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Multiple routes to producing alcohol-free beer
Producing alcoholic beer has been a learned process that has spanned centuries. Producing non-alcoholic beer is relatively new, and it’s also more complicated. But it presents a growing number of opportunities.
Your work is finally finished. Your work is never ending. The weekend has arrived. The weekend is coming to a close. There are many reasons for a good beer! But it doesn’t always have be an alcoholic one.
Fortunately, breweries started responding to the trend a long time ago and they are increasingly offering non-alcoholic speciality beers. In 2017, more than 400 different brands had non-alcoholic beer in their portfolio.
A non-alcoholic beer is perfect for any and every situation
What’s the reason behind this trend? Non-alcoholic beer is isotonic, nutritious and has considerably fewer calories than a typical alcoholic beer. While alcoholic beer typically has about 400 kcal/litre, the nutritional value of non-alcoholic beer varies between 180 and 250 kcal/litre. The alcohol concentration is also so low that it has virtually no effect on the human body.
All this enables brewers to expand their products into a new market segment. The focus is on health-conscious beer-lovers and sportsmen in particular, but the alcohol-free beer market also includes drivers and pregnant women. After all, even a ripe banana has an alcohol content of around 0.6% – more than ‘alcohol-free’ beer is allowed to have.
The right technique for every beer style
Non-alcoholic beers can be produced in various ways. The aim is always to stay as close as possible to the taste of the alcoholic equivalent. The two established methods, which are used individually or in combination, are vacuum distillation and stopped fermentation.
For a stopped fermentation method, everything begins in the same way as in normal beer brewing. The yeast converts the malt sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. As soon as the maximum alcohol content of 0.5% is reached, the brew is heated to a high temperature. The yeast dies off and fermentation is stopped. Since this process leaves a lot of sugar in the beer, these beers taste sweet. Stopped fermentation is therefore particularly suitable for beer styles where this sweet note is not perceived as distracting or objectionable, such as in fruity wheat beers.
What about a Pils-style beer or IPA with lots of sugar? Not so much. Vacuum distillation is better suited for these styles of alcohol-free beer. First of all, you brew the beer containing alcohol. The alcohol is then evaporated off in a vacuum. At the start of this process, many aromas also evaporate. However, the substances that are responsible for creating these aromas are collected and returned to the beer. In the end, the non-alcoholic beer tastes quite similar to its alcoholic counterpart.
New yeasts that produce very low levels of alcohol
There are also other possibilities: Using Cold-contact Fermentation (CCF), fermentation can take place at very low temperatures, which makes the yeast function slower whilst still producing the important aromas. Fermentation is stopped as soon as 0.5% alcohol content is reached.
It is also possible to remove the alcohol through filtration. Roughly speaking, alcohol is pressed out of the beer and the missing liquid component is then replenished with water.
Recently, brewers have also started working with maltose-spurning yeasts, such as Torulaspora delbrückii and Saccharomyces ludwigii. These yeasts despise the two most common malt sugars, so they produce very little alcohol. Using these yeasts for brewing means not having to stop fermentation too early and it also avoids dealcoholisation processes in their varying complexities.