It's a beer world after all!
This month's emails from quite a few readers asked me just how non-alcohol beer is made.  It seems that the
whole topic of NA and no-alcohol beer is a popular one especially considering the stunning increase in their sales.  
First let's make the distinction between the two clear. The legal standard according to the FDA under which a beer
can be called “non-alcoholic” (and thus be exempt from excise taxes) is 0.5% ABV. So unless a beer specifically
claims to be “0.0” or “Zero Alcohol,” it's good to assume that “NA” beer does contain a trace amount.

To make one, manufacturers typically brew a beer as they normally would, then remove the alcohol using tricky,
often expensive techniques. Now, breweries are finding ways to create a beverage without yielding any alcohol to
remove in the first place, therefore producing a true 0.0% ABV beer.Creating a quality NA beer is not easy. There
are three common production methods: vacuum distillation, reverse osmosis, and arrested fermentation.

During vacuum distillation, beer is heated so the alcohol evaporates out. The vacuum chamber lowers the boiling
point from around 173°F to as low as 93°F, which helps preserve aromatics and flavor. Reverse osmosis operates
like a kidney dialysis machine: Fermented beer is pushed through a membrane filter with microscopic pores where
alcohol molecules and water are separated out. Water is then added back in. With arrested fermentation, brewers
can remove yeasts or stop them from becoming active, in order to prevent the yeasts from creating high levels of
alcohol. This is usually done by cooling down the beer.

But these methods have drawbacks. A high-end vacuum distillation or reverse osmosis filtration machine can cost
as much as $3 million, a prohibitive amount for many startups. Perhaps even more challenging is extracting the
alcohol without altering the taste. Even with a vacuum, the heat involved in distillation can strip flavor, whereas
arrested fermentation doesn’t allow for that flavor to fully develop, which can result in a worty taste.

Beer in the 2% to 3% ABV range can be made more or less normally, but using less fermentable sugar like malt,
says chemistry professor Roger Barth. “The body can be bumped up with maltodextrin or some other carb that is
unfermentable by brewer’s yeast,” he adds. “One can also fiddle with mashing conditions, usually by mashing at
high temperature, which suppresses production of small, fermentable sugars.”


Tips For The Home Brewer

1. One of the best ways to reduce the likelihood of your beer getting contaminated is to chill the wort as fast as
possible, dropping the temperature from that dangerous range that evil bacteria just love. Many beginning
homebrewers accomplish this by submerging the brew kettle in an ice bath in either a large tub or the bathtub.
Depending on how many bags of ice you purchased (additional expense), this can take anywhere from 40 minutes
to well over an hour.  You can save a ton of time, eliminate hassle, and reduce the risk of contamination by
purchasing a wort chiller. These come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common is a coiled immersion
chiller. Immersion chillers usually cost $50–$70 and can typically chill 5 gallons of wort in 20 minutes or less. You
simply hook a cold-water source up to the immersion chiller, add the chiller to your kettle for the last 10 minutes of
your boil to sanitize it, and then turn on the water after you’ve removed your kettle from the heat source. The
chiller does the rest, and is surprisingly easy to clean.

2.  Whether you are transferring from the kettle to the primary fermentor or racking to the keg, the auto-siphon is
your primary tool. Most beginning brewing setups include a 5/16” auto-siphon. These usually cost about $10 when
purchased on their own, but for just $4 more, you can get a ½” racking cane that will save you a ton of time getting
that precious liquid moved from vessel to vessel. It wasn’t until my fortieth batch of homebrew that I moved to the
larger size—something I wish I had done on batch one.

3. After your hot phase is complete and your wort is chilled, there’s relatively little oxygen left, and yeast likes
oxygen to get a vigorous fermentation started. There are a few ways to add oxygen to your wort. You can add
water from the tap, but this dilutes your wort, reducing your ABV and overall flavor of your beer. My preferred
method is to use either an aeration stone (just like those you may have seen in an aquarium) or an oxygenation
kit. These will run you anywhere from $35 for the aeration stone to $50 for the oxygenation kit (without the oxygen
tank). Trust me, your beer will thank you.


Hope you found this month's column of interest.  If you have any questions about beer or brewing
or just want to submit a word for me to discuss here just
e-mail it to me.

Thanks and Cheers!
How NA Beer Is Made / Homebrewing Tips
A new column by
Jack O'Reilly
Jack O'Reilly attended the
famous Siebel Institute/ World
Brewing Academy in Chicago.
I'm very excited to be part of the BeerNexus team.  I think my many years in the
beer business both as a brewer and manger will enable me to explain and
investigate many topics of interest for those who really love craft beer.
Hope you join me every month.  
More by Jack: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14,
#15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25, #26, #27, #28, #29, #30,
#31, #32, #33, #34, #35, #36, #37, #38, #39, #40, #41
Techniques and insights
for the serious ceft beer
fan and home brewer