How is non-alcoholic beer made? Several decades ago, non-alcoholic beer was created by essentially boiling away the ethanol. Unfortunately, this tended to destroy the flavors and aromas in the beer. In recent years, new techniques have made it possible to produce craft beers that are alcohol-free. The newer processes employ arrested fermentation or vacuum distillation. Other brewers use less grain than usual or low heat. Thanks to these new techniques, breweries can create non-alcoholic beers with various flavors and aromas.
How Non-Alcoholic Beer Works
The first non-alcoholic beer appeared in the United States in 1919. It had to be made due to the new Prohibition laws, during which alcohol was prohibited nationwide. The government determined that the maximum alcohol content any beverage could have was 0.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). To this day, this remains the limit for non-alcoholic beers.
Interestingly, people started developing a taste for non-alcoholic beer. Even after Prohibition ended over a decade later, some drinkers still preferred the taste of non-alcoholic beer. In response, many American brands started producing bland, light beer to cater to this consumer preference.
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How Non-Alcoholic Beer Is Made
The process of making alcoholic and non-alcoholic beer is largely similar. Both types of beer go through similar steps, such as creating a mash and boiling the wort. The addition of hops and fermentation also occur in both processes. The main difference for most non-alcoholic beers is that they need to be heated.
When the beer is heated, the alcohol begins to evaporate. Unfortunately, this heat can alter the taste of the fermented beer. To prevent this, some breweries use vacuum distillation. This process lowers the boiling point of alcohol as much as possible using a vacuum. Instead of heating the beer to a high temperature, it only reaches a relatively warm temperature. This technique helps preserve the flavors while reducing the alcohol content.
In recent years, distillers and brewers have become more innovative in alcohol removal methods. One popular technique is reverse osmosis, which involves pushing the beer through a filter with small enough holes that only water, alcohol, and a few volatile acids can pass through. Afterward, the alcohol can be distilled from the alcohol and water mixture using standard distillation techniques.
Meanwhile, a syrup of sugar, ingredients, and flavors remains on the other side of the filter. Once the alcohol is distilled from the water, the remaining water and acids are returned to the syrup. None of the main ingredients and flavors need to be heated in this process, resulting in a stronger, more natural flavor. This technique requires more equipment and labor hours, but it produces superior results.
The beer-making process is not yet complete. At this stage, the non-alcoholic beer looks and tastes like regular beer, except it is completely flat. Normally, beer becomes carbonated as it ferments in the bottle, as yeast metabolizes sugar to produce more alcohol and carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Non-alcoholic beers differ in that their goal is to prevent fermentation and limit yeast. To achieve carbonation, most breweries inject carbon dioxide into the bottle, keg, or can, similar to what soda manufacturers do for carbonated beverages.
Some manufacturers try to make their beer more authentic. They may add starter yeast and extra sugar to the bottles to initiate fermentation. This process may aid carbonation, but it also increases alcohol levels. Incorrect execution can result in bottle explosions.
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The brewing of non-alcoholic beer is currently experiencing a revival. For decades, non-alcoholic beer remained a flavorless and metallic drink, akin to Prohibition-era beer. However, in the past decade, alcohol-free beer has regained popularity in Europe, the United Kingdom, and Canada. The new trend is to create non-alcoholic beer that tastes identical to regular beer. Teetotalers can now enjoy non-alcoholic beer that looks, tastes, and smells like their favorite craft ale or stout.
The growing non-alcoholic beer movement proves that it is entirely possible to make excellent beers without any alcohol.