Tag Archives: craft brewing

Low or no? The alcohol-free boom and why it’s showing no sign of going bust.

In partnership with CereX: Natural Cereal Extracts

From stouts with milk proteins for mouthfeel to ales composed from hop oils and malt extracts, specifically built stripping columns to boiling off the ethanol from the finished beer. There are an increasing number of brewers dipping their right toe and even diving head first into the field of NABLAB (non-alcoholic beer and low-alcoholic beer). And while the UK low/no market is still tiny in comparison to beer at large, or even Craft for that matter, representing less than 1% of total beer sales, its popularity is growing, especially among young drinkers. So, if you’ve already added an alcohol-free recipe to your repertoire then you’re totally on trend, you hipster you!

That’s right, the latest trend we’ve witnessed and which we think will only continue to gain momentum is the low percentage brew. We’re not saying that the rich, punchy and high ABV Craft 2/3 is going anywhere, or even that it’s under threat. Just, that trends like craft lager, clean (put an avocado on it) eating and vegan options are going to continue take an equal share of the limelight and are part of a trajectory towards further diversification into healthy NABLAB options. #DryJanuary (around the clock), or rather #TryJanuary – both are truly applicable here!

Say what now? Well, Heineken, Budweiser and San Miguel have all introduced 0.0% beers to the market and supported them with dedicated marketing campaigns for DryJanuary this year. AB InBev have even pledged that 20% of the beer they sell will be low or no by 2025, a big claim to make on a short-lived trend? Plus, BrewDog’s Nanny State has been a dependable part of their repertoire for many years, marketed initially as a reaction to the stink surrounding their 18% Tokyo, but as ever, devilishly ahead of the curve. Love it or hate it, NABLAB is more than just a fad and represents an opportunity for investment in a growing market, should you wish to take it.

Who cares? Well, if the brewers’ role is to meet customer demand (we know that’s not your only role really), then evidence strongly supports the existence of said demand for low or no. Recent research done by GlobalData shows a growing focus on healthy options and a parallel interest in lower alcohol alternatives. For instance, 38% of global consumers said health claims influence their choice of alcoholic drink. When looking at Great Britain in particular, the Office for National Statistics found that regular alcohol consumption is declining and teetotalism in those aged 16 to 44 is on the rise. A trend which is particularly prevalent among young people aged 16 to 24, who are less likely to drink than any other age group. The stereotype of the student weaving through life from party to party, punctuated only by hangovers and the odd deadline is something of the past! Rest in peace.

Looking for a catalyst, that moment to invest? Well, now really is the time! With the introduction of the ‘sugar tax’, the demand for an alternative to alcohol that won’t break the bank has never been higher. Ever winced at the cost of branded fizzy pop, marvelled at how your pint of orange juice and lemonade costs the same as the local real ale? Well, said conundrum bemoaned by teetotallers and designated drivers alike isn’t going anywhere. This is a call to arms brewers, we need you! There has got to be a better option.

We get it you say, we need to add a low or no brew to our range, can you get to the point and tell us how? There are many options available to the brewer looking to produce a final product for the low or no market.  You can start at the beginning of the process by limiting the malt/water ratio to produce a lower original gravity or by choosing lower fermentable brewing materials for lower overall ethanol content. There’s the options that have me searching for my copy of Cool Runnings (tenuous link, maybe, excellent film, certainly): the ‘cold contact’ method of pitching your yeast in wort at near freezing temps; the method of fermenting the ‘second runnings’ from a previous mash #ReduceReuseRecycle; or that of ‘crash cooling’ when you’ve reached your desired gravity and alcohol content. There are also several methods of removing ethanol (expensive equipment may be required) and even the option to, well, water things down. All these options have costs and complexities to consider and will ultimately affect the overall beer flavour and mouthfeel; the skill lies in reducing this effect as much as possible.

Seem a bit complicated? Well, when isn’t it? We think we might have the answer! Technically speaking there is no such thing as beer without alcohol, as beer contains alcohol by definition, so really what we’re discussing here is a non-alcoholic malt beverage or brew. When you think about it like this, you open up a whole new creative space, separate to your usual brewery output. This is where CereX comes in, a malt extract that is the perfect clear compound for no and low beverages and which can be used for colour, smell, mouthfeel, taste and nutritional content.

CereX is a super high value natural malt extract, produced with a brewer’s philosophy. It is made initially in the same way as beer, well up to the point of wort boiling, so it’s made entirely from malted barley and brewing water. This also means that mashing, lautering and wort boiling are all performed in a state-of-the-art plant with the same strict levels of quality control and led by a passionate team with expert knowledge of brewing. Win! The first divergence from the standard brewing process occurs when the boiled wort is pumped through a series of vacuum plate heat exchangers. This evaporates the water content; enriching and concentrating the wort until a thick wort syrup is created. This is the natural cereal extract: CereX. It is then filtered for stability and to remove proteins leached from the malt, and finally stored in tanks at around 30°C ready for packaging. Once packaged it has a shelf life of 12 months and is available in 20kg and 235kg, oh and also heated road tankers for the big boys. It’s sterile, oxygen-free and very tasty! Plus, the clarity and stability of the extract means it’s perfect for all sorts of beverages.

Sound good? It’s even better once you’ve got it in the brewhouse (obviously). CereX is essentially an extra yummy concentrated malt extract, which requires you to dilute it to a specific gravity, say 1.045°OG, and then add aroma, flavouring and/or colouring to create the beverage in your mind’s eye (oh and you can carbonate it too if you’d like). Popular additions that spring to mind are a caramel to darken the drink, coffee flavourings, hop oils, bitters and acids. We recommend that when making these additions you do it on the cold side, to avoid cooked flavours and loss of aroma. But you’re the artists – you know what to do!

The rationale behind our confidence in CereX is multifaceted. The quality of the product is undeniable, providing the assurance you need when embarking on a new project like an alcohol-free brew. What’s also incredible, is that this quality doesn’t require huge investment for your brewery. Our industry is always seeking innovation and efficiency and this product provides this in spades; it’s a flavoursome base with almost endless possibilities of blending without time-consuming low or no specific procedures! Furthermore, the key difference CereX offers to NABLAB’s made by other processes, is that it has never come into contact with alcohol or yeast, thus making it acceptable to Muslims, those with a yeast intolerance and in fact, anyone looking to avoid alcohol and/or yeast altogether. For this reason, CereX is hugely popular in certain parts of the Middle East and Africa. Oh and CereX has health giving properties too. That’s right, healthy beer! Apart from some sugar, it is high in vitamins, amino acids, salts and certain proteins, making it the refreshing healthy option for the pub-goers not partial to pop or soft drinks we’d been so aspiring to cater for. So healthy is beer brewed via this route that German Olympians have been choosing it as an alternative to sports drinks! (We were shocked too!) CereX really is a low-cost, low-tech means to compete with the Heinekens, InBevs and Carlsbergs of the NABLAB world! A foundation for flavour without alcohol that can contribute to both the development and improvement of any low or no product! Contact us on techsupport@murphyandson.co.uk if you’d like to learn more.

Looking for a bit of further reading? We’d recommend:

The Murphy’s guide to kegging

Brewing Auditkeg

Introduction

Kegged beer is a product which has been chilled and filtered, usually carbonated then packaged into pressurised metal containers which have a spear or extraction device of some description to aid dispense. In this way it is a different beverage to cask beer although often starts out brewed in the same way. The ability of the brewer to keg enables him to exploit different sales channels compared to cask where his keg beer can tolerate longer shelf life requirements, dispense points with no cellar cooling or sporadic turnover. Typical shelf life for a keg beer for the UK market is 12 weeks whereas for export, anything over 9 months is required.

Processing

Raw materials, brewhouse and fermentation processes are the same as for cask beer. It is in the preparation of the beer for packaging that the major changes occur. The first step is in the maturation. Beer destined for kegging is usually chilled to as low a temperature as the brewer can get it. The lower the better as this precipitates chill haze so it helps to have used carrageenan in the brewhouse too. A beer kept at -2.0˚C can be filtered after 48hrs, -1.0˚C would be 4 days, but if a beer can only be kept at 4 or 5˚C, it may be better to keep it for several weeks.

The second step is a filtration stage. This is to remove all yeast and as much protein and other material that would otherwise promote the formation of haze and off-flavour. Filtration can be through cellulose sheets or cartridge filters of different porosity or by using a kieselghur (diatomaceous earth) filter. All these techniques achieve the same thing; the production of a star bright beer which maintains its chemical and physical stability for the length of shelf life required by the customer. In practice beer is pumped from the cold tank through the filter and collected in a bright beer tank. At all stages it is important to keep air, in particular oxygen from contacting the beer. Oxygen readily reacts with residual proteins and hop resins in the beer to form compounds that eventually lead to oxidised flavours and haze which detract from the flavour. Therefor the rough beer tank often has a top pressure of CO2 gas acting as a blanket as the tank empties and likewise the receiving bright beer tank has a CO2 atmosphere to do the same as it fills.

Keg beer has a higher carbonation than its cousin in cask and this is achieved by carbonating the beer. The most efficient way is to do this inline as the beer exits the filter and fills the bright beer tank. However it can be done by carbonating the bright beer tank directly although this risks stripping out hop aroma and causing floaters through collapsed fob. A typical keg beer carbonation could range between 1.4 to volumes (cask beers are rarely greater than 1.0vol).

Packaging

Once in the bright beer tank, keg beer is packaged into kegs as soon as possible. The product although stabilised by filtration, is not sterile so most brewers fill their kegs after first flash pasteurising. Pasteurisation is the name given to heat treatment of a liquid to render it microbiologically safe. The amount of pasteurisation given is measured in pasteurisation units, PU’s, defined as the amount of heat delivered to kill microbes in a unit of time. 1 PU is the amount of microbial death achieved at 60˚C for 60 seconds. The scale is logarithmic and can be found from tables but keg beers are generally given around 20 PU’s equivalent to holding beer at 72˚C for a 15 – 20 seconds. The whole packaging process, including pasteurisation, is done under pressure to prevent the loss (fobbing) of CO2. The pasteuriser feeds the keg racker, usually via a buffer tank to cope with variable flows seen during keg filling. Kegs are washed on a specially designed washer as they need to be de-ullaged, cleaned, sterilised, rinsed and back-pressured prior to filling with the pasteurised beer.

Due to possible damage to the beer at the elevated temperatures of pasteurisation, beer can be sterile filtered instead. This usually involves passing the beer through a series of Filter Cartridges, the final cartridge being 0.45 micron.

After filling, kegs are check-weighed to comply with trading standards legislation, labelled and a tamper-proof keg cap placed over the filling/dispense point to protect the contents.

Considerations

This is the basic process of kegging beer. It is obvious that a different process technique and different equipment is required to keg beer. The underlying principle is to bring a greater stability to the beer to deliver a longer shelf life.

Some further considerations about this process are given below:

  • Even longer shelf life can be achieved through chemical stabilisation in cold tank prior to filtration by using silica gels, PVPP or enzymes according to the raw materials used and shelf life desired by the brewer.
  • There are many different types of keg fitting to found in pubs, and some of the one trip kegs have their own fitting. Your market needs to be investigated when considering keg and fitting type.
  • The prevention of oxygen contact throughout the whole process is imperative to achieve the shelf life stated by the brewer. Oxidised beer is really unpleasant to drink and indicates a fault in the above process. It is difficult to prevent oxygen ingress but permitted anti-oxidants are available to minimise the inevitable contact, e.g. ascorbic acid, sulphur dioxide (max. permitted in beer before declaration is 20ppm).
  • It can be seen that much capital equipment is required to install the correct processing equipment. However keg beer can be made employing sterile filtration technology which precludes the need to pasteurise with its risk on flavour change and energy requirement. Sterile filtering is made immediately after the rough filtering step and produces a microbially stable beer that can be carbonated and kegged as described.
  • The introduction of another product stream to the brewery requires more management, knowledge and expertise. It is worth considering purchasing additional quality control equipment like CO2 and O2 analysers especially to assist with the control of these important parameters.