by admin on October 10, 2011

Ed. Aware that some of you are simply not facebook people, in the spirit of sharing the response to this really great query from Kirk Olmstead. with as many of you as possible, we reprint the answers to the above question from two Brewmasters:

Garin Wright, co-owner and Brewmaster at Buckeye Brewing, Lakewood Ohio offers the Cliff Notes answer. Short and Sweet.

Garin and Bob Wright

CAN AN INTERESTING NON-ALCOHOLIC BEER BE HOME BREWED? No, not NO alcohol, it’s some process that the bigger breweries use to remove the alcohol that already exists, I’ll bet you that one of the big craft breweries would have already jumped on that one if it was practical enough. But, it would be nice to see an N/A IPA or darker brew. Three, four percent Session beers, no problem.

Mark Phipps: Former Brewmaster at Schoenling Brewing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, hones in on an answer for the Home Brewer/Chemist!

I could go on and on regarding this subject, as I have been involved in a number of projects to attempt production of decent tasting non-alcoholic brews. I will try to get this down to some of what I believe to be important comments followed by some bullet items that appear to be key to getting the best result with the least taste defects…choosing the least of many “evils,” so to speak.

Mark Phipps

Among the reasons it is so difficult to do well is the fact that ethyl alcohol is not only a flavor contributor, but a flavor carrier and enhancer. Its very absence is noticeable as it affects the palatability of many beer components…malt dextrins and protein, (beer body) as well as hop oils and iso-humulones (hop bittering and aroma). Loss of high aromatics like fruity and hoppy flavors is a huge negative. This is especially noticeable in beers that are typically high in these characters…unfortunately these are EXACTLY the ones you want to produce.

Typical methods used to produce most of the low alcohol products you see on the shelf are not so practical for home brewing. Most are methods to remove alcohol after normal fermentation and can include DISTILLATION, EVAPORATION, REVERSE OSMOSIS OR DIALYSIS. The most successful products come from systems that can distill or evaporate off the alcohol at the lowest temperature possible…usually using vaccum and thin-layer technology, so that the alcohol  boils off  at the lowest possible temperature. Scratch these for home brewing. Nuff said there.

Adjustments in mashing and fermentation techniques are the best way to produce a product that still has all the necessary hop oils and fruity aromas to “scratch your itch”  without the negatives of alcohol present. The biggest downside of these methods is a beer that tastes  “worty” from high levels of aldehydes. These usually involve a shorter, tightly controlled… even arrested  fermentation time.

There are a number of methods which are known to help overcome this “worty”  flavor:

1) Biological acidification of the wort before fermentation (i.e.using an organic acid such as lactic to adjust wort pH to 4.0 before fermentation) This drastically slows alcohol production by the yeast.

2) Dilution of original wort gravity from say 12-13% to 7.5% before pitching with yeast.

3) Use of a top-fermenting ale yeast to obtain more fermentation by-products. Otherwise it is recommended to use a higher fermentation temperature when using a lager yeast but for a shorter time.

5) Inclusion of some pale caramel malt in the recipe to enhance malt composition for flavor and body.

6) Avoiding production of fermentable sugars. There are various methods: Applying a practice known as a “jump mash”  to limit the amount of fermentable sugars that are produced by beta-amylase. This is where you pass quickly through the temp where beta-amylase is active (52-75°C) by adding boiling water at the end of the protein rest to quickly reach 75-78°C. Another method is to mash a well modified malt at 75-78°C , thus avoiding the saccharification temperatures altogether, while still breaking down the starch as necessary .

In each of the above mashing methods, the formation of fermentable sugars (i.e. glucose, fructose, sucrose and maltose) is retarded. This helps to avoid the sweet or “worty”  flavors described previously.

7) Several variations in “cold contact fermentation”  have also been developed. This process makes use of reactions between wort and yeast which normally occur in the early lag phase  of fermentation. This allows for reduction of worty aldehyde compounds while also limiting production of ethanol by maintaining colder than normal conditions during fermentation. This also usually involves a higher than normal pitching rate to increase concentration of yeast cells in the wort.

My guess is that selectively applying several of these methods mentioned above, with good controls, may produce a full-bodied beer with desired hoppy and fruity characters while maintaining a minimum of sweet or “worty” characters. It MIGHT look something like this:

1. Make your normal wort including pale caramel malt if possible to enhance body without adding a high level of aldehydes.

2. Do your best to shoot through the beta amylase (sugar forming) temperature of the mash cycle. (52-75°C) Add hot water to do this but try not to end up with a water to grain ratio of more than 6:1 (weight of water to weight of grain). Too complicated to explain here. Just take my word for it.

3. Separate and clarify the wort as you normally would.

4. Dilute the finished wort with hot sterile water to 6-7.5° Plato,

5. Cool wort to about minus -0.5 to 0°C . (probably 20° C colder than normal)

6. Adjust pH of the wort with an organic acid (i.e. lactic) to pH= 4.0

7. Pitch at a high rate– at least 100 million cells/ cc —with a top-fermenting yeast (typical Ale) and maintain temperature at -0.5 to 0° C for a period or 24-48 hours. (the tough part). Others promote a similar process but pitching at 150 million cells/cc and then maintaining between 3-7°C temp of the fermentation. (this is a bit more practical but still has to be watched closely). After further processing, the brew should have an alcohol content of 0.5-1% by volume.

As far as taste goes, well … don’t expect your favorite brew to taste like it would have under normal alcoholic fermentation circumstances, but at least you will have done all you can to keep all the goodies and hold the undesirables at arm‘s length.

AN IMPORTANT WORD ABOUT LOW ALCOHOL BEER STABILITY: The lower concentration of alcohol and slightly higher pH of low alcohol beers result in greater risk of spoilage by microorganisms normally held at bay by the normal combination of alcohol and low pH. Handle this beer carefully, and avoid long storage times unless you are willing to pasteurize any bottled product. Some very big companies have had some hideous problems by under-pasteurizing packaged low-alcohol beers. Remember &there are still a lot of goodies left to ferment in this product.

Well that is about the longest post I’ve ever written…maybe it should have been posted as a NOTE… but then no one tends to read those!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

admin October 22, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Although I am saddened to hear there are no practical methods available to make great tasting N/As this article was highly informative and possesses a sense of an alchemist’s lab notes. Thank you for the answers. Mark, the methods you mentioned are well beyond my knowledge of the process of home brewing but it was interesting to read. Thank you.

Kirk Olmstead


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