Dry January 2022 – my experience with some non-alcoholic beers

I completed Dry January for the third consecutive year and used this opportunity to try out some non-alcoholic beers (NAB) brewed in Germany. My friend and neighbour Andreas Krennmair (@der_ak) suggested that I write a blog post to share my tasting notes of some of the more interesting NABs that I sampled. As a brewer, I am naturally curious about the way in which the NABs are made, therefore I chose to split the initial categories into means of production.

Best NAB produced biologically (arrested fermentation, cold contact-fermentation or maltose intolerant yeast)

BRLO Naked is fermented with a maltose intolerant yeast strain, whereby a negligible concentration of ethanol is produced during fermentation. Usually, such beers can be flabby in mouthfeel and “worty” in aroma. However, this light-bodied, non-alcoholic Pale Ale was hopped with modern Hallertau aroma hop varieties, including Mandarina Bavaria and Callista, and tasted vibrant and fruity.

Best NAB produced mechanically (dealcoholisation via membrane filtration or vacuum distillation)

Rothaus Tannenzäpfle Alkoholfrei was perhaps the closest in terms of flavour and aroma to its alcohol-containing counterpart. Produced by means of vacuum distillation, the NAB version of the Schwarzwälder classic retains much of the spicy, floral noble hop aroma at the expense of reduced bready malt aroma.

Best NAB produced with a combined production process

According to a brewery spokesperson, the non-alcoholic German Pale Ale Störtebeker Atlantik Ale Alkoholfrei is produced via a combined stream of both processes mentioned above. Therefore, a vacuum distilled, dry hopped mother beer is mixed with a second NAB brewed with the application of arrested fermentation. Coincidently, two relevant conclusions were made regarding the chemical and sensory profiles of NAB in a recent study published by colleagues at the VLB Berlin.

  1. Non-alcoholic Pilsner-style beer brewed with combined treatments performed well in sensory panel.
  2. Dry hopped NAB with detectable levels of hop aroma compounds (e.g. terpenes and thiols) were found to be the most harmonious.

And the complex production method is certainly worth the extra effort, as this was my highlight NAB of Dry January 2022. Dry-hopped with aroma hop champions Cascade, Amarillo and Citra, this NAB ticks all of the boxes. Dry, bitter, citrus and floral dry hop aroma.

Störtebeker Atlantik Ale Alkoholfrei

Least favourite NAB

Kindly gifted to me by Andreas and as a fan of Rheinland-style “bitter beers”, my hopes were very high for Uerige Alkoholfrei. Sadly, this contract brewed, alcohol-free Altbier did not meet my high expectations. Despite some pleasant cocoa on the nose, the main aroma impression can be characterised by an unpleasant worty off flavour. Assumably in an homage to Uerige Altbier, the bitterness level was high, which led to considerable flavour inbalance and minimal ease of drinking.

Rittmayer Alkoholfreies Kellerbier

Special mentions

Staffelberg Bräu Loffelder Weißbier Alkoholfrei and Rittmayer Alkoholfreies Kellerbier. Because the Franconian breweries also deserve a mention for producing NAB versions of classic German styles.

And finally, developed in collaboration with industry colleagues at the Technische Universität Berlin, I could not resist trying JoyBräu, a functional sports drink with added Vitamin C, B12 and B9, even if it will not likely feature in my regular NAB fridge line-up.

Staffelberg-Bräu Hefe-Weißbier Alkoholfrei

As the quality of NAB continue to improve, Dry January becomes less and less challenging each year with numerous options widely available, with many at competitive price-points.

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