Non-Alcoholic Beer And How it's Made
Check out our full range of Low and No Alcohol beers here: https://bit.ly/3LPouqF
You might think the term "non-alcoholic beer" sounds like an oxymoron but it may just be the fastest growing category in all of craft beer. The simple idea is this: how do brewers get the mouthfeel, taste and aroma of a beer without any of the alcohol? Seems simple enough, but in-fact it has taken a few advances in brewing science to get us where we are today.
There are plenty of reasons why you might want non-alcoholic beer. It could be that you are wanting to take a break from alcohol or maybe it is your night to be the designated driver. Perhaps you have been advised not to consume alcohol for medical reasons or pregnancy, but still long for the refreshing taste of a well-made beer!
What does alcohol contribute to beer and why is not having it a big deal? There are quite a few things that alcohol contributes including accentuating other flavours, is mouthfeel. This is the sensation of weight and texture felt on the palate, and part of the reason to brain tell the hands to deliver another sip. Beer with little or no alcohol feels thin making this is one of the main reasons it's so hard to make non-alcoholic beers taste like their boozy counterparts.
The Dealcoholization Process:
Most non-alc beer goes through the same basic brewing process that normal beer does. This includes proper fermentation because this is where many of the most important chemical processes involved in creating great-tasting beer happen. But as you may already know, one by-product of fermentation is ethanol, which is what non-alc beers are trying to avoid!
So what do they do you ask? They take the beer through various different methods to obtain a non-alcoholic finished product.
The first of these processes is called Dealcoholization, which is the process by which alcohol is removed from the beer. There are 4 main methods for achieving this..
1. Reverse Osmosis:
High Pressure forces the beer through a membrane which allows tiny water and alcohol molecules through and holds back the larger molecules which give the beer it's flavour. Once this process is done, the result is a highly concentrated beer on one side, and on the other alcohol and water. At this point more specialised equipment is used to separate the alcohol from the water by way of distillation before adding the water back to the beer.
In this process, brewers raise the temperature of the finished alcoholic beer, and because the boiling point of alcohol is lower than that of water, the alcohol evaporates off. This process is simple in terms of execution, however heating the beer affects the flavour and aroma of the finished product. Luckily there is new technology available to allow this process to happen while the beer is at low pressure to help maintain the flavour. This process is known as vacuum distillation.
3. Gas Stripping:
There is quite a bit of science, and in particular chemistry, that goes into producing non-alc beer. In this process, brewers utilise the fact that water and alcohol are quite soluble to each other. Beer is heated gently in a vacuum, and then water vapor or another inert gas such as nitrogen is run through it, which picks up the alcohol and leaves behind the de-alcoholized beer. While this process can also strip the beer of much-wanted flavours and aromas, there is technology in place that allows brewers to re-introduce the flavour compounds back into the beer after the process.
4. Controlling Fermentation:
Another way that brewers can obtain non-alc status is by using what is known as controlled fermentation. As mentioned above, yeast produce alcohol in a fermentation, but by controlling how effectively yeast consumes the fermentable sugars, or through the selection of different yeast strains, brewers can produce non-alc beers naturally without the flavour reducing processes mentioned above. These methods are as follows:
a. Using Grains with lower sugar
In this method, brewers simply lower the amount of fermentable sugar in the wort (or unfermented beer). replacing normal grains such as barley or wheat with ones that have far less sugars like rice or corn help to naturally lower the amount of ethanol produced by the fermenting yeast.
b. Using a special yeast strain
The most interesting, and widely used advancement in non-alc beer production, is the selection of a yeast strain that simply produces much less alcohol. It's only capable of fermenting the simplest of sugar molecules. The resulting beer has mouthfeel and flavour from the unfermented malt sugar,s and a number of beer styles, particularly hoppy beers, can be made as the volatile hop aromas aren’t driven off or muted in the removal of alcohol. Nearly alcohol free beer can be made this way.
One draw-back to this method is that yeasts that are underperforming will leave behind more sugars, increasing the amount left in the final beer. This balance between the amount of residual sugar remaining post fermentation, and the amount of alcohol desired, is always a delicate tightrope for the brewing team.
The other draw-back to this method is this yeast strain leaves behind a fair bit of sugar that other yeasts and bacteria would love to consume – an unwanted ferment by yeast or bacteria would at best damage the flavour and at worst cause gushing when opening the beer, or even rupturing of the can or bottle in transport. To avoid the unwanted fermentation and ensure aa stable product, sterilization is needed. This technology is too expensive for your average local craft brewer, making nearly all no-alc beers something that must be contract brewed in a large brewing facility.
Non Alcoholic beers aren't completely alcohol free...
The standard for most countries around the world for calling a beer "alcohol free" is a concentration of less than 0.5% alcohol. Most "non-alc" beer actually does have a tiny amount of alcohol. This may sound like a lot, but it is actually less than the alcohol content of many foods you would find in a typical household.
Some examples of alcohol content in everyday food items:
- some fruits can actually contain up to 0.35% alcohol by volume
- ripe bananas can have up to 0.5g of alcohol per 100g
- orange juice has up to 0.73g of alcohol per litre
In practical terms, there is more alcohol in a large glass of orange juice or a ripe banana than a full pint of non-alc beer.
What about Low-Alcohol beers?
There is another category gaining traction in the beer world which includes beers that range in alcohol content from 0.5% to 2%. With the surge in non-alcoholic beers there has also been a growing demand for more sessionable, full-flavour beers. This is not only beneficial to the consumer in terms of choice, but also much easier in terms of production for the brewery as they can utilise much more standard brewing practices to obtain these lower ABV without the need for any additional expensive technology, equipment or the need to have the beer made under contract at a larger facility.
Batch Brewing Co's All Time Low fits squarely in this category. At 1.25%, this amber ale is full of flavour with just a fraction of the alcohol. This is done utilising “controlled fermentation” method of grain selection and higher mash temperature too use nature to reduce the alcohol potential. All Time Low is produced by Batch at their facilities in Marrickville and Petersham. You can expect to see variations in the low-alc beers Batch produces as the brewers explore the many flavours possible using this method.
While this and other "Low Alcohol" beers contain more than their non-alc counterparts, the basic idea still holds true in terms of consumption rates compared to that of common food items such as fruit and juice. The ABV of all time low is closer to that of a pint of orange juice than it is to a standard 4% beer.
Stay tuned for a full article coming soon on the All Time Low!
So where should I start?
The great news is there is no shortage of amazing non-alc craft beer in Australia. Everything from Crisp lagers and pale ales to hazy IPA's, sours and milk stouts. At Bucket Boys you can find a massive selection of non-alc and low-alc beers that is always rotating!
The best place to start is by ordering one of our Non-Alcoholic Beer Explorer Boxes and sampling a few different ones to figure out which one you like best!