Non-Alcoholic Beer - Can You Brew It At Home?

Non-alcoholic beer is on the rise, and the question is: Can you homebrew an NA beer?

Good morning. When considering items that are usually stolen in a heist, you think of gold bars, precious jewels, or nowadays maybe digital assets like Bitcoin.

However, last week a beer heist ring worth hundreds of thousands of dollars was busted in New York. Seven men were arrested for stealing Corona and Modelo Especial from train distribution centers, bringing it to the Bronx and reselling.

You can’t make this up. Take notes Hollywood…

-Brandon Copeland

Non-Alcoholic Beer - Can You Brew It At Home?

Non-alcoholic or “NA” beer has blown up in recent years. Gone are the days where you have to suffer through an O’Doul’s if you want to enjoy a beer without the alcohol content. Nowadays, NA beers are stealing serious market share and for good reason - they are tasting more and more like good beer.

The question as a homebrewer is simple: How do I brew a beer that still tastes good, without a full fermentation that converts the sugar from the grain into alcohol? Since this has been dwelling in my head recently, let’s get into it.

How to Brew a Non-Alcoholic Beer

There are two main ways to make non-alcoholic beer; you can either use special yeasts that restrict alcohol formation during fermentation, resulting in a finished fermentation below 0.5% alcohol, or you can remove the alcohol after brewing using methods including boiling the alcohol off, vacuum distillation, or reverse osmosis.

Special Yeasts for NA Homebrewing

NA All Day (WLP618) from White Labs

There are a few yeast strains out there on the market that will lower alcohol percentage in your beer post fermentation by not fermenting maltose. One of those is the NA All Day (WLP618) from White Labs - using this yeast, you brew the same as you always would, however the mash temperature needs to stay above 162 F (72 C).

There are a couple of other companies making low alcohol yeasts including Fermentis with their SafBrew LA-01 and Lallemand with LalBrew Lona, and all are capitalizing on the same characteristic - they don’t consume maltose. If I were aiming to brew a NA beer (once I have a kegerator with more taps, I will give it a shot) this is where I would start.

Removing Alcohol From Beer

As a chemical engineering grad, I hear the word distillation and immediately shudder, returning in my mind to the sleepless nights in college filled with the struggle to understand what was happening in my Separation Processes class. However, chemical engineers who actually paid attention in class are coming up with unique ways to separate alcohol from beer in commercial settings.

Commercial brewers generally either use vacuum distillation or reverse osmosis to separate alcohol from beer, with reverse osmosis starting to take the cake for simplicity and limited impact to flavor. However, for the homebrewer both are costly and complicated to pull off.

The boil off method is the staple for homebrewers because of it’s simplicity. Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water (173.1 F, 78.4 C) so you just need to heat your beer to at least 173 degrees to begin boiling off the alcohol. However, if the temperature strays too high above 173 F, you can start getting off flavors in the beer.

The easiest approach is to heat your oven to 180F, put you beer in a big stockpot, and let it sit in there for 20 - 30 minutes. This will boil off the alcohol and give you the best chance of having your flavor still intact. After this, you can cold crash and carbonate as normal.

Is NA Beer The Future Of Beer?

I think there is plenty of room for NA beer in the market without it replacing normal alcoholic beer. At it’s core, craft beer is about enjoying a delicious brew with friends, and as long as it tastes good, there is room for non-alcoholic beer for the long term.

Commercial breweries are racing to create NA beers that taste good to respond to market demands, and it’s only natural that homebrewers will follow or lead the charge!

Have You Brewed a NA Beer?

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Beer Trivia Question

🍺 While NA beer is booming now in the US, there was one other time in history when it was more popular. Name that period of time.

Read to the end to find out if you're right!

Homebrewing Equipment Highlight

BrewBuilt X3 Conical Fermenter (Affiliate Link)

The BrewBuilt X3 Uni Conical Fermenter is a brand new addition to the BrewBuilt product line, and it’s packed full of features. Starting at $1099 for a 7 gallon fermenter, it’s not for the faint of heart; this is for the homebrewers who are aiming to make their brewery at home rival that of a commercial brewery.

To get the full capabilities that come with a jacketed fermenter, you need a glycol chiller which is also offered in a package deal for $1949. To be honest, for the level of homebrewing that I’m doing now, this almost has too many features, and would be an absolute nightmare to clean in my apartment kitchen. The allure of stainless steal conical fermenters is real though…

Brewgr Recipe of the Week

Recently, I’ve been focused on making approachable beers that still have a distinct flavor profile, like a New Zealand Pilsner or a Hazy Pale Ale. This Golden Ale falls in that category - the Citra in the last five minutes of the boil likely gives a nice bit of aroma to an otherwise easy drinker.

Credit: Jonas

Overwhelmingly, people choose to use a closed transfer to the fermenter. In my mind, while it’s not 100% necessary to make great beer, it’s just one more thing you can do to ensure your precious beer is not spoiled by the introduction of oxygen. Depending on your fermenter, this can prove challenging, however getting a fermenter that can hold pressure (or just using an old keg) is a great upgrade that will allow you to take this extra precaution.

And the Answer Is...

🍺 Prohibition of course! Pabst and Anheuser Busch adapted to prohibition laws by brewing “Near Beer”, which was less than 0.5% ABV. They used the boil off method to remove the alcohol, and in some cases would secretly include the boiled off alcohol in a separate container with the near beer that drinkers would add to their beer using a syringe, coining the term “Needle Beer”.

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Happy Brewing!

- Brandon, Brew Great Beer Team

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