There are several different methods for producing dealcoholized or non-alcoholic beer. Laitilan Wirvoitusjuomatehdas Oy brewery in Finland knew 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 Laitilan Kukko beer were the key criteria when they chose the membrane filtration system, AromaPlus, from GEA.

An independent brewery in operation since 1995, Laitilan Oy has grown to become Finland’s fourth-largest brewery. Its Kukko beer is the world’s first full-malt beer to receive the international gluten-free product trademark in 2005. In addition, they produce specialty beers, ciders, sparkling wine, soft drinks, waters and long drinks – which totaled more than 20 million liters in 2019.

Dealcoholization with reverse osmosis

During a separator installation at the Laitilan Oy brewery in 2017, plant manager Tommi Suutari asked GEA about possible solutions for beer dealcoholization. At that time, GEA had just developed and launched a new process using membrane filtration, AromaPlus. Laitilan got interested in investigating the solution further. Built on GEA’s membrane filtration technology, AromaPlus works via reversed osmosis (RO) – allowing alcohol and water to move through, while retaining essential ingredients that contribute to aroma, color and turbidity. The system achieves the required alcohol-free percentage of 0.5 percent – down to 0.05 percent. Several brewing frontrunners have chosen AromaPlus because it delivers both in terms of cost and also excellent tasting results.

Cold processing retains flavors

The cold process with membrane filtration has less impact on beer flavor and more aroma is maintained when compared to dealcoholization methods which rely on thermal processes. After having visited one of the first producers of dealcolized beer using the AromaPlus, the Schönbuch brewery in Stuttgart, and having tested to dealcolize their own beer on GEA´s pilot plant, Laitilan was convinced. GEA product manager Ralf Scheibner explains: “We put a lot of effort in developing the new AromaPlus process and now we’re seeing that demand for non-alcoholic beer is increasing. Our solution has been well-received and is very much appreciated by breweries and consumers.”

Unit design and layout

The dealcoholization unit is mounted on a frame and comes ready for installation. It includes the filtration modules fitted with the special AromaPlus reverse osmosis membranes, the pumps for media transport or for providing the required system pressure, the entire internal piping, a CIP dosing unit installed next to the unit and the control technology for semi-automated operation. In addition to the dealcoholization process, the controller also manages the cleaning-in-place (CIP) of the system to ensure the proper operation and reliable cleaning of the membranes. The modern GEA AromaPlus units have a standardized layout and, depending on their size, are designed for batch processing from approximately 50 hectoliters to more than 600 hectoliters per day. GEA also offers larger dealcoholization units for continuous processing of more than 50 hectoliters per hour.

GEA AromaPlus is in use by breweries throughout Europe, however Laitilan Oy is the first Scandinavian brewer to purchase this solution. Laitilan Oy’s dealcoholization plant will be installed at the end of 2019 with the new products launching in early 2020. “We’re looking forward to start up with the new products, and we believe that the new equipment will be working hard from the beginning of the year,” says Ville Vilen, Laitilan Oy’s Brewmaster.

The unit will be on display at the BrauBeviale in Nuremberg (Germany) from November 12-14, at the GEA stand in hall 7, stand 600, before making its way to Laitilan Brewery for installation. 

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