I’d heard about Hairless Dog (a 0.0% ABV beer) for a few months now. It’s finally ramped up production enough that it’s hitting lots of mainstream stores, including Cub groceries. So last night I decided to pick up a six pack and check it out.
Although they have multiple flavors, I chose the black ale because it’s one of my go-to styles, and I wanted to see how they did with creating a deep rich malt backbone. However, when I poured out the beer into a glass I was met with a deep copper colored beer that resembled more of an Amber visually. First impressions matter, and having a beer so light called a “black ale” feels like a miss. They could have just called this beer an Amber or Altbier and no one would have probably questioned it.
That’s mainly because the flavor wasn’t very “black ale” either. There was a hint of roast, but it was so subtle that it was almost non-existent. The overriding flavor was sweet malt, which makes sense given that this beer does not go through any fermentation. In fact this is their big selling point, that this beer is never fermented so there isn’t even a hint of alcohol in it. It’s truly 0.0%, not a fraction of a percent like other NA beers.
Despite the sweetness the beer tasted mostly OK. It had the character of a Mr. Beer kit beer that you may have gotten for Christmas. Something that comes with old yeast that doesn’t quite attenuate out and you’re left with something tremendously malt forward. It certainly was attempting to be beer, but it was very obviously not. It’s also worth noting that alcohol itself has a flavor, and that helps define what gives beer it’s taste. None of that was here.
However, having said all of these negative critiques, I still got enjoyment from drinking it. It almost felt like if beer were to be made as a soft drink, this is what you would get. A sweet fizzy drink that, in this case, has a dominant flavor of beer. It was drinkable, and gave me a hint of that beer experience, but it certainly wasn’t like drinking a beer. I do wonder if the IPA would come across better, since the sweet malt can be overlaid with a lot of hop character? I might have to give that a try sometime. They also have a coffee stout that might come across better, as the coffee can add another dimension away from the malt.
Overall, not a bad experience, and I’m 100% behind companies trying to create a market for a product like this. I’m one of those people who really likes the flavor of beer, and if for some reason I had to give it up, I would appreciate having options like this that at least taste like they’re in the same neighborhood.