how i’m doing

this is a health-related post, so if you’ve come here looking for NA beer reviews, use the category links for that blog stream. i don’t have any big health updates, just a few observations and thoughts after a long day of jazz festing in place with friends yesterday.

i really struggled with my voice and my energy yesterday. we were outdoors, no masks cuz we were all fully vaccinated, with WWOZ blaring from a bluetooth speaker. there were ten or so of us, spread out, so when i spoke, there was enough going on that i had to try to project my voice across distance and over others who were having side conversations as well as the music. it was fine at first – it’s definitely better without the mask and my voice has gotten stronger over time – but the longer the day went on, the harder it became to do and the more strained my throat felt. and the softer and higher pitched my voice got. and the more exhausted i was.

trying to speak loud enough to be heard exerts a lot of energy. it also messes with my breathing, which also expends energy. (i never realized before surgery and my ensuing complications that your vocal folds have a lot to do with regulating your breath going in and out of your wind pipe. so talking a lot, when one side of your vocal cords is paralyzed, makes breathing harder while doing so.) and then there was the angelique kidjo dancing in the kitchen interlude which put almost 3000 steps onto my fitbit and had me breaking out in a sweat at one point. that was probably the last straw.

all of this lead to me rather abruptly running out of energy like a suddenly depleted battery in a child’s toy. i could feel myself waning and then i just hit a wall and i could no longer function. it wasn’t because i hadn’t slept the night before – i had. i’m not sick. and i had not over-eaten or under-eaten. and i certainly could not attribute it to alcohol as i was drinking NA beer all day (hat tip to rightside brewing’s citrus wheat!) along with some rosemint tea w/ginger ale. this is just how it is now. folks with chronic illness often use the “spoons” analogy and i’m reluctant to appropriate that because i don’t have a chronic illness but i do feel like i now understand that more than i ever did before. post-surgery, i don’t have as much energy as i use to just take for granted having; i now seem to really have a limit, and once that limit is used up, i’m done. period. no pushing through to carry on. i just need to lie down. done. like a toddler.

and it doesn’t take strenuous physical activity to get me there. apparently all it takes is six hours of socializing while seated, constant talking, and a few minutes of dancing in the kitchen.

don’t get me wrong – i’m so happy to be alive and to have recovered so well from a successful major surgery where they drilled into my skull, peeled back part of it, and removed an intruder from my brain stem. but i am not the person i was before and i’m still just getting used to the person i am now, the limitations this still-recuperating body has now.

i don’t share all this to be whining or complaining. i do so because i feel like in general i’ve put a happy face on all of my recovery, and when i see folks now who have only seen me sporadically or on social media, i think they think i’m totally back to “normal” and don’t realize i am still enduring struggles, however minor in the grand scheme of things. but they are still there, and account for my sometimes abrupt change of mood.

in many ways its convenient that that my surgery and recuperation has happened during the pandemic, when life has slowed down and there’s not as much activity going on. i’m not sure that i would actually make it through a normal day at jazzfest at the fairgrounds right now. here’s hoping i build my endurance back up before october when jazzfest hopefully returns.

athletic – first ride coffee porter

i don’t really know the relationship between athletic‘s pilot program brews and their very similar full releases – like is this beer, the first ride coffee porter the same thing as the pilot program coffee porter i had a few months ago? it’s been long enough now that i don’t really remember exactly how that pilot brew tasted, but according to that review i wrote, i really liked it!

this one poured very dark brown almost black with a small tight tan head that did not stick around very long. it is thinner in body than i want it to be but still has a smooth mouthfeel due to very compact carbonation. it has a roasty coffee aroma but it’s kinda subtle. athletic’s website says it’s a mix of medium and dark coffee roasts, and that is basically what it tastes like. a slightly sweet (but not overly so) malty backbone, a little nutty, and kind of a burnt coffee worty flavor.

i like it OK but i think i like their smooth ascent coffee brew better. (which was probably a one-off production.) I will happily drink the rest of this six pack but i would not ever need to order it again, even if it was available. (it’s currently out of stock.) sometimes it’s nice to have a little caffeine in your NA beer so this will serve that purpose for me i guess til it runs out.

two roots – enough said helles

so after a brief break wherein i tried hard to drink up some of the stock of NA beer that was overtaking my fridge, i got a shipment from NAbrews yesterday with six singles of new-to-me beers.

NAbrews is a reseller that has alternating stock of lots of the popular and limited release craft NA beers in the US. i am learning that it’s just not worth buying a whole six pack of something you’ve never tasted before, especially if you are paying for shipping, so sites like NAbrews let you buy singles for a premium price so you can try stuff out. (you can also buy full four or six packs too.) it’s hard to pay so much for a mixed six pack of beer, but i rationalized that if i was buying these one at a time at a bar i would have paid more. and this is really the only way for me here in new orleans to get to taste some of them, since total wine hasn’t ordered (or maybe can’t order) any of these, which were all on my list i sent to their beer buyer.

(NAbrews also has an affiliate program which they offer to anyone who makes a purchase, so, ya know, if you decide to check them out you can use my code MARGARET893 for 10% off and i get a little kickback.)

i learned a new trick for beer photos from the beer geeks in the NA beer facebook groups!

it was sweaty and hot out today walking dogs, so when i got home i wanted to try one of my new brews. i chose two roots brewing’s enough said helles, which was a fine choice to accompany my veggie burger lunch. i had to actually look up what a helles lager was to make sure i knew what it was supposed to taste like: a helles is a german-styled malty, bready beer that has a little sweetness balanced with a spicy hops that’s only mildly bitter. i’m sure i’ve drunk many in my time but it’s not a style i would necessarily think to order on the regular.

as you can see by the pic, this two roots NA version pours really nicely, a beautiful golden yellow color with a great head that lingered and laced nicely along the edge of the glass as i drank it. it has an herbal and bready aroma, and great light body – it really feels like a regular beer in my mouth. and i have to say, it is text book helles. everything i said above about what a helles should be, this is. it’s delicious, refreshing, smooth, light but complex in flavor. i don’t know how they did this but it’s no wonder they won a gold medal at the 2019 great american beer festival for this brew. and as they tout on their site, it has only 80 calories and is rich in vitamin B12 and electrolytes.

so yeah. i would drink more of this if total wine ever started carrying it, making it easier (and cheaper) to procure. aside from this helles, they have two different IPAs and just this week released their version of an NA michelada. (not something i’m interested in but definitely adventurous in the NA beer world.) i’m glad i finally got to try this and now know what the hype about this san diego-based brewery is all about.

finding NA beer in new orleans – an update

in my fridge right now!

if you’ve been following my adventures in #NAcraftbeer over the past few months, you’ll know my biggest complaint is how hard it is to find any of this stuff locally here in new orleans. total wine is pretty much it right now, in terms of buying any of the smaller craft NA breweries, though the more commercial craft and macro NA options are getting easier to find. (i.e. sam adams just the haze, brooklyn brewery special effects and lagunitas IPNA are regularly carried in local grocery stores now, next to all the heineken 0.0, bud zero, coors edge, odoul’s, sharps, buckler, etc. and heineken 0.0 and lagunitas IPNA are starting to pop up on restaurant menus and bar beer lists too. so if you like any of those, then i guess it is getting easier to find NAs. but i’m a craft beer snob and want the good stuff from the smaller indie craft breweries, so i won’t be happy until NA beers from breweries like athletic, wellbeing, bravus, rightside and ceria can be found readily around town.)

i’ve been reaching out via email and fb messenger to a bunch of the local craft breweries to find out if anyone has an NA in the pipeline. most haven’t responded to me but the few who have did indicate they are aware of the trend/buzz in the industry and are intrigued by the idea but due to equipment costs and other additional costs of brewing an NA, don’t have one scheduled anytime soon. but it was at least nice to hear it’s on their radar. (zony mash and faubourg were the two who have responded to me so far; nothing from the rest of them. as i start to make my way back out into the world, now that i’m vaccinated, i will try to stop by places in person and ask.)

earlier today i sent emails to pelican craft brands and crescent crown, two of the biggest craft beer distributors in the city. i’m not alcoholic beverage industry savvy, though, so if there are other local beer distributors i should be reaching out to, please let me know in the comments. (as far as i can tell, glazers only does wine & spirits here in new orleans, but correct me if i’m wrong.) i don’t really know any other ways to lobby those in the industry here to make more good craft NAs available to consumers, and i don’t have any clout whatsoever – i’m just a random NA beer drinker who writes a blog that no one reads – but i’m doing what i can. maybe if we all start requesting our favorites everywhere we go, we’ll make some headway.

i have however been pleasantly surprised since i started writing about NA beer how many friends and social media contacts have reached out privately or commented publicly that they too are refraining from or cutting down on alcohol and are either interested in or are already drinking NA beer! i really thought i was alone in this when i first started and i just decided to write about it to document my journey mostly for me. but i was also hoping it might be helpful to others – and maybe it has! definitely gives me a little inspiration to keep going.

but, come on y’all, do chime in and tell me what YOU are drinking? what NAs are YOU enjoying?

wellbeing hellraiser amber + surreal brewing 17 mile porter

i have a habit of compulsively checking the total wine app for non-alcoholic beer at my local metairie store, to see if they have added anything new, and yesterday i saw surreal brewing’s 17 mile porter and a few other new things pop up so i decided it was time to trek out to the burbs again to check it out. (i hadn’t been out there in many weeks.)

and sure enough, they did have the 17 mile porter in stock. the other things i’d seen on their app with “limited quantities” – ceria grainwave and wellbeing victory wheat, both beers i like a lot and would have bought – were not there and there wasn’t even a shelf tag for either of them so i realized those were probably just errors on the website. but i was able to snag a single of the 17 mile porter to test it out and picked up a 6 pack of wellbeing’s hellraiser amber, one of my favorites that i was out of at home, so it wasn’t a wasted trip at all.

(pic below is from last night after they’d gotten cold enough to enjoy. i think i realized it is probably my most “perfect” NA beer i’ve tried so far, the one that most closely mimics the experience of drinking an alcoholic beer and like those i enjoy drinking, as ambers are usually my favorite. i really wish i could go out to a bar and drink this somewhere in new orleans. so good!)

i also finally met the assistant manager of that total wine store who happens to be the NA beer buyer and was able to ask her to order ceria’s beers as well as a few other things. she gave me her card so i later emailed her a much longer list of craft NA brews i really want to try and that i’ve seen being carried at other total wine stores around the country. we’ll see if she can get any of them, as distribution down here really sucks for craft NA beer. but she seemed happy to look them up and try so i’m hopeful.

i am at my pet sit for the weekend and am just now cracking the 17 mile porter open while i enjoy some netflix with the pets. i didn’t really have high hopes for this one as i recognize (and from prior experience with their beers) that surreal is one of the “diet” NA beer companies, like partake and grüvi – their beers tend to be lighter, thinner and have much lower calorie and carb content than many of the other NA breweries. not that that is necessarily a bad thing, and i have liked some of those breweries’ beers, but i’m finding for my own palate, i prefer a fuller body and flavor experience than what i’ve tasted from them so far. but lots of folks in my NA beer facebook groups have raved about the 17 mile porter and i don’t have a lot of darker beers in my regular rotation so i was interested to try it.

it pours a very dark brown with a pretty good tan-colored head, though that dissipates fairly quickly. the first aroma i get is dark chocolate and a roasty nuttiness and a little coffee. it is as i suspected fairly thin but has a good mouthfeel nonetheless, due to tight uniform carbination. sadly i don’t taste as much of the chocolate and roastiness that i smelled. flavor is fairly subtle but it does go down easily with a dry finish. for 50 calories and 10g carbs, i’d say it’s pretty good. i like it a little better than grüvi‘s stout though i can’t quite put my finger on why. but they are definitely in the same general ballpark. i like this fine but probably won’t buy it again.

i think my search for my go-to dark beer continues. so far athletic’s all out stout is probably the one i like the most, in terms of non-coffee darks. there are several more on my wishlist to try though, so i’m holding out hope that the perfect NA dark beer for me exists.

six months!

i just realized that this past tuesday was my six month mark, post-surgery! woo hoo!

nothing really to report in terms of health updates. i continue to inch closer back to “normal” or whatever that was pre-surgery, mid-pandemic. no lingering effects from the second moderna shot, that i can tell – and i am fully vaccinated now! it has felt really wonderful to share a few hugs with other vaccinated friends. finally the year of no-human-physical-contact ends.

i am still taking only four dog walks each morning most days, but pet sitting is really picking up. this week i have another long weekend pet sit (a dog, two cats and two birds) and have several more bookings in may and june so far. i’m trying to be smart about it – spacing them out, not taking back-to-back bookings, so i have time to rest and reset in between. i know it seems like staying overnight with dogs and cats in other peoples’ houses should be a cush, fun job, and it definitely can be fun cuz i do love all the critters, but it can actually be quite stressful and physically demanding in my older age – all the extra dog walks, poop scooping, and running back and forth between clients homes and my own to feed my needy feline pair. and all the disrupted sleep, usually from pets who are confused being out of their regular schedule and without their owners. the bad sleep is just something i can’t absorb anymore without consequences the next day. i always joked that this business would have been a GREAT idea to have had in my 20s when i was younger and more resilient. but here i am, 53 and 10 years in business. i guess the challenge now is just to learn how to work smarter.

the other thing i realized is that if it’s been six months since i had surgery, it’s been almost seven since i’ve had any alcohol. (i stopped drinking a couple weeks before surgery, just to be in the best possible shape for such a traumatic physical experience.) it’s such a weird thing to realize, for me. i have been a beer drinking fool since i was 15. i don’t think i’ve ever gone more than a few days, maybe a week, without alcohol my whole life. i have never been an alcoholic or even considered myself to have a problem with alcohol, but if i’m honest i can certainly say i’ve abused alcohol on many occasions and definitely drank way too much, often. drinking is such a part of social life here, and as a shy, socially-awkward introvert i have often relied on alcohol as my social lubricant to get me through the anxiety of being around people. plus i do enjoy the relaxation and melting away of the world’s cares it provides short term.

as i have aged though, i think all that beer/alcohol finally caught up to me, because the last decade or so i’ve become acutely aware of how much my body punishes me the next day for imbibing. my body no longer likes alcohol. (maybe it never did but the after effects were easier to suffer through when i was younger.) i still enjoy the buzz it gives me, and i still love the taste of craft beer, but the headaches, the body fatigue and pain, and the risks of what further damage it is doing to my brain and other internal organs is no longer worth it to me. (i only recently realized the link between alcohol consumption and cancer!) i’m not saying i won’t ever drink alcohol again, but when i do, i hope it’s in much more moderation and maybe even only as a special treat. i can envision going back out to bars/restaurants with friends and having one of my favorite leaded beers and then switching to NA for the rest of the evening. that would seem a good compromise to me.

finding the deliciousness of the new wave of craft non-alcoholic beer has given me a whole new perspective on it too. i can drink this stuff and not crave an actual beer. it can represent to me much of what “having a beer” always did for me, and it still satisfies the taste element. no, it’s not the same – NA beer is always going to taste different than alcoholic beer – it’s different, but it’s still good. and interesting. and there’s variety, just like in the craft beer world. now if we could make it the norm for bars and restaurants in the US and NOLA specifically to be offering a selection of these on their menus next to the craft beer roster, then i would be a happy gal. (europe has been on this trend for years. you can pretty much find NA beer on tap in lots of pubs and there is a much wider variety of NA craft beer being produced. europeans understand that NA beer is not just for alcoholics; mindful drinking should be for everyone.)

the most surprising part to me of this NA adventure is how much i’m learning about beer! it’s not that i didn’t have some knowledge of the different styles and brewing techniques before – i’ve always been somewhat interested – but i think drinking without the alcohol makes me even more interested. (and writing about it now also contributes, i’m sure.) it makes me more adventurous in trying different styles and brands too. i have lately tapered off my wild buying sprees of new and different beers, choosing to stick with the ones i’ve really enjoyed the most, but there’s still plenty of NA brews on my must-try list and i’ll get around to them eventually. so stay tuned!

grüvi – stout

my first taste of this brew a week or more ago was a little disappointing, so i decided to give it a bit of time and try again before reviewing it. i am definitely finding that there is a lot of variation in how NA beers taste to me – sometimes that is a variation between batches or even cans or other issues with the actual beer, but other times i think it’s more about what other food or drink has recently been on my palate. so it’s good to not always trust my first opinion. i am having my second taste of it as i type this, accompanying my lunch of brazilian black beans. it’s a great pairing!

as a 45 calorie, 12 carb NA beer, it has the kind of mouthfeel and body you might expect. it’s a little thin, especially for something called a stout, but it’s not bad. i think the first time i had it the lack of sweetness took me by surprise – i’m kind of used to stouts being sweeter, and all of the NA stouts i’ve tried so far have been sweeter than this one. this beer has a mild nuttiness and a roasted, chocolate maltiness. definitely some coffee in there too. but i think the thing that sets it apart from other NA stouts and porters i’ve tried is its dry finish and very minimal carbonation.

i don’t really know what to compare it to as i can’t say i’ve ever had anything that tasted quite like this. and while i didn’t like it the first time, i like it ok this time around. i’m not sure i’d ever crave this or want to buy it again, but i will drink the other two in the 4 pack. and at some point down the road i might give some of grüvi’s other beers a shot. (i haven’t tried their lager or their pale ale. and the peach pie ale, currently out of stock, certainly intrigues me.)

national beer day + athletic winter whit

while it seems like every day of the year is national something day, today is actually national beer day in the US.

according to wikipedia, it commemorates the enactment of a law in 1933 which effectively was the beginning of the end of prohibition. (prohibition had been the law of the land since 1920.) the cullen-harrison act allowed for beer of up to 3.2% ABW (or 4.05% ABV) to be sold, and by december of that year the 18th amendment was repealed, ending prohibition.

needless to say, after reading about this earlier this morning, i’ve been dreaming about a beer all day. so i decided to accompany my late lunch/early dinner of some meat pies from my local middle eastern grocery and my first try at making hummus at home with a beer that’s been in the fridge for a while, athletic‘s pilot program winter whit, which was a limited release. i’m a little unclear if it’s the same as the wit’s peak witbier that is now for sale on their site; i got mine as part of a pilot program sample pack from NAbrews some months back. i had one when it first arrived and wasn’t very impressed so the others got shoved to the back of the fridge and i never ended up reviewing it. but this afternoon i had a hankering for something different, so here we are.

i’m enjoying it this time around with my meal. it poured a light golden yellow and had a bit of a foamy head which didn’t stick around long. the carbonation was weird, more soda-like than beer-like, so mouthfeel was a little off. it’s a bit malty and slightly sweet with some spiciness to it. maybe a little lemony? honestly, i drank it while eating and it went down so fast i forgot to really take a lot of notes! it has a fairly light body to it, went down smooth and paired well with my food.

though i liked it, i don’t know that i’d want to buy this again. i think i might have one more in the back of the fridge left over. this isn’t really a style i’m a huge fan of and wouldn’t normally buy, but i’m glad i got to try it.

i’ll be picking out a few different beers to take with me to the lakefront to gather with some friends to watch the sunset, as i continue to celebrate national beer day. i’m sure i’ll post a pic on instagram later. cheers!

atmos – kora double hop IPA

as i always do, i must preface this review with the disclaimer that i don’t typically like IPAs and didn’t ever drink them when i was drinking alcoholic beer, so i often don’t even understand the various styles of IPAs. i had to look up what “double hop” even meant.

(actually, i’m still not clear. is it double dry hopped? or double IPA? are those the same thing? i think it means double dry hopped, which means adding more hops post-fermentation in the hopes of making a more complex aroma/flavor profile. i think double IPA just means double the amount of hops, which i guess could mean either before/after fermentation.)

so take my opinion with a grain of salt if you are someone who really loves IPAs. i’m probably not the best judge.

but this was the latest round of the tastNA club where i get to sample new and hopefully interesting beers for free in return for an honest review. this is only the second round for me, with the big drop pale ale being the first one. (it was hoppy but i still liked it because it was balanced and smooth.) so i’m trying to approach this with an open mind to see what i think, but i will hope there will be future rounds of the tasteNA club that include other beer styles that aren’t IPAs or pale ales.

this hazy double hop IPA is from atmos brewing (formerly ethos brewing), an independent NA craft brewery based in hailey, idaho. it was sent to us reviewers fresh from the canning line, which is really nice. (there are a lot of discussions in the NA beer world about freshness, as without alcohol as a preservative, NA brews don’t have as long of a shelf life once canned. and IPAs specifically seem to lose the effects of the hops over time.)

it poured a nice golden yellow color, minimally hazy, and had a respectable head to it. it was definitely very aromatic – kinda floral, a little sweet fruity smelling, piney. (the info card that comes with the beer says it’s a combination of chinook, citra, mosaic and azacca hops.)

sadly for me, it smells better than it tastes. i don’t get the same complexity in the taste that i get in the aroma. i get a woody, piney, strongly bitter flavor that’s just kinda flat and for my palate is just hops overkill. like, it kills my taste buds immediately.

it has a light body to it, a little thin – mouthfeel is ok but i wouldn’t call it full-bodied. it goes down pretty easy and the flavor dissipates pretty quickly once it hits my throat, leaving not much of an aftertaste. but i think this pretty much encapsulates what i don’t like about IPAs in general – the strong hops just overpowers everything and leaves my taste buds unable to enjoy the experience.

i just think IPAs are not for me. maybe my palate is just not geared to appreciating the nuances of a beer like this. but if you are someone who really likes a 50 IBU IPA with four different kinds of hops, maybe you’d like this. but it is clearly a beer made with a lot of intention and care, so kudos to atmos for their dedication to the craft. maybe i need to try their golden ale!

grüvi – sour weisse

yes i broke down and tried a new brewery. gotta have something to write about! no, seriously, i’d been wanting to try grüvi for a while and kept hoping my total wine would start carrying it, but they haven’t. so yeah, back to mail order.

i’m not sure though what possessed me to order this particular beer. what i was really making the order for was their stout (review forthcoming) and i needed something else to make the order worth it, given shipping costs. though their golden lager gets a lot of accolades, i was worried it was just be boring to me; i don’t really drink just basic lager much. and i already have enough hoppy stuff in the fridge so i didn’t want the IPA or pale ale. and sadly the delicious-sounding peach pie ale was out of stock. the description of the sour weisse said “our take on the classic berliner weisse is tart, citrusy wheat beer,” which made it sound interesting. so sour weisse it was!

now that i’ve cracked one open and am sipping it, i don’t know if that is how i would describe this one. it is extremely light and crisp, which makes it not feel very much like a beer at all. though the ingredients listed are barley, oats, wheat, hops and yeast, i’m just really not tasting the grain at all. it is citrusy-tart, for sure, more lemony than anything else. it feels almost more seltzer-like than beer-like, in terms of mouthfeel and body. it is tasty, i will give them that. it will certainly be a lovely thing to drink on a spring or summer sunny day, perhaps with a squeeze of lime in it. but a “citrusy wheat beer” it is not, at least not to me.

i would put this 26 calorie, 5 carb “beer” in the same category as some of those from partake brewing – though honestly, the partake brews i’ve tried have more flavor. but for those who are really into cutting the calories and/or the carbs, this would be a great selection. i had mine with a greek salad and it was a great pairing. but i think i will have to be in a particular mood to want to drink this.

i did want to point out the excellent packaging with recyclable materials, which i greatly appreciate. i’ve had some boxes of beer show up with just a few layers of bubble wrap, which is both highly ineffective as a means of protecting the beer and also not readily recyclable. these paper options are much better and each 4pack was tightly wrapped and cushioned. so thanks for that, grüvi!