Fake Beer

Looks like the real thing, doesn't it?

Looks like the real thing, doesn't it?

A question I used to field occasionally was, “Are the actors on Cheers drinking real beer?”  That was asked by people who were unfamiliar with how television shows are produced.  They didn’t know that there are multiple “takes” of each scene; there would be slight variations from one take to the next.  If an actor’s mug was supposed to be drained by the end of the scene, though, he would have to gulp down his drink every time, so that the footage would match with earlier takes.  Had the actors — especially George Wendt (Norm) — been drinking real beer, they probably would have been sprawled out under the bar by the time the director called, “That’s a wrap.”

So, no:  it may have looked like the real thing, but it was what used to be called Near Beer.  It has virtually no alcohol in it — less than half of one percent.  That’s probably about how much alcohol is left on your teeth after you gargle mouthwash.  What I was surprised to learn is how many brands of non-alcoholic beer there are, because — other than for TV and film production — I wouldn’t have thought there would be much demand for it.  Well, as I so often am, I was wrong.

The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — Prohibition — originally created the market for a beer-like substance, and American breweries have been supplying it ever since.  O’Doul’s, made by Anheuser-Busch, is the best-known, if not necessarily the best-loved, of the non-alcoholic beers.

European breweries are also doing their part to provide a sober yet bladder-filling experience.  Heineken makes something called Buckler, Beck’s brews a decent beer substitute, Guinness has a brand called Kaliber.  To my taste, the best non-alcoholic malt beverage is St. Pauli N.A., made (as you could probably guess) by the St. Pauli Brauerei of Germany.

And who is consuming all of these fake beers?  People who have had problems with alcohol abuse have switched, although to me that seems like tempting fate.  People with certain medical conditions, or who are on medications that interact with alcohol in unpleasant ways, are among the non-alcoholic beer consumers.  Women who are pregnant — or who worry that they might wind up pregnant and not remember how they got that way — are wise to avoid real beer.  And for all I know, maybe Near Beer is what’s served at Brigham Young University keg parties.

If you fall into any of the above categories and prefer, in social situations, to have something in your glass besides room-temperature tap water, stick with the fake beer.  I’ve tried non-alcoholic wine.  Trust me — that stuff tastes like something a cult would drink to commit mass suicide.

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5 responses to “Fake Beer

  1. “…a sober yet bladder filling experience” Really, Tom, can any of us ask for anything better than that? In fact, from this point forward, I plan to include that phrase in every review I have of anything and everything. “How was the play?” “Did you like Paris?” “Did you enjoy the fish?” “A sober yet bladder filling experience” is the new tofu.

  2. Postscript: If you’re in China and get thirsty, there’s a decent fake beer called Yanjing Alcohol Free Beer. It’s not available everywhere, but I was surprised by how many places did have it.

  3. I always kind of figured it wasn’t real beer; drinking real beer would have made a mess of the actors (as you said).

    That’s not what bothered me about the drink consumption on Cheers. What bothered me about that was the amount of it that got wasted.

    If you kept track throughout the show’s history of the number of times someone ordered a drink, and then said, “well I best be off, I have to do ” and left the drink untouched (or one tiny sip drank from it), you’d go cross-eyed.

  4. That’s a good observation, Justin. Sometimes the ordering of the drink was just a piece of “business” to move an actor from one spot to another on the stage. Sam or Coach or Woody would cross to get a glass, pull the tap, deliver the drink, etc. Later, the scene might get shortened during the editing process, and that could compress the amount of time between the drink being ordered and the drinker heading out of the bar.

  5. Pingback: Ever wonder what they were drinking on Cheers? « justaguyinphilly

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