Man oh man have I come a long way in my homebrewing adventure. From just getting started with kits, to improving the taste by moving to partial mash to making much better tasting beers by moving to all grain brewing to starting my own brew pub to now of all things writing a blog post about how to brew non alcoholic beer!
My mind is blown just writing those words, non-alcoholic beer. Really? I mean come on; Big Robb writing about brewing homebrew that has no alcohol? Not many would believe it. But here I am doing just that, I must be drunk.
It would not have been that long ago that I would have said who in their right mind would ever want to drink let alone brew a non alcoholic homebrew, what’s the point?
Well things change in all of our lives I suppose, we tend to get a wee bit older (if we’re lucky) and with that I guess I have started to hate the hangover even more. From time to time I even think I should perhaps watch my weight and even start taking care of my health a little better. So low and behold here we are talking about brewing up some non-alcoholic beer.
Now having said all of that garbage, do not get me wrong. Big Robb is still brewing up and cranking back more than his fair share of fully alcoholized homebrews. So for the love of all things holy don’t go thinking I have gone all soft on you all.
However I will admit that from time to time I do now enjoy a non alcoholic craft beer. Typically I have been buying them as making them as you will see is a bit more involved. Plus nowadays there are some good options for commercial craft beers with 0.5% ABV. But they are quite expensive, plus since we are homebrewers it makes more sense to brew them ourselves.
So let’s do that…
4 Ways to Brew Non-Alcoholic Beer
Part of the reason that commercial non alcoholic beers are starting to taste much better than they used to is that the big breweries are able to afford to purchase some of the fancier newer equipment that us homebrewers simply can not afford to.
There are typically 4 ways to brew a non-alcoholic brew, the first two methods do require more equipment and are not reasonable options for a homebrewer. Whereas the last two methods do not require any additional equipment at all.
Let’s take a quick look at each of the methods and then I will walk you through the method I recommend that you use if you want to try your hand at making a homebrew with no alcohol.
Method #1 – Vacuum Distillation
As you are going to see, the most practiced method of reducing alcohol by homebrewers is by boiling off the alcohol. One of the challenges with that is that the higher temperatures required to do so can also impact the flavor of the beer.
One of the solutions is to use vacuum distillation which lowers the alcohol’s boiling point resulting in the flavor of the beer not being impacted quite as much. This is a complicated and fairly expensive method.
Method #2 – Reverse Osmosis (aka filtration)
This is a very expensive method and one that I highly doubt any homebrewer would be able to afford to do (I could be proven wrong).
With this method the alcohol is basically filtered out. There is a whole lot more to it but that is the basics of it and since I have clearly never done it and do not recommend you do it that is all you are getting from me on it. 🙂 You can read more about it here if it interests you.
Method #3 – Tweak Your Brewing Process
Now this method is definitely one that a homebrewer can use if they wish to. I first started brewing beers with no – low alcohol in my brew pub and this was the method that I figured was the way to go. However I do not any longer as it makes more of beer soda than an actual beer.
It involves reducing the amount of fermentable sugars you use when making your beer in order to limit or prevent altogether fermentation from occurring. By reducing the amount of fermentable sugars the yeast will not have enough to convert into alcohol.
Another way some tweak their brewing process is by adjusting the temperatures at different points during the mash. Different enzymes are active at different temperatures and by changing the temperatures it reduces fermentation levels.
Again this is not a method I recommend as you actually want your wort to go through the normal fermentation process and become beer, and then once it is actually beer the best practice is to remove the alcohol from it; if not like I said you are basically making soda.
Method #4 – The Boil Off Method
Alright so this is the method that I recommend you give a whirl. Instead of preventing fermentation like you would when you tweak your brewing process, you actually brew a normal beer and then simply remove the alcohol from said beer by boiling it off. The alcohol will evaporate and leave you with a homebrew that is around .05% ABV.
This is the method we are going to take a look at…
Make Your Homebrew the Way You Normally Would
So the first step in the process is to brew a batch of homebrew.
You can convert any type of beer into one without alcohol. (I still feel so dirty writing that). It doesn’t matter if you brew beer from a kit, do partial mash brewing or are full on with all grain brewing you can remove the alcohol from any of them.
In fact for your first try or kick at the ol beer can, why not do so with a malt extract kit so you can get the hang of it and if you blow it at least it was not with a batch of all grain.
If you are new to brewing and simply researching how to brew non alcoholic beer the first step for you is to learn how to make real beer.
You will need to choose from one of the 3 methods I just described, you can learn more about all 3 of them and which one you should start with here: How to HomeBrew
OK so remember you want to make your beer just like you normally would, brew it and let it ferment. Do not carbonate it. When the beer is fermented you move to the removing alcohol step.
Removing the Alcohol From Your Beer
So believe it or not this step is very simple and straightforward.
We are going to evaporate the alcohol out of the home brew. This happens when we heat it up to the boiling point of ethyl alcohol which is 173.3 degrees Fahrenheit or 78.5 degrees Celsius.
To reduce the alcohol to approximately .05% you will want to let it evaporate for 30 minutes. If your goal is to simply reduce the alcohol level and not brew a full non alcoholic beer then heat it for a lesser time period.
So a few things…
Target Temperature – Your target temperature should be 180 degrees Fahrenheit or 83 degrees Celsius.
Use A Pot or Oven – You can heat your homebrew up in your brew kettle or get a bigger pot and heat it up in the oven. Many people prefer the oven as it provides more of an even temperature throughout the whole beer.
Either way use a thermometer to make sure you are reaching and maintaining the correct temperature. Some ovens for example can be off my 25 degrees and you may have to turn the heat up some to compensate.
Your Gonna Lose Some Beer – Be prepared to lose approximately 4 – 6 ounces of liquid per gallon during this process. If you want to end up with the same volume of homebrew that you started with you can add water to the kettle or pot before you start this process. Saying that also makes me cringe.
So one of the tips I would give you is start with a full-bodied beer, not a light one. A full-bodied beer will maintain more of its flavor and characteristics during the process.
Dilute The Beer Instead – Some people who want to simply lower the alcohol content instead of removing it all together simply add water to their homebrew. (cringing again!!). Again a full-bodied beer this will not be so bad.
It’s Gonna Stink – The first time I did this I was shocked at how strong the smell of removing the alcohol was. You can really smell it being evaporated. As you get closer to boiling it off for 30 minutes the smell will start to dissipate and you know you have been successful.
Cool Your Homebrew
Alright so you have now officially brewed non alcoholic beer, congratulations ( I guess!).
The next step is to cool your homebrew just like you do when you made your beer originally.
There are numerous ways to cool your brew. I cover some of the more popular methods on this post: How to cool your wort.
Carbonate Your Beer
Once the beer is cooled down it is time to bottle or keg your beer and get it all carbonated up.
If you are kegging then you are just going to force carbonate with C02 like usual. You can learn more about kegging here
If you are bottling you will have to add priming sugar AND yeast. This is because the heating phase has also killed off any yeast that was left over.
Make sure you are using yeast that you have activated, this could be a yeast starter you have created that is undergoing active fermentation or you can just rehydrate some dry yeast by dissolving it in a ½ cup of warm water and letting it sit for 20 minutes. (this is the method I use as this is Make Beer Easy after all)
Use the same amount of priming sugar that you typically would. You can learn more about bottling here.
Can You Check How Much Alcohol is Left?
The short answer is no & yes. You can not just take your hydrometer and measure it like you do when you first brewed the beer.
I made this mistake and tried to do this with the first batch of non alcoholic beer I brewed and the dang hydrometer did not move. I fired the beer back into the kettle and boiled for another 30 minutes and still nothing. And instead of researching this like an idiot I tossed it down the drain. Which was stupid because it turns out I did it right, live and learn.
There are apparently methods you can use to check the ABV content and this post on homebrew talk discusses them but they are much too complicated for this cat so I do not bother. If I were selling the beer commercially I would figure it out, but since I am not I do not.
The litmus test for me is you can notice that the smell of the alcohol evaporating is going away, and all the “experts” tell you that after 30 minutes at 180 degrees the alcohol, well… She Gone! (kinda sad really)
Tip to Prevent Your Beer From Becoming to Bitter
One of the things you will notice when brewing non alcoholic beer is it will become very bitter. I mean really bitter.
There are a couple of ways around this.
#1 is to start with a full-bodied beer that uses more unfermentable sugars (dextrins), this way the yeast will not be able to convert as much of the sugars to alcohol. Dextrin malts such as carapils and carafoam are good examples, they will produce a more full-bodied beer and are good choices for making non alcoholic beer.
#2 If you are going to brew a hoppy beer reduce the amount of hops in half. Do not worry about the beer not being bitter, the process of removing the alcohol will provide you with plenty of bitterness. APA’s and IPA’s are not the best beers to use for making non alcoholic beers but you can definitely do it and reducing the amount of hops will help. And if you are kegging you can always dry hop directly in the keg to bring back some of the hop aroma.
Wow I Did It
This was without a doubt one of the hardest blog posts Big Robb has ever written, it goes against so many things I love about homebrewing, but I powered through and got it done!
In all seriousness gang there is nothing wrong with a non-alcoholic brew, I do enjoy them from time to time and making your own is not difficult and will be a big money saver. So get at it and enjoy the process!
Get Y’er Brew Awwnnnn, Oh Yeaaah!
Big Robb is Out!