drink", and as I'm a big lad I've taken a fairly liberal view of that and have either a pint or a pint and a half of bitter or two glasses of red wine. At the suggestion of someone on uk.people.support.epilepsy who had a seizure after drinking (in moderation) every day while on holiday, I also don't drink on successive days although I know someone else who does and doesn't have any problems.
This still leaves me with problems however, mainly when I'm out drinking with people and after my two drinks I have to switch to something else. And so began my search for low/no alcohol alternatives the results of which you can find below.
Before I start I should define some terms. In the UK "alcohol free" products at less that 0.05% ABV and "low alcohol" products are less than 1% ABV. I'm starting to suspect that the German definition of "alcoholfrei" is less than 0.5% ABV.
Brewed by Guiness at Park Royal. Comes in cans or bottles. Alcohol free. If you like english lager you may like this but it didn't do it for me (but then I don't like english lager much).
An alcohol free german bier brewed to the Reinheitsgebot in Bremen. Widely available in the UK according to their web site. Comes in smallish individual bottles (330ml I think, but I don't have any to hand). It has that classic German bier taste, but I find it's got a bit of an aftertaste to it that I don't like much.
However Clausthaler also do an "Extra Herb" ("extra dry"). This isn't widely available but you can get it from Beers of Europe and it doesn't have that aftertaste, in fact it's rather good.
Brewed in Paderborn to the Reinheitsgebot. Very similar in flavour to Clausthaler with the same aftertaste but a slightly strange bouquet.
Another offering from Beers of Europe. Krombacher's slogan is "eine Perle der Natur" but if this is a pearl of nature it's a slightly dull one. Nothing wrong with it, it's perfectly drinkable, just nothing special.
Yet another German bier. Quite common in local pubs, and available from Beers of Europe. This has a hint of that same Clausthaler aftertaste so doesn't really get my vote.
Becks Alcohol Free
Another German bier from Bremen brewed to the Reinheitsgebot, and by one of the
big boys. Comes in 275ml (nominally 1/2 pint) bottles at supermarkets.
Sold by Safeway, Sainsbury and Tesco (at least) in six packs.
Not that cheap but a crisp, clean flavour which leaves me feeling I've had a beer. An alternative if you get a taste for it is to buy it in 500ml bottles from Beers of Europe. They're somewhat cheaper, but the carriage charge means you need to order a case or two to make it worthwhile.
Erdinger Hefe-Weissbier Alcohol free
I was over the moon when I discovered there was an alcohol free Weissbier available as I've developed a real taste for this stuff over the years on trips to Munich and Erdinger is brand we've bought here and always found rather fine. But to be honest this stuff was a little bit disappointmenting.
There's nothing fundamentally wrong with it: it's pleasant enough, but it's not as "in your face" wheaty/yeasty like a Weissbier should be.
Still, it does have its own web site and it is very drinkable even though it's not that wheaty so I'll be ordering more of this.
This is allegedly quite easy to obtain in the UK although the only place
I've found it thus far is Beers of Europe.
Brewed in Munich, the home of the best bier in Germany (IMO, YMMV etc) it's
an excellent example of german bier.
This and Klausthaler Extra Herb are probably my favourites thus far, this when I want something a little sweeter, the Klausthaler when I want something somewhat more dry.
Despite the name it's not alcohol free, in the english sense. According to their web site it's less than 0.5% ABV.
Früh Kölsch Alkoholfrei
Beers of Europe come up trumps again with another pleasantly dry beer which reminds me of Claushaler Extra Herb I mentioned above. Crap web site though. Horrible Flash based navigation. It's enough to put you off your beer!
Sainsburys German Low Alcohol Lager
Own brand German Reinheitsgebot brewed bier. It's low alcohol (0.5% ABV) not alcohol free, but that still means you can drink a lot of it unless you're completely banned from drinking alcohol.
It's rather pleasant. Brewed in Frankfurt. A bit sweet compared to a typical German beer but slips down very nicely. Much more reasonably priced (£1.99 for four in Feb 2003) and 330ml bottles rather than Becks 275ml too.
Kandimalz and Karamalz
Two final offerings from Beers of Europe. These are decidedly odd. They've dark and malty and remind me of a sweet Alt. Not Reinheitsgebot but definitely interesting. Worth buying a few bottles of to try, but I wouldn't recommend getting a whole case first time.
Harveys John Hop
As yet Harveys of Lewes are
the only people I've found who are brewing a low alcohol
beer, and they brew and bottle two, based on their draft beers with most of the
alcohol removed after fermentation, leaving them at 1% ABV.
They also sell their beers
What more could you ask for.
John Hop is a Sussex pale ale, produced from their Best Bitter and has a pleasant hoppy flavour. It comes in 275ml (nominally half pint) bottles so if you're restricting yourself to the equivalent of 1 pint of bitter you can have about 8-10 bottles of this!
Harveys Bill Brewer
This is their second beer, based on their XXXX Old Ale, a winter brew which they brew from October to May. It reminds me of a dark mild.
The only drawback to both of these beers is that, after you've added the carriage charge, a case comes out at around £1/bottle, making it even more expensive than Becks and more expensive than most bottled bitter.
Sainsburys Low Alcohol
A 1% ABV cider in 330ml bottles. It's a bit sweet for my liking (I'm a Bulmer's No 7 man if you can remember that far back) but Beth thought it was spot in. Certainly tastes like cider and there's no hint of its low alcohol content.
Our local Sainsburys stopped stocking this recently so I fear we may have seen the last of it.
Waitrose Low Alcohol
Another low alcohol cider but in 500ml bottles. The initial bouquet has that hint of sick you sometimes get in ciders but it tastes OK once that's gone. I think I prefer the Sainsburys offering though.
Eisberg is widely available in the UK. Slightly sparkling. It's OK ... ish. We certainly drink reasonable quantities of their rose. Their white is OK too but their red leaves a bit to be desired.
Although this isn't really an alcohol free wine I find Shloer white grape with elderflower tastes enough like a white wine for me to drink it all evening without complaint. Curiously the white grape alone, which they also do, doesn't work as well.
Also worth trying if you can find it, especially as an aperitif, is their white grape with rhubarb and ginger. (I'm told it's also very fine with a shot of whisky, but that's rather missing the point of this page!)
A variety of these are available - see below for possible vendors. In our experience the whites, especially the fizzy whites, work well but the reds are a bit lacking in something.
If you're a Pernod fan then you'll love Pacific. Pernod recommend you drink it with water. Me I prefer it over ice with lemonade at a ratio of about three parts lemonade to one part Pacific.
Angostura and Lemonade
A dash of Angostura over ice in a tumbler topped up with lemonade is really rather fine. Actually Angostura is very alcoholic (stronger than most spirits at 44.7% ABV) but you use very little of it so you don't come to much harm.
Where to Buy
So where do you get this stuff from? Some drinks are available from high street stores but for a lot your need to go to the specialist. I've already mentioned some of these names above but I'll list them again and some more I've knowledge of.
Beers of Europe
Beers of Europe are a family run business on the A10 just south of Kings Lynn. They have a warehouse stocked with beer from all around the world and it's well worth a visit if you like beer. They sell beer related items too like glasses and they always have a good selection of alcohol free beers, mainly from Germany. I drink a lot of their beer.
We live quite close to them but if you don't they offer a mail order service: order on the Internet and they'll deliver it to you for a remarkably reasonable price.
The LoNo Club do a range of alcohol free drinks including wines and "spirits". Two of our products particularly appeal to Beth and me. Pernod Pacific (see above) and their Carl Jung Brut sparkling white wine.
This is the wine we drank at our wedding. Several people didn't realise they weren't drinking champagne until after several glasses. Nuff said.
Sans Alcohol who do a range of low alcohol and alcohol free wines. I came across them because they carried the now sadly defunct Perception Wine range (I say sadly because the Perception Wines Cava was gorgeous, even better than the LoNo Club's Carl Jung Brut).
The Alcohol Free Shop
The Alcohol Free Shop take things a whole lot further than drink (although they've got a good range of that too, including a mixed case of beers for you to try). They offer alcohol free: chocolates, christmas puddings, truffles, snacks, beer, wine, spirits, liqueurs, deodorant, baby products, hair care products, mouthwash, skin care products, and soap among other things. Phew!