How do you get the alcohol out of beer?
Now we know: There are two ways – physical and biological. But which is best?
“Standard brewing is a mix of art and science.” Photograph: iStock
For those of you who bravely, selflessly, and – let’s not understate it here – heroically take on the role of designated driver on nights out, or even for those of you who don’t drink alcohol at all – you’ll know that choices can be somewhat limited for alcohol-abstaining revellers. Sure, Cidona is delicious, but what about drinks that actually taste like, you know, drink?
Change may be afoot with a growing selection of nonalcoholic drinks that offer an alternative to sugary sodas and bland nonalcoholic bevvies. Drinks like Seedlip, the distilled nonalcoholic spirit blended and beautifully bottled in England, are starting to make a splash in the market. We’ve got home-brewed alternatives such as SynerChi Kombucha, a fermented tea made in Donegal using a brewing process similar to that of beer.
My issue with nonalcoholic beer is that, in my experience, it either tastes like nothing or its brewers have over-compensated with hoppiness - perhaps in an effort to distract the imbiber that there is but a faint whiff of booze in the can. Earlier this year, Guinness introduced their first nonalcoholic lager and named it Pure Brew. I must say, they’ve got the flavour profile just right.
But how did they get the alcohol out of beer? “In general, standard brewing is a mix of art and science,” says John Casey, lead brewer at Open Gate, which is Diageo’s experimental brewery at St James’s Gate, Dublin.
Casey explains that most brewing processes follow a standard flow or path, which includes picking your raw materials, deciding how much sugar to add to feed your yeast and choosing a fermentation time. “Each of those processes will impact the final product. It’s about changing things along that path to get the beer that you want.”
Casey says that, traditionally, there are two ways you can remove the booze from the beer: physical and biological. The physical method relies on technology and methods of removing alcohol such as heat evaporation. But sometimes this method results in some of the classic characteristics of beer getting lost, too – namely flavour. Pure Brew relies more heavily on the biological method, which is a combination of selecting the raw materials and controlling the fermentation process so that their beer is kept below the recommended 0.5%. The result is floral, fruity and crisp, just like a regular lager. Keep it in mind for your next night out or daytime barbecue.