Alcohol-free beer – how does it work??

Whether non-alcoholic Pils, wheat or specialty: the demand has increased enormously.

Whether sportsmen, drivers or conscious connoisseurs: the demand for non-alcoholic beers has increased enormously in recent years. Almost 7 percent – about 5.5 million hectoliters – of the beers brewed in Germany are now non-alcoholic. New record. But despite their popularity, many inclined beer drinkers do not know how they are made.

Alcohol-free beer still contains small amounts of alcohol

Like any beer, non-alcoholic beers are made from water, malt, hops and yeast. Beers that are called non-alcoholic in Germany may still have a low alcohol content of no more than 0.5 percent by volume. feature. Those who believe that this poses a danger are mistaken. Because what many don’t know: Small traces of alcohol can also be found in other beverages or foods, such as fruit juices, kefir or even ripe bananas. Grape juice, for example, may contain up to 1 % vol. of alcohol. Alcohol contains. However, these amounts are so small that, according to several studies, they have no effect on healthy adults. In comparison: In countries such as Spain or France, even a higher value is permitted for the alcohol-free limit.

Alcohol-free?

Alcohol-free beer contains up to 0.5% by volume. Alcohol.

The driver’s beer

The history of non-alcoholic beer is still relatively young and has its roots in the former GDR, or more precisely in the eastern part of divided Berlin. Throughout the German Democratic Republic, the zero-alcohol-alcohol limit applied to motorists. The Engelhardt brewery in Stralau (Friedrichshain) recognized this gap in the market and in 1972 introduced "AUBI, short for Auto driversbier, to the market. Unlike other beers, this specialty was brewed with an original wort of about 7 percent – in comparison, a Pilsner has at least 11 percent original wort. As a result, the alcohol content of AUBI remained below 0.3% by volume.

Beer sold very well in the GDR era. However, this changed with the fall of the Berlin Wall: With the wall disappeared also the AUBI and the brewery Engelhardt from the scene. But breweries from all over Germany quickly recognized the potential of non-alcoholic beers and developed new recipes and styles. There are now more than 400 types of non-alcoholic beer in the world, with very different characteristics and production methods.

Produced with stopped fermentation: Amber Wheat Alcohol-Free

Made with stopped fermentation

Stopped fermentation.

The easiest way to explain how alcohol comes out of beer is to look at how alcohol is created in beer. The yeast is responsible for this, an organism that converts the malt sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This is where one of the two best-known processes for producing non-alcoholic beers comes in: stopped fermentation. The yeast may be used up to a maximum alcohol content of 0.5% vol. work. The fermentation is then interrupted by briefly heating the beer so that no further alcohol can be produced. Beers that are produced by means of stopped fermentation often have a sweet taste due to the large amount of residual sugar. This process is therefore very suitable for non-alcoholic wheat beers such as the non-alcoholic amber wheat from Stortebeker Braumanufaktur, which already taste fruity and sweet. These beers are particularly popular with athletes because they are isotonic.

Frei beer is made using vacuum distillation

In the picture

Frei beer is produced by means of vacuum distillation.

Vacuum distillation

In addition to stopped fermentation, there is a second process that is increasingly used: the subsequent removal of the alcohol. For this, a beer is brewed and fermented in the regular way. After the beer has matured, the alcohol is evaporated in a vacuum – similar to the distillation process. The special thing about this is that the flavors that are actually lost through evaporation are returned to the beer, so that these beers taste like their counterparts with alcohol and are not as sweet in comparison. This method is very suitable for non-alcoholic tart beers. Stortebeker Braumanufaktur uses this process for its Frei beer: a strongly hopped brewing speciality in the Pilsen style.

In the picture

New processes for producing non-alcoholic beers are being tested.

Newer processes for alcohol-free beers.

In addition, there are other ways of brewing alcohol-free beer, but these are not yet as widespread. One possibility would be to throttle fermentation. Specifically, this slows down the work of the yeast due to cold temperatures, which means that all the flavors are formed, but a maximum of 0.5% vol. alcohol are produced. Similar to stopped fermentation, these beers are relatively sweet.
A fourth option is to "extract" the alcohol from the beer by filtration. The beer is then topped up with water to bring it within the limit of 0.5% vol. comply. This method – similar to distillation – has the advantage that the flavor carriers remain in the beer.
A final variant is offered by very special yeast organisms, which produce only up to 0.4% vol. alcohol work, i.e. converting the malt sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. But no matter how the various non-alcoholic beers are made: They are finding more and more enthusiasts worldwide.

Written by: Elisa Raus
Published on: 06.06.2018

Elisa Raus is the reigning world champion beer sommelier – the first woman in history to hold this title. She has been responsible for press and public relations at Stortebeker Braumanufaktur since 2013.

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