Food and Drink

Why Non-Alcoholic Beer is Brewing’s Next Big Thing

"Creating non-alcoholic beer is hard but worth it."

how non alcoholic beer is made

It smells like a Pale ale, it tastes like a Pale ale, but the Alc-Less by Capital Brewing Co. in my hand is anything but your ordinary beer. Full of flavour, Capital Brewing Co’s Alc-Less tropical Pale Ale showcases everything an alcoholic brew has with less of the tomfoolery. What do I mean by tomfoolery? Well, the alcohol content.

Recently, the non-alcohol (NA) industry has boomed, especially over the pandemic, which might be surprising to some. Although now people are more conscious of alcohol consumption and health and wellness, the NA category is on the rise and shows no signs of slowing down.

Canberra-based independent craft brewery Capital Brewing Co. introduced its first full flavour non-alcoholic beer in June of this year. While gin and other spirits have taken off in the NA category, beer is rapidly catching up with craft breweries in Australia, experimenting with non-alcoholic brews.

Co-Founder and Managing Director Laurence Kain says expanding into the on-alcoholic category was a natural next step for the innovative brewery given the consumer demand.

“We worked on the recipe for two years at the Canberra brewery,” says Kain before explaining how non-alcoholic beer is made. “Creating non-alcoholic beer is hard. Our innovative fermentation process uses a special yeast that only eats particular sugars, not the ones that create alcohol.”

The process Kain refers to is called experimental yeast strain. This differs from zero fermentation, which cuts out the fermentation process by removing yeast from the recipe altogether. The benefit of using experimental yeast strains is the non-alcoholic beer has a more beer-like flavour.

Although, for Kain making non-alcoholic beer for the first time was not without its challenges and those moments where you laugh it off and try again.

“People don’t realise that non-alcoholic beer doesn’t act like normal beer. The fermentation process for NA beer is much faster. Normal beer ferments in 10 days, and NA beer takes up to two days to ferment. We also have to pasteurise NA beer because we’ve removed the alcohol, which increases the risk of contamination in the product, whereas normal beer creates a hostile environment for pathogens,” he says.

The canning process is similar to normal beer. Dissolved oxygen remains low in the tank, but oxygen contact is inevitable when the beer makes it into the can. As Kain explains, the cans are purged to remove any oxygen, and once the cans are ready to be sealed, there is a 0.3 of a millimetre tolerance. This is also why NA beer can cost the same, if not more, than normal beer.

Creating Alc-Less was an experiment for the Capital Brewing Co team, and as with all experiments, some failed. Kain recalls when the tank sensors were slightly off calibration for chilling, Which resulted in a tank of frozen beer. “It was only a small tank,” he says, “but still.”

“We made beer that tasted amazing, but it had 1% alcohol, so we had to start again. Eventually, we engaged some food scientists to help us with the yeast,” he says.

Kain enlisted the help of the CSIRO and entered a program with the department of industry and innovation. Through the mentorship, the Capital Brewing Co. produced Alc-less, one of the best-tasting NA beers on the market.

“We’re pretty happy with it,” he says. “There’s more to come.”

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Food and Drink

Why Makrut Lime Makes a Star Ingredient in Cocktails

The Southeast Asian citrus is intensely aromatic and pairs with rum, gin, tequila, and more.

Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks

I grew up with a makrut lime tree in my backyard, admiring the double leaves and dimpled citrus fruit that frequently made their way into our family dinners. Makrut limes, which are sometimes referred to kaffir limes (although the term is controversial and has been widely retired), are native to Southeast Asia, but somehow my mom willed a tree to grow in our Southern California home with great success.

To me, makrut meant savoury Thai food: steamed fish curry wrapped in banana leaves and sprinkled with chiffonade makrut, simmering tom kha gai with floating bits of the hand-torn citrus leaves, and glistening green curry accentuated by the plant’s aroma.

But to others, makrut is an ideal ingredient in cocktails and other drinks. Such is the case for Fish Cheeks, a Thai restaurant in Manhattan known for its seafood dishes and eclectic, complementary cocktail menu. Beverage director Beau Fontano knew he had to include makrut in his creations, especially because the ingredient is so prominent on the food menu. Makrut lime finds its way in several drinks, most notably as a garnish atop the Thank You Kha, a riff on the acidic coconut stew tom kha gai, and the Manao Mao, a rum-based drink that uses makrut lime bitters.

“I don’t love using the word tiki, but if you think of those tiki rum cocktails, makrut definitely works well in those,” Fontano says. “But I also love it in martinis-there’s something really clean about it. And with makrut lime, if you’re just using the leaves, you can do a lot of rapid infusions.”

Fontano only uses the leaves, because the rinds and juice of makrut limes are famously bitter. “Regular lime has a little bit more sugar content, so that’s why it’s much more approachable in cocktails. Makrut limes tend to be more dry,” he explains. “But when you use the leaves in cocktails, you just smack it to wake it up a little bit and it gets that nice citrusy, refreshing aroma which is really fun.”

The leaves are cut fresh, so each drink has the scent of makrut lime leaves wafting off of them. “I’m sure at one point I will get around to it and try to figure out how to use the juice,” he laughs.

Further north at Paper Tiger in Portland, Maine, makrut lime leaves are also prevalent in a cocktail called Something Scandalous, a tequila-based drink intended to be, in the words of bartender Nick Reevy, “crushed easily.”

Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger

“I went with tequila, specifically, because in Maine it’s 80 degrees and humid pretty much all summer,” Reevy explains. “So I made something you kick back easily. Agave has a really nice softness that elevates the makrut lime, and the main flavour in that drink is the Thai basil.”

The drink is an alluring shade of green and is rounded out by cinnamon syrup and falernum. “Makrut lime is really herbal and bright in a way no other citrus is,” Reevy adds. “It’s interchangeable with other limes, but it just adds this whole other depth of flavour.”Makrut lime has even made its way into hard seltzer, albeit a limited edition drop from Lunar. Founder Kevin Wong knew he wanted to add another citrus drink to his rotation as he witnessed the successes of hard lemonades, but already had a yuzu iteration. Makrut lime seemed like a natural follow-up.

Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar

“It has a very intense citrus fragrance, almost perfumey or soapy,” Wong ponders. “Like I could see Le Labo putting out a makrut lime fragrance. It has such a commanding presence and body.”

To tamper down some of the boldness of the makrut lime, the hard seltzer uses makrut lime leaf extract, lime juice, and cane sugar. The aromatics of the lime are present without too much bitterness; instead, the seltzer is grassy, acidic, and dry. Wong recommends pairing the can with spicy foods, especially Szechuan dry pot.

The makrut lime seltzer is currently sold out, and Wong is unsure whether or not another batch is in the works. “I feel like makrut lime is the greatest secret unknown to the Western world,” he says. “It’s in medicine, candy, herbal drinks, cosmetics and aromatherapy. I think we did the seltzer too early, and I don’t know if the world is ready for us to bring it back yet. Maybe in a couple of years.”

But judging by the growing popularity of makrut lime in beverage menus, the comeback might be sooner than he expects.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.

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