Why Point Five has a big advantage on taste
I’ve talked already about how I feel the timing is very good for launching a non-alcoholic brand like Point Five. In short, folks increasingly feel that alcohol can get in the way of health or work, and they want something to enjoy that is refreshing and tastes good. In this little post, I’ll focus on the importance of taste, and why I see Point Five having a significant advantage over other non-alcoholics when it comes to taste. Of course, you’ll have to taste it and decide for yourself!
THE IMPORTANCE OF FERMENTATION
The thing that makes beer taste like beer is fermentation. When sugars are fermented into alcohol, there are lots of chemical reactions that convert the taste into what we recognise as beer. The taste before and after fermentation is radically different. The closest analogy I can think of is the taste of apple juice versus dry cider, or grape juice versus wine. Yes, there is some resemblance between each pair, but the taste is very clearly different. This is the first key to making a good non-alcoholic – starting with a traditionally fermented beer. If you skip or shorten the fermentation step it’s incredibly hard to get the same starting taste profile that makes beer taste like beer.
The challenge of alcohol removal
Now that you have a fermented beer, the challenge is getting the alcohol out without losing the key aromas that make beer taste like beer. To make things harder, the key aromas are very small – actually, not much bigger than alcohol itself. To make things harder again, the aromas tend to be affected by temperature. For example, if you heat the beer, it becomes sweeter, loses it freshness and starts to taste less like beer. The key, therefore, to a good non-alcoholic is to get the alcohol out while retaining the key aromas, and keeping the beer cool all the way.
The challenge of how non-alcoholic is currently made
One option for making non-alcoholic is to limit how much alcohol is made in the first place. This is called arrested fermentation, where you use special yeasts that focus less on generating alcohol and more on other flavours. The problem is in getting the same taste as with normal fermentation. Typically the final product tastes more sweet (worty as brewers say) and less fresh and aromatic when you stop fermentation early. You can always add in further flavours, say hops for example, but you are still missing those flavours that give beer that characteristic fresh beer flavour. Realising the issues with partial fermentation, much of the non-alcoholic on the market today is made with a vacuum distillation column, whereby alcohol is evaporated from fermented beer at low pressures. The main issue with this approach is that a lot of the smaller aromas are lost in the process, so the beer loses its freshness and flavour. As with arrested fermentation, it is possible to add flavours back again, or to add back in hops, but it is very difficult to get back to the fresh fermented notes of the original beer.
How Point Five is made
The idea behind the technology used for Point Five is two fold. First, use traditional fermentation. Second, use a special technology to carefully remove the alcohol without losing the key aromas and without using heat. For Point Five, alcohol removal is done using Revos-NA (NA for non-alcoholic) technology, which allows beer to be filtered at low temperature. Although not quite scientific, you can think of the filters as having holes that are bigger than water and alcohol, but smaller than the key aromas. With these filters, water and alcohol can be pushed out of the beer. The end result is that you have a non-alcoholic base on one side of the filter (still in liquid form, although a little thicker), and an alcohol-water mixture on the other side. You then take the non-alcoholic base and blend it with purified and carbonated water to take it back to its original consistency. This is how it’s done – a fresh non-alcoholic.
To sum things up, if you want to make a great non-alcoholic, remember two things. First, fermentation – this is what makes beer taste like beer. Second, careful separation – you need to precisely remove the alcohol out while keeping those key aromas. If you can do these two things right, you’re off to the races – and you can drink Point Five before, during or after!
P.S. A technical note: Using a filter to take alcohol out of beer is not new – the innovation with Revos-NA is in the accuracy of separation. Revos-NA improves the precision with which alcohol can be removed through the design of filters, flow rates and pressures. Stay tuned for an in-depth article soon.