Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Quitting, Part II

I am in a very strange predicament. I have a drinking problem, but not a traditional one. I am addicted to non-alcoholic beer.

You see, at the beginning of this year, I made a last-minute New Year’s resolution to quit drinking beer until my next book was finished. At the time, I thought I only had about another month to go, and I figured depriving myself of beer would be a good motivator. Well, the book took a little longer than expected. The Tree of Death, and Other Hilarious Stories came out just last month. (It’s an e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple iBooks. You should check it out. It’s really funny, and only 99 cents!)

Anyway, I think part of the reason it took me ten months to finish the book was that my no-beer motivation really did nothing to motivate me. As it turned out, I didn’t miss “real” beer at all. I missed the malted barley and hops, but I didn’t miss the alcohol. A few months into the year I discovered non-alcoholic beer, and have been drinking it ever since. “Drinking” might be an understatement. Guzzling is probably a more accurate word. Guzzling really doesn’t do it justice, either. Let’s just say, I’m pretty sure that I am personally keeping the O’Doul’s brand in business.

Being addicted to non-alcoholic beer is like being a crack addict in Hogsbottom, Kansas. Sometimes, it’s hard to find your fix. When you drink regular beer, it’s really easy to find. When you want beer that has had the alcohol removed, it’s like a snipe hunt in some neighborhoods. Most major supermarket chains will carry at least one brand, but it is not available at every convenience store like regular beer is. A good rule of thumb I have developed is this: The more heavily weighted the particular store’s beer cooler is toward malt liquor in 40-ounce containers, the less likely they are to carry non-alcoholic beer.

There has been a major learning curve on what to expect at the cash register if you do happen to find it in the far, upper-right-hand corner of the beer cooler. When you blow the dust off the six-pack and bring it up to the cashier, you are in for a treat. My latest encounter with the slack-jawed twenty-something stop-and-rob clerk with the giant holes in his earlobes went like this:

Clerk (in slower-than-standard speech pattern) - “What’s with the O’Doul’s, man? Don’t you like real beer?”
Me (in regular cadence speech pattern) - “I do. I just don’t drink it much anymore.”
“Oh. [long pause] I quit, too. I haven’t had a beer in three days. I used to drink Steel Reserve forties, but it’s better if I’m off the sauce.”
“Are you sure?”
“Never mind. Good luck with that.”

Most stores don’t know how to sell it, either. Some charge sales tax while others consider it to be food, and don’t charge sales tax. Most still ask to see my ID. I asked, “Why?” the first few times, and one girl told me it was because it still has a little alcohol in it. It has less than 0.5% alcohol by volume. I didn’t bother to point out to her that the expired apple juice on aisle four probably has a higher alcohol content by now. I just showed her my ID, and she was happy.

Restaurants are not without their challenges, either. Going out to eat in California seems to be pretty safe, non-alcoholic beer-wise. Most places have it, and occasionally it turns out to be something exotic, like Buckler, the brand made by Heineken. Then it’s a party! I have found other states can be more of a crap-shoot, though. I was in Ohio earlier this year, and had this conversation with my waitress at the steak house:

“What would you like to drink?”
“Do you have any non-alcoholic beer?”
“Non-alcoholic beer? You mean like beer that doesn’t have any alcohol? I’ve never even heard of that. Do they have that?”
“Yes, they do. Let me take a look at your beer list… Yes, you do, down here at the bottom. O’Doul’s. I’ll have one of those, please.”
“Yeah, you see here where it says ‘N/A’ next to it. That means we don’t have it.”
“No… that means it’s non-alcoholic.”

It took a while for her to bring it, because she said the bartender had to hunt a little to find it. I got the distinct impression I was the very first person in the history of Ohio to ever order a non-alcoholic beer.

It reminded me of the time I ordered a Coke with my lunch in a small town cafĂ© in Mississippi. Prior to my asking for a Coke, the only beverage choices I was given were sweet tea or regular tea. The waitress looked at me like I was speaking Latin when I announced that I did not care for tea, sweet or otherwise. She begrudgingly brought me an unopened can of Coke, a glass with ice, and a separate glass with no ice, because, as she put it, “I didn’t have any idea how you would want to drink it.”

Anyway, possibly because I have since quit drinking Coke as well as regular beer, I am putting the non-alcoholic beer away at a furious pace. I have actually found myself wishing they made O’Doul’s in forties, because I go through the 12-ounce bottles too quickly. I think part of the problem is that due to the lack of alcohol, there is no clearly defined stopping point until I am almost too full to breathe correctly, and only then do I realize I have drank ten of them. I then spend the next twelve hours peeing every fifteen minutes. Besides being up half the night visiting the bathroom, it's killing my budget and my waistline. It’s the same price as regular beer, which just seems wrong, and even at only 65 calories a pop, they add up.

So, I find myself in the unique predicament of needing to fight an addiction to non-alcoholic beer. Do you think there is a Non-Alcoholics Anonymous? Obviously, I don't really need it to be anonymous. Non-Alcoholics Non-Anonymous? If I can’t find my local NANA chapter, I think I’ll need to start my own, because I really need to get off the sauce. Maybe I should start drinking real beer again to help wean myself off the fake stuff.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. Hi Marc, as an Ohioan, you are correct, sir. No one drinks NA beer here. As a state with drive thrus on every corner, selling beer at jacked-up prices to people behind the wheel 24/7, and with a constant stream of customers, they'd be run out of town if they ever even advertised that they carry NA beer. Although I always wondered why they card you to purchase it, too.

  2. Ha! While I was there I ate lunch at a deli that was also a drive-thru liquor store and sold guns and ammo. I want to live in Ohio!