The Dos and Don'ts of Non Alcoholic Beer Production

As Non Alcoholic Beer continues to gain market share in North America (and the rest of the globe), we are experiencing an explosion in the number of breweries producing these beers, and the beer styles being translated to non-alcoholic. Alongside all of this innovation comes a number of challenges. Here, we will cover the DO’s and DON’Ts we’ve encountered while helping brewers develop their own NA beer brands.

If you want to learn more about NA beer production in general, we recommend starting with our Guide to Making Non-Alcoholic Beer Through Fermentation.

Making NA beers in-house can be a great way to expand a brewing business and reach new audiences. However, it can also introduce new risks into the business and the production of NA beers can be fraught with technical problems to overcome.

Are you making your own NA and running into problems, or are you thinking about making NA beer and looking for more guidance? Read on below.

All non alcoholic beers have some essential requirements for food safety, which are fairly well understood at this point:

  • Use an appropriate fermentation method such as maltose negative yeasts or arrested fermentation to produce a <0.5% ABV beer.
  • Ensure pH is below 4.5 prior to fermentation, and below 4.2 (ideally 4.0) after fermentation.
  • Ensure the beer has completed fermentation prior to packaging.
  • Pasteurize (tunnel pasteurization).

However, this doesn’t cover all the ins and outs of adapting the NA beer process to modern craft beer styles. Here are our DO’s and DON’Ts of non-alcoholic beer production!


1. DO: Pasteurize the beer

While perhaps obvious, we think it is important to reiterate the importance of pasteurization of NA beers. Preferably, tunnel pastuerization of packaged product as this is the most safe and reliable approach.

Pasteurization is a tried-and-true method for ensuring a beverage is microbially safe and stable. It uses heat to achieve a logarithmic reduction in the amount of bacteria and/or yeast present in a beer sample.

Some key points regarding pasteurization, based on our collaborations with several breweries:

  • Pasteurization can actually be a benefit for flavour. It can result in some of the “worty” aldehydes found in NA beers breaking down to produce a flavour profile that is more “beery”. A recent study by Royal City Brewing showed preference for moderately pasteurized NA beeers.
  • Different beers require different amounts of pasteurization (also known as Pasteurization Units or PUs). For example, beers with higher IBU (bittering) tend to require less pasteurization.
  • Some products are harder to pasteurize effectively. Because Pasteurization involves a logarithmic reduction in microbe population, the efficacy of pasteurization depends entirely on the microbial content of the product going in. If you are starting with a very yeasty beer, or a very bacteria-laden kombucha or fresh-pressed fruit juice, you will need to pasteurize much more aggressively to achieve acceptable stability through pasteurization. In some cases, it mkaes sense to filter or chemically stablilze a product before it is filled into cans/bottles and run through a tunnel pasteurizer.
  • Don’t have space or money for a tunnel pasteurizer? Ask around! With many breweries installing tunnel pasteurizers and looking to recoup their capital costs, many are starting to offer “contract pasteurization” services. Also, look outside of breweries as there may be a local company making other types of drinks with a tunnel pasteurizer.

2. DO: Limit Fermentation Timeline

The vast majority of fermented NA beers do not require any more than 4-5 days at fermentation temperature before cooling is applied. No brewery is 100% sterile, so holding an NA beer at final gravity for an extended period of time will create opportunity for wort spoilers or house yeast to grow, if any of these have made it into the fermentor.

We have seen cases of NA beers held at fermentation temperature for longer than 7 days experiencing additional fermentation by yeast, or spoilage by wort-spoiling or beer-spoiling bacteria.

At the end of the day, finished NA beer isn’t too far off from uninoculated wort in terms of microbial risk. Would you leave your wort at fermentation temperature for several days and expect it to stay stable? The same thinking applies to fermented NA beers.

In order to help limit fermentation time, we recommend the use of ALDC enzyme in conjunction with fermentation to eliminate the need for any post-fermentation diacetyl cleanup. Using an appropriate complete beer yeast nutrient such as Yeast Lightning Nutrient will help limit any sulfur production from requiring extended warm cleanup.


3. DON’T: Dry hop NA beers warm with pellet hops

IPA and other hop-aroma-forward beers represent a huge portion of the craft beer market, so it’s natural for a brewery to develop IPA-style non alcoholic beers.

However, dry hopping a NA beer like you would dry hop an IPA will present some technical and safety challenges and we do not recommend this.

With modern dry hopping rates in excess of 1 kg per hL (2 lb per bbl) and lower hop kilning temperatures, all dry hopping presents risk of refermentation resulting from enzymes in the hops - also known as hop creep.

Recent research shows hop creep enzymes can originate either from the hops themselves, or from bacteria that hitch a ride on the hops. In particular, bacteria from dry hopping poses a risk in NA beers because the alcohol content of a normal beer would inhibit these bacteria from surviving, while an NA beer environment may encourage these bacteria to thrive. We have seen cases of dry hopped NA beers re-fermenting more than 1.5-2º Plato during hop creep, causing the beer to be substantially higher alcohol than intended.

Since dry hopping with pellet hops presents major challenges for stability with dry-hopped beers, we suggest either dry hopping cold or utilizing enzyme/microbe-free hop aroma extracts. Such examples include Spectrum, YCH 702, TNS HopBurst, or others. These products are now available in a wide range of hop sources and can be used to replace conventional dry hopping in NA beers.

A Non Alcoholic IPA recipe is available in our Guide to Making Non-Alcoholic Beer Through Fermentation that utilizes hop aroma extract in place of conventional dry hopping.


4. DO: Test stabilizers in combination with pasteurizing

The number of microbial stabilization options available for non alcholic products is currently expanding. This includes conventional options like potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate and potassium metabisulfite, as well as new entrants based on natural plant or fungi extracts. Regardless, the benefit of these products is to inhibit growth or outright inactivate yeast and bacteria in beverages.

Sodium benzoate will not be useful in most NA beers because it is most active between pH 2.5 and 4.0. This preservative could be considered to stabilize NA sour beers. Potassium metabisulfite may have some application in NA beers, but keep in mind its efficacy is lower at higher pH range (e.g. 4.0-4.2 that most NA beers should finish at). The amount of potassium metabisulfite required to stabilize a beer may not align with regulatory limitations for sulfite content.

Potassium sorbate may be beneficial to stabilize NA beers, as it is active below pH of 4.5. However, we are not yet aware of any research data showing efficacy of potassium sorbate in NA beer stabilization.

For any preservative/stabilizer to be effective in NA beer, it needs to be effective at inhibiting a broad range of both pathogenic and spoilage microbes. Pathogens of concern include E. coli and Salmonella, which could potentially survive in NA beer and are not inhibited by hops. If pH is not controlled, then botulism (caused by Clostridium botulinum) is also a major concern. The preservative/stabilizer should also be effective against common brewing organisms including yeast, lactic acid bacteria, acetic acid bacteria, as well as wort spoilers (Enterobacteriaceae and friends). Taken together, we are asking preservatives/stabilizers to do a LOT of heavy lifting for safety in NA beers.

To date, we have not seen evidence for a chemical or natural product stabilizer being effective enough against the entire range of pathogenic and spoilage organisms relevant to NA beer to justify avoiding pasteurization entirely. However, some of these products show promise, and we will make recommendations for these products if we see enough evidence supporting their use.

We do recommend experimenting with products such as potassium sorbate, sodium metabisulfite, DMDC (Velcorin), and chitosan (e.g. Chiber) in combination with pasteurization as these can introduce a “Hurdle effect” and reduce the number of PU’s required to stabilize the beer.

Looking for more information? Check out this recent MBAA District Ontario presentation on Preservatives in Beer.


5. DON’T: Add concentrated fruit purée or fresh-pressed juices to fermentation

Any fruit additions before or during fermentation will alter the ABV of the final product as maltose-negative yeasts can still ferment the glucose and fructose found in the fruit.

This is true regardless of whether you are using aseptic purée or fresh-pressed juices. We do not recommend using any fresh-pressed fruit juices in NA beer products unless the juice can be flash-pasteurized before introduction to the beer, or unless the producer of the fresh-pressed juice can provide a COA showing low microbial content. Many fresh-pressed juices will contain enough viable yeast/bacteria cells to risk re-fermentation and/or require additional pasteurization (PUs).

Aseptic fruit purées are widely used in the beer industry because they limit risk of introducing unwanted microorganisms in the beer. However, most fruit juices consist mostly of glucose and fructose, and are therefore 100% fermentable by most yeasts including the maltose-negative yeasts used to produce many fermented NA beers (e.g. NAY or LalBrew LoNa).

Any fruit additions must happen after chilling the beer to below 2ºC to avoid excessive production of alcohol, and must be paired with pasteurization to ensure stability. Any fruited NA beers must be pasteurized to ensure safety and stability.

If you are looking to introduce a fruity flavour to your NA beer, we suggest testing natural aroma extracts or natural flavourings to find a suitable option that does not add sugar to the beer.

Want to learn more about Non Alcohic Beer production options? Check out our resources below:

What's coming next from Escarpment Labs? This year, we’re digging into:

  • Hop aroma extracts in tandem with maltose-negative yeasts to maximize flavour impact in NA IPAs
  • “Body modifiers” to improve the texture and taste of fermented NA beers while reducing carbohydrate content
  • Combinations of various stabilizers and pastuerization to optimize NA beer production safety and flexibility

Escarpment Labs solutions

Feeling lost with NA beers? Read our Guide to Making Non Alcoholic Beers Through Fermentation.

Looking for maltose-negative yeasts? Check out NAY and LalBrew LoNa.

Looking for more specific advice or a consultation? Send us an email.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published