Since I've stopped drinking, I've noticed more and more places offering AF (alcohol-free) drinks for sale. It’s a similar experience to buying a car, as soon as you purchase the car you’ve been interested in, you start to see them everywhere!
I am located in Hanoi, Vietnam at the moment, but not for much longer, I’ll be back in the UK for summer at least, and who knows, with the state of travel these days, it could be much longer. Vietnam is not well known for its AF beers, in fact, Vietnam has the cheapest beer in the world, so it's hard to compete with that.
However, Vietnam has recently passed a new law which is zero tolerance towards drink driving, so more and more people will have to switch to these AF beers. It would not be hard for the ‘beer hois’ as they are called to start stocking the AF options in the fridge for those who are driving, or those, like me who just don’t drink alcohol anymore.
The beer hois in Vietnam are primarily frequented by men. These street bars are kind of spit and sawdust type of places that can look a little rough around the edges. As an example, if you order a plate of nuts with your drink, then you just throw the shells on the floor, somebody will eventually clear them up, but it's not a top priority by any means. So having this rough and ready appeal, not too many women tend to go to the beer hois, and this may contribute to the fact that not too many women actually drink in Vietnam either. My current girlfriend is a non-drinker, she tells me that she can drink, but she does not like it. This is not the situation in the UK, most of my female friends there will drink in large quantities and keep up with the men drink for drink.
So what AF beer choices do we have in Hanoi? Well, you are going to find 2 different beers that I know of which are truly AF. The first one has been around for a while and it’s the Heineken 0.0. I picked this one up in my local ex-pat shop, but they are also available in Circle K across the city and I imagine the country.
On to the taste test
Of course, it's got to be cold, so if you want a cold one, Circle K would be the place to get them, my local Circle K has a huge wall of fridges, I counted 14 different fridges in my local store in Tay Ho. Circle K’s do have much more floor space than other convenience stores in Vietnam. They also have eating areas as well, with rather cheap meals such noodles or sandwiches available so you could wash your food down with one of these beers.
Ok, so my correctly chilled can of Heineken 0.0 at the ready. The first thing that struck me is that the can looks pretty similar to the full strength can of Heineken. I'm sure many people have probably picked up these cans thinking that it's the full strength version of the drink.
So I've opened it up, and it smells exactly the same as a normal Heineken. The taste is also similar to a normal Heineken, although it's been a while since I've had one. For me, this would be a great drink to have in a bar, it looks like the real deal, and the taste is similar. It does not have a long-lasting flavour like the full-strength version, but it is definitely refreshing and good for a hot day if you are driving or given up drinking completely.
I do often get bored of drink diet cokes or diet Pepsi, and watching my weight, I don’t like to drink sugary drinks over here. Back in the UK, there are so many zero-calorie drink available, but over here, they have just not caught on. So this is another selling point of the Heineken 0.0 drink, it's only got 70 something calories in it, which is about half of what normal soft drinks tend to have, so another plus point for the drink.
It also helps me eliminate any urge to drink alcoholic beers. I've been sober since 2020, so I really don't get urges anymore, but this may change when I get back to the UK, and socialise with old friends, so it's good to know I could just bring some of these to satisfy my urge for a beer.I have also seen these sold on draught in the UK as well, last time I was there in Reading. It was sold in pints or halves, so if you are drinking this in a pint, then you are not going to get questions on why you're not drinking – that old chestnut!
Ok so my verdict is that it tastes like a normal Heniken when chilled – it definitely needs to be ice cold to get that sensation down your throat the same as a regular beer. The only thing with lets it down is the taste does not linger in your throat for too long like a normal beer used to. But having non of the addictive qualities of a normal beer is a massive positive.
Ingredients Water, Malted Barley, Hop Extract, Natural Flavourings
7/10 – Make sure its COLD, COLD COLD
All-Free from Suntory
Now, this is my go-to beer in Vietnam. I go through about 20 of these a week at least, they are my new favourite drink in all honesty.
I first saw them about 4 months ago in a Big C supermarket in Hanoi. They can be purchased in a case of 24, and for me, it's probably the way to go, but I normally just buy them from my local ex-pat shop for 10,000 dong (31p or 43c) straight from the fridge. You can also pick these up from Vinmart and also Circle K, but as always, they will be more expensive in Circle K.
Santory is a Japanese company, so they are fairly local geographically to Vietnam, and I'm not sure if they will be available in other countries around the world (they are selling it in the USA). The can look is a bit retro, it's got kind of 8-bit graphics on the side, a fairly basic but classic look, something that you'd expect from a Japanese company.
All-free is a much lighter beer than the Heineken, there is an aftertaste, but it's much more subtle than the Heineken. I think that Japanese beers are generally lighter than European beers, so this must be the reason they have made it a lighter taste. I'm not sure if it's selling well in the Japanese market, but I can see it's going to sell well overseas.
All-Free is available all over the US, and it's also available on Amazon, so if you are over there, then you’ll be able to try it.
If you prefer a lighter tasting beer, then this is a great choice, it's surprisingly more refreshing than the Heineken. The Heineken tastes more like a regular beer than the All-Free, and I'm not sure if I like that. I prefer the All-Free as it is a completely different drink to full strength. The Japanese have a special word for the feeling of drinking a beverage and the pleasing feeling it gives you in your throat, don’t ask me what it is though! As you can see in the pictures, the Henikien has a head on it, whereas the All-Free does not. This is one negative for the drink from Suntory I'm afraid, it looks like it's flat straight from the can, so it loses point there.
The All-Free does have a decent fizz though, you won't be disappointed with the carbonation of this drink. But it's best to drink it from the can if you are after that nice burning feeling you get from a beer.
This ‘beer’ also needs to be served super cold, I think that’s true to say of all beers, but with non-alcoholic ones, it's more important to try and improve the flavour all you can.I don’t really see All-Free as a real alternative to beer, it does taste like a beer, but it's more than that really. It’s a new type of drink that is a good addition to the beverage scene.
The one factor that keeps me coming back to All-Free is the fact that is 0 calorie. It's amazing how much taste they have managed to pack into this drink with 0 calories and 0 alcohol, trust the Japanese to develop something so great! I don’t know many Japanese products which fail to deliver, from cars to alcohol-free beer, they know what they are doing don’t they.
Although there are not that many alcohol free beer drinks in Vietnam, at least we have two. If you are over here and don’t want to drink the fast brewed beer hoi, then consider these drinks. I'm sure you could even buy some drinks from the convenience store and bring them to a restaurant or bar and just pay a corkage fee. I've done this before in the past in Thailand, and it's not a problem. It gives the bar manager more space in his fridge if you are bringing a can in yourself, and also he does not have to stock the drink.
If the taste of beer is important to you, then go for the Heineken. The Heineken has a few things going for it that the All-Free does not.
If you want to go for a different experience, or are just interested to taste a new type of drink, go for the All-Free, it’s a very refreshing drink, which is similar to beer, but actually a great alternative if you are on a diet.
It's amazing how Suntory have packed in so much flavour and managed to keep it 0 calories and 0 alcohol.