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.