Whether it’s in dry January or any other time of year, many drinkers explore non-alcoholic beers and wines. And the producers are eager to supply them. Some winemakers and brewers have introduced alcohol-free (NA) products, while others have created entire NA brands.

But how exactly do you make alcohol-free beer or wine? What is the best way to remove or prevent alcohol from the glass?

In the United States, a beverage is considered non-alcoholic if it contains less than 0.5% alcohol. This idea is not new, as alcohol-free beer was first introduced in the United States in 1919.

Today, brewers and winemakers producing NA beverages are primarily concerned with how to preserve or replace typical alcohol characteristics, such as the weight or volume of wine or the taste of beer.

Amanda Thomson is the founder of Noughty, which produces its organic, vegan, alcohol-free Chardonnay by vacuum distillation / Photo by Edward Bishop

Terry Donnelly, president and CEO of Hill Street Beverage Company Inc, a manufacturer and distributor, believes the best way to make NA beer is to stop fermentation. This process involves either stopping fermentation before too much alcohol is formed, or using a specially formulated yeast to produce a beer with a lower alcohol content. This drink supports the complex flavors of beer and hops that most of us associate with beer.

Another method is vacuum distillation. The beer is placed in a vacuum chamber, which lowers the boiling point of the alcohol to approximately 80°F.

It’s actually a warm summer day, Donnelly said. And at this temperature, water and all the elements in water don’t boil, but alcohol… In a separate process, terpenoids and flavonoids are collected, distilled and returned to liquid form.

Bravus Brewing Co – The first brewery in the U.S. to produce only non-alcoholic beverages / Photo : Chase Hettig

Some breweries remove alcohol by reverse osmosis. In this process, the liquid passes through a filter, and the filter separates the alcohol based on molecular size, Donnelly says. Alcohol is a larger molecule than water, so you can literally pass it through like a microscopic filter and filter out the alcohol.

Philip Brandes, founder of the Bravus Brewing Company, the first exclusive alcohol-free brewery in the United States, uses none of these methods. In 2015, he hired a molecular biologist who was a homebrewer to help him develop his beer.

I really wanted to see how easy it was to not remove things, since you can’t just remove the alcohol without affecting the rest of the beer, Brands says of Bravus’ signing process. People think it’s just malt, hops, water and barley, but there’s a very complex process going on, especially in the craft industry: processing in the hops, into sugars and esters. We really wanted to look at how to avoid drinking a lot of alcohol.

Yoko Sato, winemaker and head of Freixenet’s alcohol extraction laboratory, prefers vacuum distillation.

This system allows us to remove the alcohol at a low temperature (95ºF) that respects the aromas and flavors of the wine, Sato says. In addition, vacuum distillation can produce an alcoholic strength of between 0 and 0,05 %. By removing the alcohol through vacuum distillation, we preserve the integrity of the finished wine, allowing us to produce a fresh, fruity sparkling wine that can be enjoyed at any time.

Yoko Sato (right), winemaker and head of Freixenet’s laboratory, believes that vacuum distillation better preserves the integrity of the wine / Photo : Mikel Monfort Subiran

Noughty, an organic, vegan and NA Chardonnay from Thomson & Scott, also uses vacuum distillation. Founder Amanda Thomson describes the process as hands-off.

The finished wine is dry-fermented, she says. The alcohol component is removed at 86ºF, which is a lower temperature than the boiling method to obtain this flavor. A very small amount of organic sugar is then added during bottling to create the perfect balance of this beautiful and deliciously sparkling, non-alcoholic Chardonnay. No synthetic fragrances have been added.

Thomson believes the biggest challenge is creative thinking.

We [winemakers] tend to get a little stuck in our own approach to wine, so we don’t try to make a copy, she says. I think we should make something special and delicious.

Published on the 5th. March 2021

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