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An introduction to non-alcoholic beer

By Posted in Drinks

If you are interested in trying non-alcoholic beer, you’ll be pleased to know that the category is growing fast. There are a variety of styles emerging from large international beer brands to smaller craft breweries. If you’re unsure what we mean when we talk about non-alcoholic beer, you might want to check out our blog about 0.5% and alcohol-free for some clarity.

To understand how to choose a non-alcoholic beer, it helps to know a little about the production process.

Making beer

Beer is made from four simple ingredients: water, malt, yeast and hops. 

Malt is combined with hot water, to break the grain down and extract sugars. 

The grain is then separated from the liquid, which is called wort. This is a hot sweet liquid which is reminiscent of malty bedtime drinks such as Ovaltine or Horlicks. 

This is cooled and yeast is added. The yeast eats the sugars, producing carbon dioxide and alcohol. Hops are used to add flavour, bitterness and aroma.

How do you make non-alcoholic beer? 

Beer can be brewed to full strength, and then the alcohol can be removed. But it’s hard to do this without changing or losing flavour. 

The cheapest and quickest way is to heat the beer and boil the alcohol away. This is simple, but can leave a disappointing taste. 

A better approach involves doing this under pressure in a vacuum. This reduces the temperature needed to remove the alcohol, and so less flavour is lost in the process. This will usually result in a much better flavour.

Some brewers make a significant investment in technology to remove alcohol through reverse osmosis, which has the potential to result in a beer that should be identical to its full strength counterpart, but without the alcohol. To explain this in very simple terms, equipment is used which has a membrane that will allow all but alcohol to pass through it. This means you shouldn’t lose or damage any of the flavour.

Another way is to brew the beer to the strength required by using lazy yeasts, or by halting the fermentation process. This generally results in a high quality drink, and overcomes some of the biggest faults with alcohol-free beer – lacking in body and complexity, or being too sweet. 

Finding a style of non-alcoholic beer that suits you

The development of alcohol-free beer now means that there are a wide range of different styles available, meaning there is something out there to suit every palate.

The most commonly known beer style is the lager, and its popularity means that it is well represented in the alcohol-free world. Lagers tend to be quite dry and crisp. A large number of mainstream brewers have released alcohol-free versions of their flagship beers including Budweiser Zero, Heineken Zero and Carlsberg Nordic. 

This has given rise to the popularity of half and half shandies, where you mix a full-strength beer with its alcohol-free equivalent to create your own low-alcohol version.

A number of craft alcohol-free breweries have also made inroads into the lager category including Lucky Saint and Nirvana Brewery.

More hoppy beer styles like pale ales and India Pale Ales (IPAs) tend to have a more bitter flavour.

You can use the Club Soda Guide to find more beers and styles to try, or try one of the mixed cases from our friends at Wise Bartender.

Top tips for choosing beer

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