We’re getting really good at making alcohol-free beer and wine. Here’s how it’s done

Drinking alcohol has been part of Australian culture for at least 240 years, possibly thousands of years.

However, in recent years there has been a growing trend to opt for low-alcohol or non-alcoholic versions of traditional drinks.

Read more: Australians are embracing ‘mindful drinking’ – and the alcohol industry has a chilling curiosity too

Non-alcoholic beverages have been on the market for decades, but for a long time their range was limited and their flavors were often inferior to their alcoholic counterparts.

Online retailers (some of which specialize in non-alcoholic beverages) now offer up to 100 low-alcohol or non-alcoholic beers and a nearly equal number of non-alcoholic wines, the majority of which are produced in Australia. It has been.

What’s behind this big boom in the industry, and where do we go from here?

With increasing demand, most global beer brands now offer zero-alcohol alternatives.
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Everything Starts with Fermentation

Alcoholic beverages are produced by microorganisms, most commonly yeast, that convert sugars to ethanol (alcohol) during fermentation.

In addition to producing ethanol, fermentation also leads to other desirable flavor changes. This means that the fermentation process is integral to the flavor of beer and wine, and cannot be abandoned to create low-alcohol or non-alcoholic beverages.

Consider the difference between unfermented grape juice and wine. It’s not just the presence of alcohol that creates a wine’s flavor profile.

As such, the production of most non-alcoholic wines and some non-alcoholic beers begins with a typical fermentation process, after which the alcohol is removed using several different advanced systems.

A high-tech system changed the game

The two most common methods of producing non-alcoholic beer and wine are filtration and distillation. Both systems are technically advanced and expensive, so they are usually only used by large producers.

In one technique called membrane filtration, specifically “reverse osmosis,” beer and wine are pressurized through very small pore filters that separate compounds based on molecular size. Relatively small molecules such as water and ethanol can pass through, but other molecules cannot.

Water is continuously added to the mixture of larger “flavor” compounds to reconstitute the beer or wine. This process continues until all ethanol is removed.

Another process is distillation, where compounds are separated based on the temperature at which they boil. Distillation therefore requires heat, which changes the flavor of beer or wine, leading to undesirable products.

Distillation used to make non-alcoholic products is done at very low pressures and vacuums to minimize flavor impact. Under these conditions, ethanol can be removed at approximately 35°C to 40°C as opposed to 80°C under atmospheric pressure. This is based on the same principle why water boils at a lower temperature at high altitude than at sea level.

Four beer glasses arranged on a table
A variety of beer styles are now available in alcohol-free form.
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Little brewers are becoming master craftsmen

Increased production of low-alcohol and non-alcoholic beers reflects consumer preference, but is partially driven by the wide range of craft beers now available.

Many craft breweries in Australia produce delicious, low-alcohol beer without adding expensive equipment. Do this.

In the first method, the brewer intentionally reduces the amount of simple sugars available to the yeast. If you use less sugar, the yeast will produce less ethanol.

There are several ways to achieve this, including using higher or lower than normal temperatures during mashing (the process of extracting simple sugars from barley grains). Brewers can also stop the fermentation process early before too much sugar is converted to alcohol.

Fermentation tanks photographed in a brewery.
Federation University’s brew deck has all the tools to make a great brew, including conical fermentation vessels.
federal university, Provided by the author

The second method uses different yeasts. Traditionally, most beers have been brewed using yeast. SaccharomycesThis genus has been domesticated for thousands of years to make beer, wine and bread.

However, there are thousands of species of yeast, some of which are not adept at producing ethanol as a by-product. They still offer the flavor compounds we expect, but with a much lower alcohol content (sometimes less than 0.5%).

Most yeast strains are commercially available and may have been described before, but some breweries still keep secrets about the exact strains they use to make their low-alcohol beers.

Scanning electron microscope image of baker's yeast cells.
There are various companies dedicated to developing new yeast strains for the brewing market. In addition to using naturally occurring strains, you can also cross two strains to create a hybrid.
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Barley will soon notice the difference

It is difficult to make delicious low-alcohol or non-alcoholic beer and wine. Exactly Like a full-powered counterpart. This is because ethanol contributes to the flavor profile of alcoholic beverages and is more pronounced in wine (usually about 13% ABV) than in beer (about 5%).

Removal of ethanol and water also leads to the removal of compounds containing smaller molecules and volatile compounds (chemicals that vaporize under normal atmospheric conditions), but manufacturers do their best to return them to the final product. I’m here.

Similarly, changing mash conditions or using non-traditional yeast strains in low-alcohol beers will result in different flavor profiles than those obtained with the ‘normal’ process.

Despite these challenges, producers are constantly improving their products. Our preliminary research shows that even experienced beer drinkers cannot distinguish between non-alcoholic and alcoholic beers.

So, depending on your mood and situation, don’t hesitate to try low-alcohol or non-alcoholic beers and wines this festive season (or year-round). You may be surprised at how much the range and quality of these products have improved.

Read more: Why are young people drinking less than their parents?

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