How non-alcoholic beer is made in 2020

Easy, understandable, explanation of how today’s non-alcoholic beer is made, why it now tastes great, and how it’s good for you.

Do you know how non-alcoholic beer is made? How does it have flavour? What is in it? You don’t have to be a beer sommelier to read this easy, beginner’s explanation on what non-alcoholic beer is and how it is made. You just have to be someone interested in living a healthier, fuller life, not held back by another wasted hangovered morning.

What is non-alcoholic beer?

Most non-alcoholic beers start their journey as ‘normal’ beer. A mash is made, the liquid (wort) is extracted from it and boiled, the hops are added, it’s all fermented with yeast. Full-strength beer would now be bottled and make its way into your hand. Non-alcoholic beer takes a different turn, it now goes to get its alcohol content reduced or eliminated before being bottled.

What does non-alcoholic beer contain?

Non-alcoholic beer contains the same ingredients as normal beer, sans the alcohol. That is: water, grain, yeast, and hops. Some have lactose, a sugar derived from milk, which can be found in some full-strength beers as well. An ingredient sometimes used in non-alcoholic beer to mimic the fizzy texture of ‘normal’ beers is carbon dioxide.

Does non-alcoholic beer contain any alcohol?

In Australia, for a beer to be sold as non-alcoholic its alcohol by volume (ABV) needs to be below 0.5%. Low-alcohol beer is up to 1.15% ABV.

How to remove or reduce the alcohol content of a beer?

The first non-alcoholic beers were made by simply boiling away the alcohol. While it worked in reducing the alcohol content, it unfortunately also eliminated most of the flavour and aroma in the beer. That is why non-alcoholic beers had a slow start and a bad reputation.

With the non-alcoholic beer market booming worldwide in recent years, breweries had a new motivation to improve the non-alcoholic beer-making process. There are now several ways of producing a non-alcoholic beer and the quality and choices available have increased drastically.

Today’s 4 different methods of making non-alcoholic beer are:

  • Dealcoholisation
  • Limited fermentation
  • Dilution
  • Fermentation free

The two most used for commercially sold beer are dealcoholisation and limited fermentation.

Dealcoholisation

Basically, you brew a full-strength beer and remove the alcohol from the final product. This way you have the complex flavoured of fully fermented beer without the alcohol content. To do that you either distill it away, strip it out, or use reverse osmosis.

  1. Steam distillation

Steam distillation works because alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water.

To avoid ‘cooking’ the beer, thus ruining its flavour, as it happened at the beginning of non-alcoholic beer brewing, the brew is placed in a vacuum. The vacuum lowers the temperature the brew needs to reach for the alcohol to evaporate. In this way, the flavours and aromas aren’t affected.

A higher-tech method combined with vacuum distillation is a spinning cone column system. The cone separates the different molecules, allowing the brewers to both get rid of the ethanol and to re-insert the flavour and aroma components in the now non-alcoholic beer. 

Carlton Zero non-alcoholic beer is made with this high-tech vacuum distillation process.

  1. Water Vapour or Gas Stripping

The name of this method is a good explanation of how it works. The brews are gently heated in a vacuum (to lower the temperature, remember?) and then stripped of their alcohol content by having either water vapour or a specific gas forced through them. Similarly to the steam distillations, some flavour and aroma also gets stripped with the alcohol. With a second process, these molecules can be separated and re-added to the non-alcoholic beer. 

  1. Reverse Osmosis

Remember studying osmosis at school? The short recap is: solvent molecules can travel through specific membranes from a less concentrated solution to a higher one to equalise it.

In non-alcoholic beer making, the reverse osmosis process means that full-strength beer is forced through a membrane. The larger molecules, including the flavour ones, can’t get through. What you are left with is a concentrated version of the beer, highly alcoholic. The next step is to separate water and alcohol, with one of the methods we have talked about, and chuck the alcohol out the window. Once the alcohol content is minimised, the flavour molecules are added back to the mixture for a tasty and well-balanced non-alcoholic beer.

Limited Fermentation

When a ‘normal’ beer is fermented, the yeast breaks down the sugar in the wort, producing alcohol. One way to make a non-alcoholic beer is by limiting the amount of alcohol produced during the fermentation process. That can be done by reducing the fermentable sugars, using special yeast strains, or interrupting fermentation. It’s common for non-alcoholic beer producers to use a combination of these methods, especially the first 2. Let’s look at them more closely:

  1. Limiting fermentable sugars

Pretty self-explanatory. If alcohol is produced by yeast breaking down the sugar, by reducing the sugar content in the wort you will have less alcohol. One way to do that is using by grains that produce less fermentable sugars, such as rice or maize. Another is to modify the wort, before or during fermentation, with enzymes that chemically change the fermentable sugars into something else so that their total level is reduced. Alternatively, they can use various techniques at the mashing stage to extract less fermentable sugars out of the grains.

  1. Using special yeast strains

Low-alcohol yeasts are the newest development in the production of non-alcoholic beer. Many of these are non-saccharomyces: it means that they cannot ferment maltose or maltotriose. These are the main sugars produced by malted grain, which, when fermented, turn into alcohol. Don’t worry, most of these new strains are non-GMO and are perfectly healthy and natural.

Many new non-alcoholic beers are made using limited fermentation: Heaps Normal XPA, Sobah IPA, Cerveza and Pilsner, as well as Big Drop amazing range of Pale Ale, Lager, and Stout. These are just some of the biggest names.

With these recent developments in technology, alcohol-free beer is closer than ever before to its full-strength version. Leaps and bounds have been made in its taste and the range available. Join the healthy living revolution too. Give non-alcoholic beer a go!

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