Earlier this year at the Craft Brewers Conference in Minneapolis Pro Brewer sponsored a panel focused on the non-alcoholic beer space. Three panelists – Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery, Bill Shufelt of Athletic Brewing Co., and Keith Villa of Ceria Brewing – joined Beer Edge Editor John Holl for a wide-ranging discussion on process, flavor, and consumer preferences.
There is growing interest in the United States for non-alcoholic beer. As early craft beer drinkers age and are looking for alternatives to boozy offerings, and younger generations are increasingly sober curious, the time for brewers of all sizes to consider non-alcoholic offerings is now.
Once a recipe and method is decided on, there are two paths forward to making non-alcoholic beer: in-house or contracting out. The key to deciding, the panel said with emphasis, is the ability to tunnel pasteurize.
“I’ve seen numerous bulging cans (due to warm storage, not freezing) and have heard horror stories of exploding cans,” said Villa. “Obviously, something is growing in those cans, which could be pathogenic microorganisms, brewer’s yeast, or a host of other bugs.”
He warned that if left unchecked some of those microorganisms could cause serious illness or death in drinkers. Villa has also been pushing for an industry wide standard, including urging the Brewers Association to “strongly suggest that any craft brewer who wants to start making NA beers must tunnel pasteurize them. The BA pushed pretty hard for brewers to implement the inverted beer bottle to signify an authentic, craft brewery product, so why not a logo to verify the product is pasteurized.”
While many breweries will pasteurize their beers using traditional methods, Tunnel pasteurization is a process that pasteurizes both the product and the container to prevent contamination.
Villa calls tunnel pasteurization a “moral obligation” that NA brewers must meet.
“It’s an absolute necessity to pasteurize in a beer to protect your customers,” he says. “You got to do it, no questions about it. And if you don’t do it, I would just say shame on you.”
Shufelt heartily agrees.
“Probably the single most important takeaway of this is that like nonalcoholic beer is not possible without tunnel pasteurization to be safe,” says Shufelt. “It’s almost not possible.”
Another aspect for non-alcoholic beers that must be considered is the actual alcohol content, or lack thereof. The numbers need to be accurate for a variety of reasons, including moral, health, and spiritual, so if a brewery says a beer is .5% or less, it needs to be just that. Any higher than what is listed on the label and a brewery could be harming drinkers and be subject to liability.
The bottom line: if you’re brewery is set for tunnel pasteurization, you’re all set. If not, find a production facility that can handle contract brewing, or don’t release one at all.