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Ten Best Alternatives to Beer (For Those Non-Hop Heads Among Us)

Drastic times, man.
Drastic times, man.
Photo by Morgan

With the summer and Memorial Day approaching it's time to gather 'round the grill with friends and family and a nice cold brewski. Unless, of course, you're one of those crazy many people who just don't really dig beer.

For folks like you, there's always wine, of course, and cocktails, but those just don't have the same summery connotations as an icy can of Lone Star or a bottle of Saint Arnold Summer Pils.

Fret not, though, dear beer-despiser! There are a number of alternatives (not all of them tasty, mind you) to the traditional brew. From ciders to malt liquor, there's a refreshing brew out there to satisfy any taste. Unfortunately, the alternatives tend to have low ABVs, but that just means you get to drink more delicious Smirnoff Ices!

Here are the ten best alternatives to beer. And by best, we mean only.

10. Smirnoff Ice I'm pretty sure the first time I ever got drunk, it was from Smirnoff Ice. The popular choice of underaged college girls and immature men seeking to Ice* their unsuspecting friends, Smirnoff Ice is a malt beverage, meaning it's brewed like beer. It's available in 18 different flavors, including the original (a citrus flavor) and "black watermelon," which sounds like something rotten. Contrary to what I thought when I first drank it, Smirnoff Ice has a laughably low alcohol content. If you get drunk off this, I feel sorry for you.

*"Ice-ing" involves hiding a Smirnoff Ice somewhere for a particular target to find. The person who finds it must then chug it. We're all adults here. Stop Ice-ing people.

9. Bartles & Jaymes Beloved by suburban soccer moms throughout the country, Bartles & Jaymes was a hit in the 1980s and early '90s before experiencing a decline due to the rise of other popular malt beverages and wine coolers. Still, if find yourself craving a mojito without the tequila (what's wrong with you?) Bartles & Jaymes makes a "mojito" drink with white wine and "natural fruit flavors." Could be worse.

I once drank two of these and passed out at 2 p.m.
I once drank two of these and passed out at 2 p.m.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg

8. Lime-A-Rita (et al.) Back when I was working for the Riverfront Times in St. Louis, Anheuser Busch introduced the Staw-Berr-Ita, and because the company is based out of St. Louis, we decided to do a taste test. Here's one of our responses: "It smells like somebody had a blackout-drunk episode in Bath & Body Works: 'I was testing lotions, and next thing I knew, I was naked on the floor at 10 a.m.!'" Still, people seem to like the stuff. At a recent food event, I heard some chefs ranking the flavors in order of best to worst, and they maintain that the new Cran-Brr-Ita is delicious.

This story continues on the next page.

 

It's the manly Smirnoff Ice.
It's the manly Smirnoff Ice.
Photo courtesy Mike's Hard Lemonade

7. Mike's Hard Lemonade This is a step above Smirnoff Ice in terms of citrusy malt beverages, and because it's marketed to be a little more edgy, men are willing to drink it too. Like the previous beverages on this list, it's a malt liquor, meaning the alcohol comes from barley, but in this case it's unflavored. All the flavor comes from whatever Mike's decides to put in each bottle--anything from lemonade to chocolate cherry flavor. The drinks are only five percent alcohol by volume, but honestly, they're not bad.

6. Root Beer OK, so it's not alcoholic, but Saint Arnold makes a root beer so good it could turn you into a teetotaler. The brewery began making root beer because they noticed a lot of children on tours with their families, and they wanted the kiddos to have a refreshing drink at the end of the tours, too. Today, the root beer is popular among all ages, and it's particularly good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. If you must get a buzz on, though, take a couple of big swigs out of the bottle and fill the rest up with whiskey.

It's not whiskey, but it'll do.
It's not whiskey, but it'll do.
Photo courtesy Jeremiah Weed

5. Jeremiah Weed Speaking of whiskey, the whiskey company Jeremiah Weed also makes malt liquor drinks in cans. There are three flavors: Lightning Lemonade, Roadhouse Tea and Spiked Cola. Like all malt liquor drinks, they don't contain any actual liquor, but the flavors are reminiscent of mixing lemonade, tea or cola with some sort of liquor. The Spiked Cola flavor in particular tastes very strongly of bourbon (thanks, artificial flavors!), while the Lightning Lemonade is very similar to Mike's Hard Lemonade.

4. Hard Cider I admit it. I love a good hard cider on a hot day. Whether it's the standard Woodchuck or the Texas-based Leprechaun Hard Cider, I can't get enough of the tart, fizzy drink. And it's not just me. After experiencing a decline for the past 100 years or so, cider is making a comeback in a big way thanks to increased demand. Bigger beer manufacturers are introducing ciders to their lineups, and consumers are eating...er, drinking...it up.

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This ain't your kiddie ginger beer.
This ain't your kiddie ginger beer.
Photo courtesy Crabbie's

3. Ginger Beer Most ginger beers are non-alcoholic, but there are a few brands that add booze to the brews, like Crabbie's, a ginger beer company based in Scotland. It's got a pretty low ABV--4.8 percent--but it tastes just like regular, non-alcoholic ginger beer, so you can drink a lot of it before you realize that you're imbibing. Unlike most beer, Crabbie's is made with fermented ginger, so there aren't any barley fillers in there. Just a good, old-fashioned secret recipe that dates back to 1801.

Cool, refreshing and not quite beer.
Cool, refreshing and not quite beer.
Photo courtesy Leinenkugel's

2. Mead Like cider, mead is making a comeback. Or, at least it is in my mind. Mead is made by fermenting honey and water, and while the resulting flavor and carbonation is similar to beer thanks to the inclusion of hops, it's sweeter and sometimes more fruity. Mead could date back to as early as 7000 B.C., so it's also got some history behind it. Because it's recently grown in popularity (thanks, I imagine, to hipsters making their own), you can now find it at places like Spec's. Go pick up a bottle and see what you think.

1. Shandy Technically, a shandy is beer mixed with any number of things from soda to apple juice, but the best shandies--and the ones I think of when I hear the word--are beer and lemonade mixtures. For a beer-like beverage that's just a few steps away from your regular brew, try Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy. It's refreshing with a strong citrus flavor, but not too sweet for those of us who still like to feel like we're drinking beer. Leinenkugel is brewed in Wisconsin, but it's become increasingly popular, and you can now find it at most stores with a decent beer selection.


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