The popularity of non-alcohol beer (NA for short) is growing but what’s it all about and are they any good?
NA beer first started appearing in America at the time of Prohibition, at the time anything greater than 0.5% alcohol was outlawed for consumption. This percentage has stuck and today, by common definition, to label beers as non-alcoholic they must not exceed 0.5%
NA beer is made in the same way as ‘regular’ beer, from mashing in, to adding hops and on to fermentation to produce alcohol. Usually the beer would then be bottle or kegged, however NA beer gets another process to remove the alcohol content.
The most common method is by heating the beer as alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water, approx. 78°C. This process does affect the flavour of the beer, however, as you are effectively “cooking out the flavour”. To mitigate this some brewers heat the beer in a vacuum, this brings the boiling point down, resulting in less flavours and aromas being lost to evaporation.
Another process that is less destructive to flavour is reverse osmosis. Here the beer is passed through a filter, separating the alcohol and water from the flavour compounds and sugars. The alcohol/water mix is then distilled separately, removing the alcohol before the water is mixed back in with the sugar and flavour compounds. However, this does require more specialised equipment and is more labour intensive.
But would you miss the alcohol? Alcohol does contribute to the mouthfeel of a beer, giving it a greater feeling of weight in your mouth but the major flavour difference is not the alcohol itself but rather the process of de-alcoholising that strips out some of the flavours in the beer. However, with greater demand and technological improvements the quality and flavour of non-alcoholic is certainly improving. There’s now a range of non-alcoholic craft and world beers to try.
Germany has been leading the way in NA beers for a number of years, Weihenstephaner produce a very good Hefeweiss, wheat beer, with classic flavours of banana, lemon and clove spice. A little lighter in body than their original alcoholic version but still delivering plenty of flavour. Or from neighbouring Austria try Stiegl Freibier for crisper style with light citrusy hop notes.
Producing a hoppy NA beer has always been a challenge as the more delicate hop flavour and aromas succumb to the dealcoholizing process. Brewdog do a good job with their Nanny State, an American pale ale delivering hoppy citrus and pine notes
These beers are included in craft beer sale with 6 for the price of 5 across the range continuing through January…
For a slightly different take try the limited release Designated Diver. This is an unfermented, 0% alcohol soft drink made in collaboration between YellowBelly and Black Castle Drinks. They have created a lemon and pear soda dry hopped with Citra and Huell Melon hops. Dry hopping is when hops are added to almost finished beer to increase flavour and aroma and is used to great effect here balancing fruity hop notes with refreshing lemon tartness.