Who doesn’t like to share a pint or, let's be honest, way more than one, with a couple of friends? But if you’re not careful and get carried away, those couple of pints will make themselves known in the morning. And since we don’t get younger with each day, the side effects of a good night out may only worsen with time.
Because of this, many people are becoming curious about non-alcoholic beers and how they differ from regular old beers, specifically how they are made. So, what exactly is non-alcoholic beer and how are they made?
Reading the label - what is non-alcoholic beer?
Non-alcoholic beer is a type of beer that contains no more than 0.5% ABV (alcohol by volume). It's also referred to as NA, zero alcohol, no-alcohol, alcohol-free, and low-alcohol beers.
Many people choose to opt for non-alcoholic brews for the health benefits of skipping out on alcohol. It doesn’t matter, because having all the fun without any of the implications is only one of the many reasons why you should switch to drinking non-alcoholic beers like UNLTD beer! So, how is it produced?
The beer production process
To understand how alcohol-free beer and low-alcohol beer is made, we have to start from the basics and briefly touch upon the brewing process of regular alcoholic beer in a few simple steps.
So how is regular beer made? Crushed malt is mixed with hot water to extract sugar by gradually changing the temperature of the mixture. This results in the production of what is called wort - a sweet syrupy mixture with fermentable sugars. The grains are then separated from the liquid that is then brought to a boil and mixed with the hops to add some bitterness, flavour and aroma. After some cooling time, the yeast is added to the mixture to ferment and convert the sugars into alcohol. Lastly, the yeast is removed, and the beer is filtered, packaged and ready to be enjoyed.
But you might be wondering: where in that process can you skip or change a step or two to get rid of the alcohol, without compromising the taste of a good old pint? Well, there are two main ways of creating non-alcoholic beverages: you can either extract alcohol from an alcoholic drink, or you can restrict the alcohol formation. Let’s explore some of these methods in more detail.
The idea is simple: to remove alcohol from something that already contains it. The right terminology to describe this process would be dealcoholisation. When it comes to beer, that means separating the alcohol by either steam distillation which splits it from the mixture and releases it as condensate (since alcohol has a lower boiling point than water) or water vapour. This is a technique that uses gas-like nitrogen to pass through the liquid to collect and strip the beer of the alcohol. It’s a very delicate and intricate method that requires expensive high-technology equipment.
Reverse osmosis is a very cleverly designed dealcoholisation process that works by transferring the beer into a filtration tank under pressure. The liquid then undergoes filtration through very small membranes that allow only for the proteins, colour and flavour to go through, separating the alcohol that is then distilled from the mixture, without compromising the taste. It is a more gentle method of extracting alcohol while preserving the complex flavour of delicious non-alcoholic beers.
Another popular technique of alcohol-free beer production is using a vacuum chamber that controls the brewing temperature and helps to maintain it at a lower boiling point, without reaching 78 degrees celsius, (which is when ethanol starts to simmer in regular conditions). But the vacuum system allows for that to happen at a lower temperature of 35 degrees. That way, the alcohol is gradually condensed and distilled without tempering with the beer’s flavour compounds that could be negatively affected by a higher temperature.
Some brewers opt for a relatively straightforward method, following the "more is more" concept. This is done by creating a very concentrated beer concoction by adding as much malt and hops as they see fit, which they then dilute with water, dropping the ABV concentration to 0.5% alcohol or even less. Of course, it’s not entirely a trial-and-error approach, but a calculated process where the amount of water added is determined by the amount of alcohol in the initial brew to lower the alcohol content.
This is another practice of producing alcohol-free beers and it’s based on the commonly-known fact that alcohol is created from sugar during fermentation. It includes all the steps that you would take when making a good old lager, but with the aim of limiting the number of fermentable sugars as much as possible before the alcohol is even in the picture. That could be done by choosing grains like maize, which naturally don’t contain that much sugar or using techniques that extract it before the fermentation.
Simulated fermentation means skipping the fermentation of the sugars whatsoever. You might be confused at this point, as without the fermentation you are practically left with a sweet malt mixture, which doesn’t sound so appetising. But with today's technological advancements, we can substitute yeast with special ingredients and enzymes that mimic the fermentation process, without actually producing any alcohol.
Last step - adding the bubbles back in!
The last, but very important step in any of the processes described above is injecting the non-alcoholic beer with carbon dioxide to give it its sparkling freshness. That’s because most beers with 0 alcohol no longer have the yeast that regular beer has, which produces CO2 as a byproduct during the fermentation, so the beers need to be carbonated during bottling instead.
Producing non-alcoholic beer can be a complex and lengthy process, but the end result is worth it.
And there it is - a surprisingly refreshing 0.5% ABV beer with all your favourite flavour compounds intact!
With the rise of health awareness and wellness-oriented lifestyles, more and more people switch to making smart choices about what they consume and how it affects their quality of life. Modern producers have not stayed stagnant, responding to the ever growing demand for healthier food and drink options.
Technologies rapidly evolve, allowing science to work for our benefit, even when it comes to drinking at parties. Today, whether you have to watch your alcohol intake and skip alcoholic drinks because you're a designated driver, a new mom or simply a health-conscious person, you no longer have to compromise your social life.
Instead, you can enjoy your free time by switching from alcoholic beverages to healthier options without any traditional implications. On top of all the fun, they provide you with a great bonus - hangover-free mornings, and who wouldn’t like that? Take control of your life today, choose healthier options and drink non-alcoholic beer from UNLTD.