How is non-alcoholic beer made? A guide to the brewing process.

Written By Ian

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I take a deeper look at how non-alcoholic beers are made. The most exciting part of the zero beer movement right now is just how far the brewing techniques have come and how fast they are improving.

Today, there is an abundance of zero & non-alcoholic beers available in the market and no shortage of delicious & refreshing options available for those who don’t want to drink alcohol.

This quality and choice are largely down to the massive improvements in brewing innovations in recent years. 

And the most exciting part of the zero beer movement right now is just how far the brewing techniques have come and how fast they are improving.

Whether you’re looking to get some homebrewing inspiration or just pique your curiosity, we’re going to dive into a couple of the more popular brewing techniques. 

So, how is non-alcoholic beer made? Let’s take a look.

How is Non-Alcoholic Beer Made?

It’s always one of those burning questions, how exactly is non-alcoholic and zero beer made? 

Zero & non-alcoholic beers are brewed using many different processes, but there are 2 key methods

Alcohol Reduction & Prevention

Dealcoholization 

Both methods work in a number of ways that can affect the beer’s taste, aroma, mouthfeel, body, and final alcohol content.

So let’s look into the brewing process to better understand where your zero beers come from. 

Or maybe even get some ideas to brew your own.

Alcohol Reduction and Prevention

This is probably the most common approach taken by craft breweries and home brewing as it’s more cost-effective and doesn’t need a lot of extra equipment. 

There are several methods for limiting or preventing the alcohol content during production, which we can take a look at.

No Fermentation

This method is quite an innovative and sustainable approach to making zero beers.

Because beer is generally made through fermentation, it kind of goes against the grain-to-use methods with absolutely no fermentation whatsoever.

By not fermenting the wort, it’s possible to create a beer that is truly 0.0% ABV

Generally, if your wort doesn’t ferment, you can get quite an “off” taste. 

Not that it’s always a bad taste, but it can be quite different. 

So to find the balance in taste using the no fermentation method can be a little tricky.

Yeast also plays a pretty important role in creating beer flavours. During fermentation, yeast produces chemicals that impact the taste, including esters, phenols, glycerol, ethanol, and biotransformation of hop compounds. 

If these flavours are not balanced, beer can taste sweet and quite worty.

You would think, without these complexities, beer would likely taste bland and boring.

Freestar was the first to pioneer this method in 2019. What seemed almost nonsensical at the time came away with the 2019 world beer awards for low alcohol. Not a bad introduction!

Sierra Nevada currently use this method to brew Hop Splash

Hairless dog also utilise this method for their full range, and they pack a few zero beers full of complex flavours.

Arrested Fermentation

A method used in the good old medieval days. Although a little more advanced in modern times.

Brewers can control the amount of alcohol in their finished product by stopping the fermentation process at a specific point. 

This process can be done by heating, cooling, or using chemicals.

The downside to this method is, that it’s difficult to get the full flavour, and a beer can taste a little “off” and worty.

However, the process has come a long way, and now by adding yeast metabolite, or “special yeast”. 

Isoamyl acetate is a helpful flavour active yeast metabolite, as it can cover up the worty off-taste and add a banana-like smell and taste.

A method often utilised by Partake. Whatever they’re doing over there, they’re doing it right!

Nested Fermentation

Nested fermentation is a relatively new process for brewing zero beers. 

This process starts by brewing a standard batch of beer, but after the alcohol has been extracted, a new batch of wort is added to kickstart another round of fermentation. 

This process several times, resulting in a beer absolutely packed with flavor but 0 alcohol.

A method currently spearheaded by Brewvo.

Using Different Yeast

Brewing companies and homebrewers are increasingly interested in non-alcoholic brewing, which has led to a greater exploration of yeast strains

While we are still in the early days of exploration, which is actually quite exciting, Yeast laboratories worldwide are working with many different strains of yeast that can lead to successful fermentation and unique flavours that closely resemble regular beers. 

This innovative brewing technique is helping to bring new, delicious beer styles to market. 

Non-alcoholic and zero beers can even be made using alcohol-free (Hanseniaspora uvarum) yeast.

Even better, this year we have seen one of the biggest breakthroughs for zero beers from the University of Copenhagen.

They believe they have engineered yeast to match the flavours of regular beer. 

This one can be a game changer!

High Temperature/Low Gravity

This one might sound possible the most complicated, but, is actually one of the easiest ways to start in homebrew.

This method is quite easy to get to grips with, and is cost-effective to brew in batch. 

By creating a wort of low fermentability, combined with high temperature mashing and low original gravity, you can use a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae to fermentation, limiting alcohol production.

Brewdog use this method for their nanny state golden ale. A fantastic benchmark for anyone going this route.

Dealcoholization

Dealcoholized beer is a beverage made by removing the alcohol from beer.

The process of dealcoholization typically involves heating the beer to evaporate the alcohol, or the usage of membrane filtration, vacuum distillation, or reverse osmosis. 

It generally uses a lot more equipment, but that’s not to say it still be can’t done as a homebrew method.

Dealcoholized beer is often referred to as “near beer” because it contains a small amount of alcohol. (No more than 0.5% abv).

Let’s look at some of the methods used in dealcoholization.

Boil Off 

One of the most common methods used by brewers to remove alcohol from beer. 

This method involves heating the beer at a point post fermentation to “boil off” the alcohol.

You brew a regular batch then heat it up to 173 degrees Fahrenheit. 

This causes the alcohol to burn off and evaporate until the beer reaches the desired 0.5% ABV.

It is a very possible method for home brewing. 

The only cons are that without the right equipment, it can be difficult to test just how much alcohol is left in the finished brew, so you are relying on getting the timing just right.

The problem with this method is it can cause issues with flavour, leaving the final beer a little flat and sometimes bitter.

The following is how much alcohol is “boiled off” after a certain time.

30 MinutesEvaporates 65% alc
1 HourEvaporates 75% alc
1.5 HoursEvaporates 80% alc
2 HoursEvaporates 90% alc
5 HoursEvaporates 95% alc

So your average 5% beer would need 2 – 2.5 hours to reach 0.5% abv, and up to 5 hours to be closer to a zero beer.

Vacuum Distillation

Similar idea to the boil-off method, where the alcohol is removed, but this process stops the beer from losing a lot of its natural flavour.

So, instead of heating the beer to a high boiling point that would cause it to lose its flavor, the beer reaches a much lower temperature before evaporating the alcohol. 

This allows it to retain its taste while still evaporating the alcohol out of the mixture.

The fermented beer flows through a closed system and evaporates during this process.

The trick here involves creating a vacuum in the brewery’s distilling equipment, which in turn lowers the boiling point of the alcohol. 

The lower boiling point means much of the flavour stays intact or isn’t ‘warped’ or changed throughout the process.

The alcohol vapour is then condensed and distilled again to separate the flavours, which are then added back into the zero beer.

This method has come a long way throughout the years, with technology now capable of boiling the alcohol as low as 29 degrees Celsius.

This method is used to make Heineken 0.0.

Or a personal favourite, Ship Full Of IPA by Brutal Brewing.

Membrane Filtration

A method popularised in the dairy and fruit juice industry. Is now seen across the zero beer market with the aim of full flavour and aroma retention in the final product.

The purpose of beer membrane filtration is to boil off alcohol at a lower boiling point and improve the clarity of the finished product by removing yeast and other colloidal that can cause haze.

Reverse Osmosis

This process is gaining popularity because it maintains the unique flavors of different beers while reducing alcohol content.

Rather than using heat to distil the alcohol out, this method uses pressure to push the fermented beer through a very tight filter or membrane

The holes in the filter are so small that only water & alcohol can fit through. 

The larger molecules, including the flavour ones, can’t get through. What is left after filtering is a concentrated version of the beer.

Once the mixture has been filtered, the alcohol can be distilled out by using a standard distillation process such as boiling it off etc.

Once the alcohol content has been removed, those flavours that were all filtered out can be added back in, leaving a tasty drink with low to no alcohol.

This is a method used by Schönbuch Braumanufaktur for their non-alcoholic beer range.

FAQS

> What beer styles can you brew?

You can brew pretty much any style you want, even through home brewing. 

Of course, certain beers will be a little more difficult to pull off to get the flavour and aroma just right. 

But, it’s possible to get anything from a crisp lager, a hoppy ipa, to a full-bodied stout, and even a tart sour. 

And always remember, if you are homebrewing, your next batch is always better than your last!

> Is non alcoholic beer fermented?

Yes, non-alcoholic beer is fermented. Most non-alcoholic beers actually start their journey as regular beers but take a different before they become zero or low-alcohol beers.

Non-alcoholic beers are brewed in a similar fashion as regular beers. 

The main difference is that the fermentation process is halted before the yeast has a chance to convert all of the sugars into alcohol. 

Or the alcohol content is “boiled off” to below 0.5% alcohol.

> Does non-alcoholic beer contain yeast?

Non-alcoholic beer generally contains the same key ingredients as your average beer or IPA. These include water, grain, hops, and yeast.

Non-alcoholic and zero beers can now be made using alcohol-free (Hanseniaspora uvarum) yeast.

However, it is possible to find yeast-free beers.

Any filtered non-alcoholic beer will be yeast free, and if brewed with yeast, it will be removed after the fermentation period.

> Are non-alcoholic beers completely alcohol-free?

Not all non-alcoholic or even “zero” beers are completely alcohol free. 

However, Alcohol is found in many everyday food items. You may even find up to 1% alcohol in foods such as fruits, juices, vinegar, condiments, soy sauce, bread, and yoghurt.

So a non-alcoholic beer may contain traces of alcohol after the brewing process, it can still be lower abv than a common household food item.

> How is Guinness 0.0 made?

Guinness 0.0 is made with the same natural ingredients as the original Guinness stout: using barley, hops, yeast and water. 

The alcohol is then removed using a cold filtration method, resulting in a non-alcoholic beer that tastes just like the original.

> How is Heineken 0.0 made?

Heineken 0.0 is made with the same ingredients as the original: using barley malt, hop extract, water, and the A-Yeast Heineken.

The alcohol is then removed using the vacuum distillation method.

> How is O Doul’s made?

O Doul’s is made with malt, barley, whole cone hops, select yeast, select grains, and water.

The alcohol is removed using low-temperature, low-pressure distillation.

> How is Brewdogs Nanny State made?

BrewDog’s Nanny State is made using the high temperature/low gravity method.

In fact, Brewdog is more than happy to give you the exact recipe to follow. It’s kind of like recording a cover song; it’s still never as good as the original!

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