10/13/2010 06:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Beer Snob Tastes NA Beers (Plus a homemade Bratwurst Recipe)

In college towns like mine all across the US local authorities have run out of patience for the traditional beer-soaked tailgate parties. More specifically, they have run out of patience for the people in some of those parties, whom I've heard referred to by Iowa City's Finest as "knuckleheads." These are the folks who tend to have 12 beers in them by kickoff and are usually under the table or under arrest before the 2nd quarter.

Besides simply not drinking so much, there is another alternative. We used to call it "near beer." Today in a world where stewardesses are now called flight attendants and an old joke is called "a previously recounted humorous narrative," near beer is now called "a non-alcoholic premium malt beverage." For once though the modified term might be more accurate. If you don't think of it as beer in the first place, you may discover some flavors you actually like.

When I was a kid, near beer was something 13-year-olds would buy because they thought it made them seem as cool as the 17-year-olds who were able to get actual beer. In those days the process of making a non-alcoholic beer was the same as with a regular beer, with a step added - they would heat the beer to 172.4 degrees. This would evaporate the alcohol while leaving the rest of the liquid behind, then they would carbonate it. The result, then as now, was a beverage that had less than 0.5 percent alcohol. The (other?) downside was that it didn't taste like beer.

Today's NA beers still don't, but they do taste a lot better, and some of the flavors do approach the real thing. Brewers accomplish this by not fermenting nearly as long as before. They are perhaps more deserving of the term "near beer" than their ancestors were. The side effect is that most of these tend to be on the sweet side of dry. We're still not talking RC cola sweet here, but sweeter than what you are probably used to in a beer. In a world where it is otherwise nearly impossible to find a dry beverage with no alcohol in it to do with your meal, these are at least one alternative.

The most commonly sold NA beers in the US are O'Doul's (made by Anheuser-Busch), Sharp's (Miller) and Kaliber (Guinness). Those out there who know me will know how hard it is for me to say this, but the O'Doul's Amber NA is actually pretty good (nb: specifically the amber, not the "lager"). It packs a lot more flavor than its far more popular sibling Bud Light, is malty but not too sweet, and would actually pass for real beer with someone who was not paying particularly close attention.

As for the other two listed above, let's just leave it at "I didn't like them."

So which is the best choice for those who want to drink too much without drinking too much? I suggest a forth alternative: Clausthaler Amber. Rich and full-bodied, with a head that last more than three seconds, this brew benefits from adhering to its native Germany's purity laws, which dictate ingredients are processes according to strict tradition. It is dry, flavorful, and great outside Kinnick Stadium, especially if you don't want to watch the game on the 40-year-old flickering black-and-white Zenith at the county jail.

By request, here's a recipe I posted here a while back for making your own bratwurst for the next game. Go Hawks!

Homemade Brats

10 ounces pork butt
6 ounces lean veal
2 ounces white onion, diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground white pepper
1 teaspoon fresh marjoram
1 teaspoon fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon toasted celery seed, ground
¼ teaspoon fresh ginger
1/8 teaspoon mace
2 ounces dry white wine

Grind the meat and the onion through a 3/16" plate, preferably on a hand-cranked meat grinder.

Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly, then chill in freezer for 1/2 hour.

Mix again, and grind through a 1/4" plate.

Stuff them into sheep or hog casings and air-dry them for about 30 minutes, or until dry to the touch. For a simpler alternative, skip the casings and just make patties for the grill. Separate them with wax paper or parchment and freeze until use.