An independent company that’s been active since 1995, Laitilan Wirvoitusjuomatehdas Oy has grown to become Finland’s fourth-largest brewery. As well as producing a wide range of specialty beers, ciders, sparkling wine, soft drinks, waters and long drinks, their Kukko beer was the world’s first full-malt beer to receive the international gluten-free product trademark in 2005.

Looking to add to its 20 million liters per annum output, Laitilan wanted to invest in technology to produce dealcoholized or non-alcoholic beer. And, during the installation of a separator at the brewery in 2017, Plant Manager Tommi Suutari asked GEA about possible solutions. At the time, GEA had recently developed and launched a new dealcoholization process using membrane filtration: AromaPlus. 

There are several different ways to make low- or no-alcohol beer, but Laitilan knew that it wanted to avoid wort-like flavors and achieve the best results when it came to taste and quality. Retaining the genuine flavor and original features of their Kukko beer were key criteria, which made the AromaPlus an obvious choice.

Plus, having visited the Schönbuch brewery in Stuttgart, one of the first producers of AromaPlus-derived dealcoholized beers, and subsequently running their own test samples on GEA’s pilot plant, Laitilan was convinced. GEA Product Manager, Ralf Scheibner, explains: “We put a lot of effort into developing the new AromaPlus process and we’re now seeing that demand for non-alcoholic beer is increasing. Our solution has been well-received and is very much appreciated by breweries and consumers alike.”

So cold it’s cool

Built using GEA’s membrane filtration technology, AromaPlus utilizes reverse osmosis (RO) to separate alcohol and water from the essential ingredients that contribute to the final product’s aroma, color and turbidity. In addition to delivering in terms of both cost and taste, the system can be used to achieve alcohol concentrations of 0.5% down to 0.05%. And, being a cold process, there’s much less impact on flavor; compared with thermal dealcoholization methods, the overall aroma of the original product is maintained.

Design and layout

The dealcoholization unit is mounted on a frame and comes ready for installation. It includes the filtration modules (fitted with AromaPlus RO membranes), pumps for media transport or to provide the required system pressure, the entire internal piping, a clean-in-place (CIP) dosing unit and control technology for semi-automated operation. In addition to the dealcoholization process, the controller also manages the CIP system to ensure optimized operation and reliable cleaning of the membranes.

GEA AromaPlus units have a standardized layout and, depending on their size, are designed to batch process 50–600+ hL per day. GEA also offers larger dealcoholization units for the continuous processing of more than 50 hL/h.

GEA AromaPlus is currently in use by breweries throughout Europe; however, Laitilan Oy was the first Scandinavian brewer to purchase this solution. During installation in late-2019, Laitilan Oy’s Brewmaster, Ville Vilen, said:

We’re looking forward to widening our rage of products and we believe that the new equipment will be working hard from the very beginning.”– Ville Vilen, Laitilan Oy’s Brewmaster