There was a time when the phrases ‘non-alcoholic beer’ and ‘tastes good’ were seldom used together in the same sentence, particularly by consumers. But low-proof and alcohol-free beers have come a long way – many of them now refreshing drinks in their own right – thanks in no small part to technology from GEA.

Moderation in alcohol consumption is on the rise all around the world, particularly among millennials and GenZ, with more consumers in general reaching for low or non-alcoholic options. The amount of alcohol in beverages is shown as a percentage of the entire beverage – Alcohol by Volume – or ABV for short. This designation, however, varies by country. For example, a UK beer containing 1.2 percent ABV or more is considered an alcoholic beer. Below this, you have low-alcohol beer, followed by alcohol-free which has no more than 0.05 percent ABV. In the U.S. and Iran, however, alcohol-free means beverages must have no detectable ethanol. That said, across the industry, most alcohol-free or non-alcohol beers contain a small amount (up to 0.05 percent ABV) given some alcohol naturally forms as part of the brewing process.

From stigma to statement

In certain markets, dealcoholized beer, particularly if it delivers on taste, has become a lifestyle beverage, valued not only for its lower ABV but also its reduced number of calories and carbohydrates while supplying much sought-after antioxidants. Growing consumer demand is driven primarily by:

  • the shift towards less sugary drinks
  • a greater desire to remain in control while drinking
  • a growing appreciation for taste versus “getting drunk”
  • greater demand for more inclusive, including culturally-inclusive beverages

According to Euromonitor International, while the non-alcoholic beer category contributed to just over 2 percent of global beer volumes in 2018, between 2013 and 2018 it achieved a near 6 percent global compound annual growth rate (CAGR) compared to relatively stagnant alcoholic beer volumes during the same timeframe. Western and Eastern Europe and regions of Africa and the Middle East are showing the most growth. In Western Europe, Germany leads with about 47 percent of the total share of the non-alcoholic beer volume. There is also notable growth in Iran, Nigeria, Spain and Japan. And although from a low base, Latin America is expected to record the fastest regional growth in non- and low-alcohol beer between 2016 and 2021.

GEA offers brewers diverse options

There are two primary methods for producing dealcoholized beer: The first is biological, whereby the beer is produced with little or no alcohol in it by stopping or arresting fermentation or through the use of special yeasts. The second is physical and involves removing the alcohol from an alcoholic beer. GEA offers technologies and solutions that support both methods.

Via the physical method, either membrane or thermal technology (e.g., vacuum evaporation or distillation) can be employed. The thermal method of dealcoholization is well-suited to large volumes and for achieving 0.00% ABV. Membrane filtration using reverse osmosis (RO) is the gentlest of the dealcoholization technologies because it works with filtration temperatures below 10 Celsius, thus preventing adverse thermal impact. 

The GEA AromaPlus Membrane Dealcoholization Unit uses RO membrane filtration technology to remove alcohol up to 0.05% ABV.
The GEA AromaPlus Membrane Dealcoholization Unit uses RO membrane filtration technology to remove alcohol up to 0.05% ABV.

Launched in 2016, GEA’s AromaPlus Membrane Dealcoholization Unit supports small to large feed rates and can be configured for batch or continuous processes. The spiral-wound, reverse osmosis AromaPlus membranes are made of thin polymer, which is permeable to water and alcohol, while ingredients that are important for taste and body are preserved. Removing alcohol up to 0.05 percent ABV, the AromaPlus system is also cost-effective given its energy and water usage efficiency, which means even small breweries are able to invest in their own plant.

“This method,” explains Ralf Scheibner, Department Manager Membrane Filtration at GEA, “gives brewers a major advantage because most of the aromas are retained in the beer, making it very palatable to consumers.” In addition to producing consistent, high quality beer with good aroma profile, GEA AromaPlus offers brewers several key advantages, given that it:

  • is suitable for both filtered and unfiltered beers
  • features a modular design (< 50 hl/batch to ≥ 100 hl/hr continuous)
  • comes as a compact unit, consisting of a skid system with integrated control system
  • features integrated cleaning (CIP)

GEA AromaPlus produces the kind of aromatic and refreshing non-alcoholic beer that many consumers want and expect today. Keeping temperatures low and preserving the original flavor profile within the beer via the use of tight reverse osmosis membranes, produces beers that are tantalizing similar to the original.“– Ralf Scheibner, Department Manager Membrane Filtration, GEA

Because experience matters

GEA’s brewery credentials stretch back 145 years, today covering the entire brewing process. Over the decades, we’ve partnered customers all over the world, helping them produce more sustainably while keeping up with ever-changing consumer tastes. Known for their durability and sensitive use of resources, our products allow customers to digitally control, monitor and intelligently manage their brewery processes.  

GEA technology for producing non-alcoholic beer allows brewers to maintain their margins and stay close to customers – and win new ones. Installations of GEA AromaPlus across the U.S., Canada and Europe, including the UK, have proven to brewers that adding alcohol-free beer to the portfolio is not only profitable, but also an important step in future-proofing their business.

Good news travels fast

In 2016, the monastery brewery Andechs in Bavaria, Germany, launched a dealcoholized version of its 5.5 percent wheat beer. The criteria for doing so were that it must be sustainable while matching the flavor quality of the original. For Andechs’ management, the gentle, cold dealcoholization process achieved with GEA’s reverse osmosis plant was the only option; not only because it was well-suited to their output, but also because it meant they would not have to compromise the flavor of their beloved beer. The result: a less than 0.5 percent, unfiltered beer with fine-pored head and a smooth body with very good color, turbidity, aroma, taste and tanginess, and with just a hint of banana and cloves coming through. Its similarity to the Andechs 5.5 percent predecessor proved a pleasant surprise to many in blind tastings.

Schönbuch Brewery

While visiting a trade fair in late 2016, Schönbuch Brewery brewmaster, Gustavo Tresselt, had the pleasure of sampling the new Andechs dealcoholized wheat beer; that single tasting set in motion an entire suite of events: First, Tresselt traveled with Ralf Scheibner to GEA’s test center in Karlsruhe to begin the process of developing Schönbuch’s own alcohol-free beer. Samples were then taken to the brewery’s board for the purpose of securing approval and budget in 2017. By spring 2018, Schönbuch had brought its own AromaPlus plant online and soon after launched its first non-alcoholic products – a 0.4 percent ABV wheat beer and a pale lager. The nearly 200-year-old Schwabian brewery is proud to offer a high quality product that can be enjoyed by even more people. A 17 percent sales increase in the first half of 2019 coupled with a handful of gold medals has convinced Schönbuch that they made the right decision.

Image courtesy Adnams Southwold
Image courtesy Adnams Southwold

GEA’s relationship with UK brewery Adnams Southwold began in 2005 when GEA (Huppmann) was asked to build them the most modern and efficient brewery in the UK (and perhaps Europe); the result provided greater flexibility and allowed them to reuse their waste heat, for example, and thus improve the overall sustainability of their business. Adnams began producing low-alcohol beer in 2011, however the desire and demand to achieve 0.5 percent ABV or less eventually precipitated another call to GEA. In 2018 they purchased a GEA AromaPlus dealcoholization plant and just one year later, received gold at the 2019 World Beer Awards for their new 0.5 percent creation: Ghost Ship Citrus Pale Ale. Demand has been high, so they nearly doubled capacity in 2019 and expect to do so again in spring 2020.

We really wanted to get below 0.5, while staying close to the flavor and sensation of our main seller – Ghost Ship 4.5. The result has exceeded our own expectations, but more importantly our customers’, who appreciate that we’ve given them an authentic, aromatic low-alcohol beer.“– Fergus Fitzgerald, Head Brewer, Adnams Southwold, UK

Adnams has long set the benchmark for sustainability in the brewing industry and were in fact, the first UK brewery to complete a full carbon and water life-cycle assessment on their beer range. When it came to their new low-alcohol beer, they were unwilling to make compromises, either from an environmental or taste perspective. “In terms of the energy and water required for the dealcoholization process,” explains Jonathan Adnams, Chairman, “you can offset those impacts. For example, we only buy green electricity, and in the future, we hope to produce our own from our bio-digestion unit nearby. The water from the process can be reused in subsequent brewing phases. We’re also growing much of our own rye a mile down the road, which keeps our supply chain a bit shorter and very local.”

Whenever we’ve made a major strategic decision about modernizing or diversifying our brewery, we’ve called GEA. Their support and know-how ensures we’re able to run the kind of business we can be proud of and which supports our community. This includes reflecting their greater focus on health and well-being.“– Jonathan Adnams, Chairman, Adnams Southwold, UK

Try before you buy

Try before you buy

GEA strives to offer customers maximum transparency, enabling them to take informed decisions that will improve and grow their business. Brewers considering an investment in dealcoholization technology will find GEA’s Membrane Test Facility in Karlsruhe, Germany, an invaluable resource. With access to state-of-the-art GEA pilot plants and test benches, as well as an extensive laboratory facility for further analyses, brewers can essentially develop and taste their own product before purchasing a plant. For even greater convenience, GEA offers centrifuges as well as mobile pilot plants so customers can test diverse types of systems on their own premises.


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