Beer is traditionally known as an alcoholic beverage. Although lately, more and more people are drinking non-alcoholic beer for religious and health [R] reasons.
Take it from the Germans. The world’s beer capital now produces around 400 to 500 varieties of alcohol-free beer [R]. If they say non-alcoholic beer is good, they’re probably right.
Why Non-Alcoholic Beer Is Made
In most countries, beer is classified as “non-alcoholic” if it contains less than 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) [R].
Low-alcohol beer dates back to the Middle Ages with small or table beers (1% ABV) [R]. Because of poor sanitation in that era, low alcohol beer was made as an alternative to water and was, in fact, safer.
Non-alcoholic beer, as we know it today, began when brewers made non-alcoholic beers as a response to the Prohibition in the USA in 1919. During the Prohibition, drinks with alcohol levels higher than 0.5% ABV were completely banned.
These days, more and more people are drinking and making non-alcoholic beer because it offers a host of benefits and, in some cases, is even more culturally acceptable [R].
Beer has several health benefits. One of them is the probiotic content of non-alcoholic beer. Beer contains probiotics like yogurt does [R]. The live, beneficial bacteria in beer comes from the fermentation of yeast used to make beer.
Another health benefit is the polyphenol content in beer, which is found in the hops and grains used to make beer. These polyphenols are powerful antioxidants.
And it comes with all these benefits without the disadvantages of drinking (or overdrinking) alcohol: no buzz, no drunkenness, and no embarrassing dance moves.
Because beer has to contain 0.5% ABV to be considered “non-alcoholic,” this kind of beer actually won’t give you a buzz.
While brewers are required to state their beers’ alcohol content, this alcohol isn’t anything to worry about. One bottle of non-alcoholic beer has the same alcohol content as orange juice [R], or maybe even lower. Full Beer Alcohol Content List (+230)
How Non-Alcoholic Beer Is Made
To make alcohol-free beer, brewers usually either remove alcohol from beer or restrict alcohol formation while fermenting [R].
It’s possible to restrict alcohol from forming during fermentation by using special yeasts [R] or by interrupting the fermentation process.
These aren’t the best methods for homebrewers, though. Special yeasts are largely experimental and may be inaccessible, while interrupted fermentation might not give the best taste.
Removing alcohol after fermentation is much easier for homebrewers to learn, and that’s what we’ll be focusing on.
We’ll give you an overview of the different ways of removing alcohol from beer (“dealcoholization”), so you can pick the techniques or methods more suited for your brewing process and fermentation workflow.
What You’ll Need When Making Non-Alcoholic Beer
If you’re already a homebrewer, chances are you already have all the materials you’ll need to get started. You can skip ahead to Step 2 below.
However, if you’re just starting out, we recommend that you start first with a home brewing kit to get familiar with the process of fermenting beer.
Besides the home brewing kit or your grain, starter yeast, and your fermenting jug, you’ll also need:
- One 40-quart stockpot or a brew kettle
- Your stovetop or oven
- Brewing spoon
Step 1: Make Beer As Usual
We suggest you try making alcoholic beer as usual on your first try, so you can get a handle on the process.
When you search for your beer recipe, make sure that you avoid one that calls for sugars, like corn sugar. Sugar is what increases alcohol content in beer.
When you finish fermenting your beer, it’s time to move on to the dealcoholization process.
Step 2: Remove The Alcohol
Most brewers remove alcohol from beer by boiling off the alcohol or through filtration methods like reverse osmosis, but vacuum distillation and other unique methods are also possible.
Reverse Osmosis/Filtration Method
In reverse osmosis, the beer is filtered through a membrane that separates alcohol and water from the ferment. The alcohol is then distilled out, and the water that was filtered out can be put back in the fermentation mixture.
The reverse osmosis method is expensive and takes a lot of equipment to accomplish. It would be hard for homebrewers to try this method of non-alcoholic beer.
The Boil-Off Method
The boil-off method is the most commonly used way to remove alcohol from beer. If you remember chemistry class, you might recall that alcohol has a lower boiling point than water.
In the boil-off method, the beer is heated at 173 degrees Fahrenheit where the alcohol can burn off and evaporate from the beer until it reaches the desired 0.5% ABV. This method is the most approachable for homebrewers because it needs the least equipment.
The problem with the boiling method is that the beer ends up tasting flat, without the complexity of the beers we’ve come to know and love.
However, with a few precautions and a little bit of patience, homebrewers can achieve great-tasting non-alcoholic beer.
Heat The Beer
At this point, you can transfer your fully-fermented beer to a stockpot or your brew kettle. From here, you can choose how to heat your beer.
- Oven heating. Set your stockpot or brew kettle inside an oven for 20-30 minutes with an oven temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure the oven is preheated before you put the beer inside.
- Stovetop heating. Set your beer on top of the stove and watch your thermometer. Make sure you stay at 175 F. Any higher, and you risk funny or offensive flavors in your beer.
We prefer oven heating because the beer heats more evenly. Even heating will maintain the flavors of the beer. The heat affects the yeast, which can be volatile when subject to fluctuating temperatures.
Stovetop heating might be more convenient (beer kettles are huge!) and have the added advantage of easy temperature checking.
Vacuum distillation is similar to the boil-off method, except that the beer is inside a vessel where a vacuum is applied [R]. This reduces the boiling point of the alcohol to around 120 F or even less.
This isn’t a readily available brewing process for homebrewers, though, but we thought to put it here just to give you an idea. Some homebrewers experiment with this technique to get better results for their non-alcoholic beer.
Step 3: Carbonate Your Beer
Non-alcoholic beers tend to be flat because the boil-off process may also boil some flavor aroma off the beer. You’re also left with a non-carbonated beer because carbon dioxide was released in the boiling process.
To carbonate your beer, you can use either natural or forced carbonation methods.
If you choose natural carbonation, you’ll have to add additional yeast and priming sugar before bottling. Make sure that your yeast is activated prior to bottling because unactivated yeast takes longer to carbonate.
If you have another yeast starter undergoing active fermentation, we recommend you use that yeast to carbonate with.
There are also convenient carbonation tablets you can use to carbonate. Bottle your beer and serve after 3 days.
You can also choose to force carbonate by injecting carbon dioxide into your keg with beer.
If you regularly brew beer, you might already have these lying around. If you don’t, you can try getting a carbonation lid kit to help you finish the job.
Non-alcoholic beers are taking the world by storm because it is a great alternative to regular beers. It’s ideal for people who are trying to get sober or live healthier lifestyles, and it tastes even better these days.
Of course, beer tastes better when you’re the brewer. We hope that you try making your own non-alcoholic beer at least once and become the judge for yourself.