As I wandered through Amsterdam this month, I couldn't help but notice an abundance of Heineken billboards touting the brand’s latest product. Clearly, the brewery (which, thanks to AB InBev’s acquisition of SABMiller, has also quietly become the second largest brewer in the world) was in the midst of a massive product launch. But since my Dutch is, at best, terrible, I wasn’t quite sure what that product was. I later discovered, to my surprise, that the company was aggressively promoting Heineken 0.0 – the brand’s new non-alcoholic beer.
Though non-alcoholic beers are still a bit of an afterthought in the American market, zero alcohol beers have seen growing sales in the Europe. According to the research group Canadean, the European non-alcoholic beer market grew about 5 percent per year from 2010 to 2015, despite the overall beer market shrinking during that same period. Meanwhile, Heineken points out that in Spain, for example, zero strength beer already has about a 10 percent market share. “You could expect 10 to 15 years down the road this would be more or less the global trend,” senior Heineken brand director Gianluca Di Tondo told Reuters. “We want to make Heineken the leading global beer brand in 0.0.”
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Creating the first non-alcoholic beer bearing your signature brand’s name is tricky business, and according to Heineken’s Global Master Brewer Willem van Waesberghe, Heineken 0.0 took around two years to perfect. The vast majority of non-alcoholic beers are terrible – or to say it less subjectively, they don’t taste like “real” beer. In many ways, this comes down to process: Different brewers use different methods to make zero alcohol beers, and yet the results tend to be the same. For Heineken 0.0, the brewery actually makes two different brews and then blends them together. Van Waesberghe says this process allowed them to make 0.0 taste more like actual Heineken and create an Non-alcoholic beer he says he drinks on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, when I tried Heineken 0.0, I knew exactly what I was drinking – the blue 0.0 label was right in my face – so I didn’t have the benefit of a blind taste test. But I feel like even if I hadn’t seen the label, I’d still suspect something was up. Heineken 0.0 certainly isn’t bad. Non-alcoholic beers run the gamut from tasting like sweet unfermented wort (the sugary liquid that eventually turns into beer) to actually somewhat resembling the taste of a beer. Heineken landed in the latter category. Though the body was thin, 0.0 was refreshingly dry, lacking the fruity qualities that some major non-alcoholic beers like O’Doul’s suffer from. Like every N/A beer I’ve ever tried, if you’re truly craving a beer, this won’t scratch the itch. However, 0.0 would certainly make a solid replacement for a soda or some other sparkling beverage.
But regardless of my feelings, Heineken 0.0 isn’t intended for me – or for Americans in general. Officially launched last Friday, the non-alcoholic beer is going to be available in 14 markets this year – locations across Europe as well as in Russia and Israel. Meanwhile, the brewer has no plans to launch 0.0 in the States.