From 'used bath water' to 'delectable': We rate SA's top alcohol-free beers

Business Insider SA
Beer bottles for home-brewed beer.
  • South Africa has a range of alcohol-free beers, but according to this taster, only one or two actually come close to the real thing. 
  • Devil's Peak Hero beer stood out. With a pleasing slight bitterness, it's refreshing and well-rounded.
  • Some of the biggest names in beer are the worst, akin to used bath water. 
  • For more articles, go to

As a wine-lover, I have at this stage of South Africa's temporary prohibition built-up a stash of fermented grape-juice that should get me through the drought.  

But I found myself gone and run out of beer. Fortunately there is a substantial number of beer offerings depleted of that nasty alcohol which the government fears – and which are legal to purchase.

I tried the top brands. Here's my ranking from worst to best.

Heineken 0.0

Heineken 0.0

This is from one of the world’s leading big-guy brewers, so expectations are high. And with the pour, the beer froths into the glass, cold and bright. The bead settles, leaving a head of angelic white foam resting on the golden liquor.

To the nose, and it truly does smell like beer. A hopsy breath, followed by the grainy aroma of a Dutch wheat barn in autumn. To the mouth, and now it is noticeable the head of foam is weakening, disappearing. Only seconds back, it was creamy and dense. Now this once proud froth-topping has all gone weak and wispy, an uninspired strip of weak bubbles of the kind exuded by garden snails dying among the jasmine after dining on some surreptitiously applied poison pellets.

The beer hits the mouth cold and with a bit of quirky zip, but the promise of delight quickly dissipates once the taste sets in. An initial attempt at crisp beer flavour is promptly overruled by an offensive chemical nuance, something between burnt plastic, cheap pine-wood furniture, and used bath-water. A second sip once again brings promise of cold beer pleasure until the aforementioned offensive taste takes over.

Bottom line: An insipid, pointless liquid.

Castle Free

Castle Free

This truly hurt. Castle is my regular brand. My first love when I began imbibing in my high-school days. A poster of Castle’s legendary brew-master Charles Glass hung on my bedroom wall next to a signed photograph of Springbok great Morné du Plessis, such was the impact of Castle.

Even today there is for me not a better beer on the market than ice-cold Castle on-tap. I thus iced the legendary South African brewer’s zero-kick lager and poured it as the sun was high and the beer-thirst prominent. The alcohol-free version of Castle flows into the glass with a colour somewhere between fresh water poured from a rusty Jerry-can and a naturally fermented, foot-stomped wine made by a commune of vegan hippies in the Cape’s Swartland.

As far as the foam goes, this was tired, listless and off-putting. Much like bubbled spittle drooling from the mouth of three-month old baby before din-dins.

Extremely offensive to the palate, Castle Zero falls flat halfway through the first sip. Recycled water from an industrial waste-plant comes to mind, followed by the discernible presence of mouldy hay, trail-runner socks and emptied gold-fish bowl. Look at the label again, and yes, it reads Castle.

Bottom line: A national treasure such as Castle should be hauled before the Constitutional Court for offending its loyal local supporters in this way.

Bavaria 0.0

Bavaria 0.0

Proof that the Germans take their beer as seriously as they do their autobahn maintenance can be found in this unexpectedly pleasant non-alcohol lager.

The pour is true, cool golden liquid flowing on the tilted glass with assured ease, leading to a dense head of beery froth that is good to look at. On the nose, there is a natural scent of hops and sun-dried hay, with a just-ever so promising hint of sea-breeze.

The sip is cold and sparkling, enough to make one seek a collection of oompah band music on Spotify.

This is beer, almost, the characteristic blast of refreshment bringing tears to the eyes of a deprived beer-lover. Only a slightly artificial taste on the finish and the lack of fizz in the last half of the glass alludes to the beer’s non-natural origins.

Bottom line: Bless the Germans, it is almost there.

Devil’s Peak Hero

Devil's Peak Hero

Speechless. Teary-eyed. This is a reason to worship the Devil. It looks like beer. It smells like beer. And best of all, Devil’s Peak Hero tastes like beer – despite not containing a molecule of alcohol.

It forms a lusty, confident head in the glass. The aroma is hops-driven, with a delectable touch of something maritime. Like the cool salty breeze one sometimes seeks after a night of potting full-kick pints, a quest to cure a gut-churning hangover. Which you won’t get from this.

The taste is beer: dry, a pleasing slight bitterness, refreshing and well-rounded.

Bottom line: The Devil made me to it, and I’ll do it again.

Receive a daily update on your cellphone with all our latest news: click here.

Get the best of our site emailed to you daily: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa: