All taste, no buzz: Scientists say they’ve ‘cracked the code’ on perfect non-alcoholic beer

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — If you enjoy the taste of beer but would rather avoid feeling a hangover the next day, researchers from the University of Copenhagen may soon revolutionize your weekend nights! A team has developed a way to brew a non-alcoholic beer that tastes just like the real thing!

Non-alcoholic beer is hardly a new concept, but many argue that current non-alcoholic brews on the market are a poor substitute for genuine, alcoholic beers. Generally, the consensus is that most current non-alcoholic beers taste flat and watery.

“What non-alcoholic beer lacks is the aroma from hops. When you remove the alcohol from the beer, for example by heating it up, you also kill the aroma that comes from hops. Other methods for making alcohol-free beer by minimizing fermentation also lead to poor aroma because alcohol is needed for hops to pass their unique flavor to the beer,” explains researcher Sotirios Kampranis in a university release.

Prof. Kampranis and his colleague Simon Dusséaux recently created the biotech company EvodiaBio. Now, both men claim to have “cracked the code” for brewing non-alcoholic beer that retains a hoppy aroma.

“After years of research, we have found a way to produce a group of small molecules called monoterpenoids, which provide the hoppy-flavor, and then add them to the beer at the end of the brewing process to give it back its lost flavor. No one has been able to do this before, so it’s a game changer for non-alcoholic beer,” Prof. Kampranis continues.

How did scientists brew up this non-alcohol beer breakthrough?

Many non-alcoholic beer brewers tend to dump in expensive aroma hops into their brewing tanks, but at the end of the day, that strategy really just wastes all that added flavor as it dissipates more than anything else. So, instead, the new experiment opted to turn baker’s yeast cells into “micro-factories” capable of growing within fermenters and subsequently releasing hoppy aromas.

“When the hop aroma molecules are released from yeast, we collect them and put them into the beer, giving back the taste of regular beer that so many of us know and love. It actually makes the use of aroma hops in brewing redundant, because we only need the molecules passing on the scent and flavor and not the actual hops,” Prof. Kampranis adds.

Even better, besides just improving the taste of non-alcoholic beers, this new brewing process is also much more sustainable. The aroma hops common in non-alcoholic beers typically come from the west coast of the United States, which necessitates energy-draining transportation and refrigerators to ensure the crops stay cool while on the move. Additionally, hops need a ton of water. It takes an average of 2.7 tons to grow just one kilogram (2.2 lbs) of hops.

“With our method, we skip aroma hops altogether and thereby also the water and the transportation. This means that one kilogram of hops aroma can be produced with more than 10.000 times less water and more than 100 times less CO2,” the study author explains.

A non-alcoholic Oktoberfest?

Alcoholic beer, and alcohol in general, is a big part of modern society and culture. While the idea of replacing alcoholic beers with non-alcoholic varieties is closer to a fairytale than a realistic future, study authors are still hopeful their new approach to non-alcoholic brewing can help countless people all over the world cut down on their alcohol consumption.

“Long term, we hope to change the brewing industry with our method – also the production of regular beer, where the use of aroma hops is also very wasteful,” Prof. Kampranis concludes.

Danish breweries are already testing the new brewing method, and study authors say the technique could be ready for industry-wide adoption by October 2022.

The study appears in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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