Many alcohol-free wines and beers start out as “real” wine or beer before the alcohol is removed. Spirits are slightly different, but we will return to that later.
Beer & Wine: How to get an Alcohol-Free version (De-Alcoholisation)
The boiling point of alcohol (78°C) is lower than that of water (100°C). One of the most common methods is to heat the alcoholic liquid to separate the alcohol from the water in the liquid, leaving the liquid with the flavour but not the alcohol. Producers can distinguish between the two by heating the fermented alcoholic liquid until the desired amount of Ethyl Alcohol, or ethanol, remains (typically <0.5% in Ireland).
However, the issue with heating alcoholic liquid in this manner is that it alters the flavour. So, for something that consumers want to drink, then other alternative de-alcoholisation methods have been developed.
With vacuum distillation, the alcoholic liquid is heated. This causes the alcoholic liquid’s alcohol content to evaporate. This method, which is performed in a vacuum chamber, works by lowering the boiling point of the alcohol (26°C). This means which means that other volatile flavour chemicals (such as alpha acids in hops) are less affected, resulting in a more authentic flavour. This method is widely used because it helps to preserve the flavour and fragrance of the liquid.
Spinning Cone Technology:
Spinning cone technology is a technique that allows alcohol producers to separate and preserve the essential flavours and scents of the alcoholic liquid during the de-alcoholisation process. The alcohol is gently removed from the base alcoholic liquid during this process, leaving the finished product with fewer calories, less sugar, and no alcohol.
The producer pours the alcoholic liquid into the spinning cone column’s top. Centrifugal force is used by rotating cones to transform the alcoholic liquid into a thin film. Nitrogen gas is fed into the bottom of the column to extract delicate aromas and flavours while preventing oxidation of the liquid. The process is repeated for the remaining liquid but at a higher temperature this time to remove any remaining alcohol.
Reverse osmosis, which is used to desalinate ocean water, is a third method of alcohol removal. Beer is filtered through pores so small that only alcohol and water (along with a few volatile acids) can pass through. Reverse osmosis is used to concentrate flavours or manipulate alcohol levels by removing water.
The alcohol is distilled from the alcohol-water mixture, and the water and remaining acids are then reintroduced into the syrupy mixture of sugars and flavour compounds left on the other side of the filter.
Arrested fermentation works by either removing the yeast from the beer or by directly preventing the yeast from becoming active. This method works by directly cooling the beer mixture, effectively stopping yeast growth. Or it uses yeasts specially created to result in lower alcohol liquids.
In terms of process, when we talk about non-alcoholic spirits, we are looking at two very different types of drinks. Where you land is heavily influenced by your tastes, personal preferences, and what you want from your drinks.
When it comes to purchasing, there are two sub-categories to consider: infusions and distillations:
If you are looking for a direct imitation of an alcoholic version of a spirit, this is the category for you. Water is slowly infused with the aroma of natural botanicals, flavourings, and essences to replicate the flavour profiles of alcoholic spirits in an alcohol-free version.
If you are looking to recreate a favourite cocktail without the hard stuff, try these infusions.
If you have outgrown the need for your non-alcoholic spirits to taste like booze, distillations are for you. Some of the best non-alcoholic spirits available right now are made using traditional distillation methods familiar from gin-making techniques, but with distinct flavours that distinguish them as their own beautiful beasts.
These distillers use traditional copper stills to distil an incredible array of native botanicals and fruit into water rather than alcohol, but none are a direct substitute for gin. They are a beautiful, flavourful botanical drink in and of themselves.