A few years ago, asking for “non-alcoholic or low-alcohol” beer, wine, or spirits at a bar could have elicited blank stares and soft drink recommendations.
But now it seems like every beer brand has its own NoLo version of their product, and wine and spirits may not be far behind. A partnership between the University of Adelaide and the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) was recently announced. This is partly to create better NoLo wines.
These NoLo products are marketed as options for people who drink, want to drink less, or want to make healthier choices, not for non-drinkers.
So what is the science behind NoLo wine and beer and how do they work?
Let’s start with beer. Definitely the easier of the two to make.
Professor Benjamin Schultz, a biochemist at the University of Queensland, is a self-professed ‘craft beer lover’.
Last year, he was part of a team that published a study that used mass spectrometry to analyze proteins in different types of beer.
He explains that NoLo beer isn’t just a beer-flavored soft drink, it’s a regular beer made with grains, hops, yeast and water, then the alcohol is removed.
“One approach would be to make regular full strength alcoholic beer, but remove the alcohol through processes such as distillation and reverse osmosis. I understand that it’s a technology that has a lot to offer,” he says.
Distillation is the process of heating “regular” beer. Water, alcohol, and other elements of beer have different boiling points, so part of the beer can evaporate, but not others. Then mix in the water and other elements of the beer, but leave the alcohol.
Reverse osmosis, on the other hand, uses a thin membrane that allows only water and alcohol to pass.
These processes work relatively well for simple beers like lagers. However, for more complex hoppy beers, distillation “breaks down” the beer, removing many of the more delicate flavor compounds. To do this with less removal of flavor compounds, distillation may be done at high pressure vacuum. This lowers the boiling point and results in less change in the beer’s flavor.
Reverse osmosis is better, but still not perfect. These floral, fruity or bitter compounds may not appear in the same way in NoLo beer.
Schultz says there are other, more experimental ways to make low-alcohol beer.
One approach is to start with less sugar. Less sugar means less food for the yeast to snack on and turn into ethanol.
Some yeasts are used in beer.The genus used called Saccharomyces It is usually very good at converting the sugar called maltose, which is abundant in beer, into alcohol.However, other yeast strains – etc. Saccharomyces ludowigiiAlso Zygosaccharomyces lentus It is a maltose-negative strain. This means that maltose is not used to produce alcohol, so much less alcohol is produced in the final product.
These methods are more commonly used among craft beer producers who don’t have expensive equipment and can more easily experiment with different strains and methods of creating products.
If you’re looking for new NoLo beers to try, Schultz says these craft beers with different yeast strains are perfect.
“I tried to use XPA’s style and tried some non-alcoholic craft beers. he says.
“They weren’t as spicy and flavorful as their alcoholic counterparts, but they were really delicious and refreshing.”
The higher the alcohol concentration of a product, the more difficult it is to make an equivalent non-alcoholic version taste like the original. This means that NoLo wines are harder to make wine-like than any beer, and spirits are even harder.
Dr. Wes Pearson is an AWRI research scientist who also produces wines at McLaren Vale’s boutique winery. He knows better than anyone what their job takes to make NoLo wines better.
“We try to make wines that look, smell and taste like traditional wines, but it’s a healthy choice,” he said. universe.
“People who have been drinking wine for 20-30 years…don’t be fooled by the products available today.”
Beer is around 5-6% alcohol, while wine is around 12% alcohol. This higher percentage means ethanol is more prominent in the taste and feel of the wine. Remove it and the wine suddenly isn’t wine anymore.
“Ethanol provides texture and viscosity. It thickens the wine.
Plus, beer has ingredients. Wine has no ingredients. It is fermented grape juice. In other words, a tool for reconstructing the mouthfeel and texture that was lost when the ethanol was removed. [is significantly less than beer]”
NoLo wine production is done in the same way as beer and can use either distillation or reverse osmosis. However, grape juice contains a lot of sucrose, so maltose-negative yeast strains cannot be used in wine.
Using distillation alone, some wines outperform others when it comes to NoLo. It suggests that
“I would be the first to admit that if I was drinking NoLo wine five years ago and I am still drinking it today, it is much better today, so we are moving forward,” he said. increase.
“There are some excellent Sauvignon Blancs, not knowing that they are lower in alcohol. In my opinion, sparkling wines and Sauvignon Blancs are probably the closest we have to traditional wines today.”
The expansion of NoLo Wines over the past few years has been immense. According to Wine Australia, NoLo production has increased by 593% between 2017 and 2021.
Pearson hopes that as NoLo wines improve and demand rises, not only will their market share increase, but they will be able to sell at prices similar to regular wines.
“These products are really expensive to produce. You have to get the grapes, ferment them, store them, and you need this expensive technology to remove the ethanol. Even loses volume!
“You can go buy a $1000 bottle of wine tomorrow, but you won’t have a $1000 non-alcoholic wine.
“If we can solve the mouthfeel problem, we can make these wines look more like traditional wines, which opens up a whole realm of premiumization.”