how is alcohol free beer made

How is Alcohol-Free Beer Made?

Generally, there are two overall ways of making alcohol-free beer.   In this article, we’ll cover the processes that brewers of alcohol-free beer use to make their beer and some of the terminology that’s used in these processes.  The methods employed to remove or reduce the alcohol in a beer can impact its taste, aroma and body, so we’ll cover the pros and cons of the methods of producing beer that is alcohol-free.  So, are you ready to learn all there is to know (for a layman of course!) on how alcohol-free beer is made?

The Primary Methods of How Alcohol-free Beer is Made.

Brewers of low alcohol or alcohol-free beer have two choices when it comes to making their beer for the alcohol-free market.    They can either:

  • Prevent alcohol being formed during the fermentation process

Or

  • Remove alcohol from a brewed alcoholic beer

These are, of course, broad descriptions that cover a whole lot of process.    Here are more details on how both of these processes for making alcohol-free beer work.  (if you want to understand what we mean by alcohol-free beer, then we have a whole lot of info for you here.)

Making alcohol-free beer by reducing and preventing the production of alcohol

This tends to be the process used to make alcohol-free beers by smaller and craft producers as it doesn’t require the purchase or usage of any specialist or extra equipment on top of what they use to produce regular alcoholic beer.  Within this method of producing alcohol-free beer, there are 3 approaches to preventing alcohol being produced.

Making alcohol-free beer by “no fermentation brewing”

When beer is brewed it starts with a “mash” – which is when the grains (usually malted barley and the other grains such as rye, wheat or corn) are mixed with water and then heated.  The enzymes in the malt break down the starchy grain to create a liquid called “wort”.  After the wort has been boiled and strained yeast is then added to the wort, this begins the fermentation process.  Fermentation (in the case of beer brewing) is the process by which a starch or sugar is converted into alcohol by the addition of yeast.

The “no fermentation” method of producing alcohol-free beer is simple and provides a 0% ABV brew.  Yeast is withheld from the wort and therefore no fermentation takes place.   This process tends to be used in Islamic countries and produces sweeter beers and tends not to be like a traditional beer taste.  Fermentation also creates the bubbles that we’re used to in beer, so in a similar fashion to how fizzy drinks are made most breweries using this method inject carbon dioxide into the can or bottle.

The folks at the UK based Freestar use this process to create their 0.00% alcohol-free beer. 

Making alcohol-free beer through “limited or arrested fermentation”

Following the beer brewing process outlined above, this approach to making alcohol-free beer makes changes to the process by stopping or lessening the fermentation.  This is done by making a  wort that contains sugars that are “less fermentable”.  As the sugars that are to ferment are lower then the yeast can’t make high levels of alcohol.  The tweaks that brewers make in this process involved changing the temperature of the mash that is created so that the enzymes that create the fermentation are not activated fully.

Alcohol-free beers that are made using “arrested fermentation” are made by the removal or deactivation of the yeast before they can start alcohol production.  This is usually done by quickly cooling the beer to almost freezing.

Making alcohol-free beer by using special yeast

The market for alcohol-free beer has grown significantly in recent years and has led yeast suppliers to develop new yeast strains specifically for the production of alcohol-free beer.    While these new and developing yeast strains can help with aromas and flavours they are designed not to ferment the types of sugars used in beer production.

Making alcohol-free beer by removing alcohol from alcoholic beer – Dealcoholisation

The title should say it all.  This is the method of creating alcohol-free beer by brewing a fully alcoholic beer and then dealcoholising it.  This tends to be the method that is used by larger breweries.  There is usually a high equipment cost to undertake one of the processes that are used to remove the alcohol from the beer.  Alcohol can be removed from the beer by one or more of the following methods;

  • Heat – boiling off the alcohol
  • Vacuum distillation
  • Membrane filtration
  • Reverse Osmosis

Making alcohol-free beer using the boil-off method

This is the most common method of removing alcohol from beer.  Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so it is possible to heat the fermented beer until only the required amount of alcohol remains.  This is how the first commercially available alcohol-free beers were made.

Making alcohol-free beer using vacuum distillation

One of the biggest complaints of the first method of removing alcohol from beer (the one above) is that it can be described as “boiling off or boiling away all the taste and flavour”.    That’s where vacuum distillation comes in.    Heating the beer in a vacuum means that you can reduce the boiling point of alcohol from 78.38 Celsius to 34 Celsius.  This helps to retain the taste while still “boiling” off the alcohol.

Making alcohol-free beer using membrane filtration

The method of membrane filtration for removing alcohol from beer is where regular alcoholic beer is dripped through a membrane that removes only the water from the beer.  Once the water is removed, the alcohol is distilled off and the water is returned to the beer.

Making alcohol-free beer using reverse osmosis

Reverse osmosis is the process of pushing pressured water through a semi-permeable membrane to remove unwanted compounds from it.    In the reverse osmosis method of dealcoholisation, the membrane used filters out water, alcohol and some other compounds.  The compounds responsible for the characteristics of the beer remain.  Then, the resulting concentrate has oxygenated water (deaerated water) added to it until the desired alcohol level mixture is reached.  Finally, it is further diluted with water until the desired volume of alcohol-free beer has been reached.

How is Alcohol Free Beer Made FAQs

Got questions about how alcohol free beer is made? Or want to know something specific about the process of making alcohol-free beer and we haven’t answered your questions?  Check out our frequently asked questions about alcohol-free beer production below, or ask us yours in the comments.

Why has alcohol-free beer improved so much?

The first commercially available alcohol-free beers ended to be made by “boiling away” the alcohol, with little regard for the aroma and taste that remained, or rather didn’t remain.  The new techniques that have been discussed above now make it possible to refine the taste, flavour and aroma of alcohol-free beer while removing the alcohol effectively.

Final Words on the Process of Making Alcohol-Free Beer

We hope you’ve enjoyed our foray into the world of how alcohol-free beer is made.  It’s clear that scientific advances and experimentation are changing this world quickly and for the better.  We love tasting alcohol-free beers that are made using different techniques and methods and seeing if we can tell the difference.  What about you?  What’s your favourite alcohol-free beer?

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