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How Yeast Can Help Smaller Breweries Join the NA Beer Game

There are only so many ways to make a low- or no-alcohol beer, and none provide an easy route to a product that tastes good—especially for smaller breweries. However, one increasingly viable option is specialized yeast. Here’s how it works.

Don Tse Sep 27, 2021 - 8 min read

How Yeast Can Help Smaller Breweries Join the NA Beer Game Primary Image

Sampling at the yeast lab. Photo: Courtesy Escarpment Laboratories.

In general, methods for producing nonalcoholic beer require dedicated equipment or tricky methods—in short, it’s expensive and hard to do. Essentially, we can group methods for producing NA beer into two categories:

  • Remove alcohol from fully fermented beer, either via distillation or membrane filtration.
  • Arrest fermentation at or below the legal threshold of 0.5 percent ABV.

The first category requires equipment that generally demands considerable money and space, and it creates a by-product—alcohol—that must be dealt with, one way or another. Also, it’s a technical challenge to strip away alcohol without also stripping away desirable flavor and aroma compounds, which are both delicate and volatile.

The second category, arrested fermentation, requires careful process controls, such as continuous monitoring of gravity during fermentation. Besides that, it may not allow enough time for yeast to clean up its own by-products, such as diacetyl. Most small breweries lack the ability to monitor brewing with the required precision.

Today, however, labs are trying to add a third category by providing new yeast strains that don’t behave like the others.

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Don Tse is an internationally recognized beer writer and beer judge, working from his home base in the middle of North America’s barley belt.