No Alcohol: All Choice

Back when The Crafty Pint's founder was preparing to launch this site almost a dozen years ago, it wasn't the only project in gestation. Crafty Pint Jr was taking shape, a process that led to a couple of pregnancy cravings.

There was a short-lived one early on for Macca's (pregnant people don't get to choose these things, you know), and then one that stretched on much longer: for beer. Back then, in 2010, the non-alc options were seriously limited, especially on the local front – Coopers Birrell, anyone? – with Clausthaler the one that, ultimately, found something close to acceptance.

Roll onto 2022 and whether you're pregnant, off the booze, after a non-alc option for the beach or BBQ, driving or doing Dry July, the options are quite remarkable. We've covered the rise of low- and non-alc beers many times on this site before – we even did a blind tasting of them, something we should probably revisit – and ahead of this year's Dry July decided to look at some of the more ambitious styles being created by local brewers.

Sure, there have been options other than non-alc lagers or pales for some time – the Sobah beer featured here first appeared a couple of years back, while UpFlow's Stout and IPA fared well in that aforementioned blind tasting back in December 2020. Yet innovation and ambition has only grown since then. The UK-based Big Drop Brewing, recently added Woodcutter Brown Ale to their local lineup; Molly Rose have released a fruited IPA, fruit sour and now a saison; Hop Nation have just added a stout and fruit sour to their non-alc lineup; Brick Lane's Sidewinder offshoot keeps expanding; Big Shed embarked on the first Aussie non-alc international collab...

So, on the eve of thousands of people giving up the sauce for July, we invited the folks behind five of the more innovative crafty non-alcs brewed locally to tell us how and why they did it. Oh, and we've got a Dry July giveaway for members of our beer club, The Crafty Cabal too – see the end of the article.


Here's who we chatted to: 

  • Clinton Schultz, Gamilaroi man, psychologist and the co-founder of the alcohol-free beer company Sobah. Their Aniseed Myrtle Stout was first released two winters ago and, like Sobah's other beers, features native ingredients. You can read about their new head brewer here.
  • Nic Sandery, Molly Rose founder. The Collingwood brewery released their first non-alc beers just before Dry July last year and have collaborated on a pineapple IPA with Blackhearts & Sparrows and yuzu saison with the clothing brand Arc'teryx.
  • Craig Basford, co-founder of Big Shed Brewing. Along with their alcohol-free pale ale Desi Driver, the brewery recently collaborated with the UK's Mash Gang to create HellWeisse, an alcohol-free passionfruit mango sour. 
  • KC Appayya, shift lead at Brick Lane. KC is one of the brewers heading up the Sidewinder range, which recently expanded to include Lime and Passionfruit XPAs. 
  • Tim Ladner, quality assurance and control manager at Hop Nation. A few months ago, the brewery received an AIBA gold medal for their non-alc XPA Mind Your Head and recently released a raspberry sour (along with a stout) in time for Dry July. 

Why did you make this beer?

 

Clinton: I love a stout. I spent a few years living in the UK when I was younger and really enjoyed stout in the cold weather. I continued drinking stouts in winter when I came home to Australia.

When I quit drinking in 2014, there wasn't a non-alc stout available. Back in 2019, the Sobah team were keen on creating a dark beer so I trialled a couple of versions and the Aniseed Myrtle Stout was the winning combo. It didn't get a run in the market until winter 2020 and it's been massively popular.

Nic: We’ve really wanted to do something with Arc'teryx for some time. They’ve been buying our non-alc beers for a while and giving them away at events, and have been getting people to our brewery after their events.

They make a lot of really fantastic things and they have this attitude of, "if you’re going to do something, do it right". The company is also all about sustainability and inclusion – they run a lot of free events that are all about making outdoors sports as inclusive as possible, where they really emphasise getting women and LGBTIQ people involved in their events.

We did a brew-storming session with the team who really connected and love When Life Gives You Lemons, which is a lemon farmhouse that has that refreshing, fruity, spicy and zesty character that’s still a pale ale style beer. It’s just super refreshing, dry and easy-drinking, so they set me the challenge of doing a saison.

 

A terrifying-looking but alcohol-free international collaboration: HellWeisse.

 

Craig: After creating our alcohol-free pale ale Desi Driver, we started thinking about how we could adapt some of our learnings and verified processes to different beer styles to produce other AF options. Around the same time we had been discussing fruited beers and how we could make them and ensure stability.

When Mash Gang approached us to contract brew some of their beer, we shared some ideas around AF production and recipe design. Through all of the back and forth with them, we agreed that we should collaborate on an AF beer. A fruited sour hit the top of the ideas list.

KC: Here at Brick Lane, we love beer with a good balance of malt character with a hoppy punch. The idea of infusing the beer with fruit to create a beverage that bursts with refreshing tropical flavours was how we conceptualised this niche style of non-alcoholic beer.

Tim: Sours are a big part of the beer market – fruited sours in particular. We wanted to offer something for those who love sours, but – for whatever reason – aren’t drinking. We want them to be able to scratch that itch.

When we considered extending our non-alc range to include these limited releases, it was about choice and options. Mind Ya Head is our hoppy offering. A stout was always on the cards, given July falls in winter, hence the release of Stars Align. Hop Nation has had a few successful raspberry sours, so it made sense for us to brew No Fool.


How did you make it?

Stars Align joins Hop Nation's No Fool as a winter-ready option for Dry July.

 

Clinton: Our stout is made like any other with love, magic and a blindfold on when measuring potential EBC. Ha ha! In all seriousness, it is made the same as any other stout, just a different yeast and dried aniseed myrtle leaf in the boil.

Nic: It was a challenging style to make. But, fortunately, the non-alc yeast is POF+, which means it produces phenols and can make the clove character if you force it to – or you can avoid it if you’re making a pale ale.

So, the yeast does already produce some of that character. But it’s also a yuzu saison in which we used some yuzu juice to give it a tartness and some fruitiness. Then we made a tincture with white pepper, grains of paradise and cloves.

Craig: We created a nice, light sour base with very low fermentability and threw some souring yeast at it. The objective was to get the yeast to produce as much lactic acid as possible rather than ethanol giving us acidity and fermentation flavour.

Mango and passionfruit purée was added to the bright tank for bright and fresh fruit aromas and flavours.

 

Evolution Saison with Molly Rose's coloful collection of other AF beers.

 

KC: The beer is brewed with a combination of malt that produces low alcohol, contributes to the body, and brings out a sweet, biscuity mouthfeel. A blend of hops consisting of Centennial, Citra and Simcoe is used to develop tropical and citrus aromatics and flavours. Fresh fruit juice is added into the fermenters to allow the fusion of flavours and steam-distilled natural extracts are added into bright tanks to create zingy top notes with an explosion of flavour that culminate in a product that has a lovely tropical and refreshing mouthfeel.

Tim: Making a fruited sour and making sure it’s non-alc isn’t without its complexities. The fruit adds another sugar source, increasing the risk of over-fermentation. There is a fair bit of nuance in adding the fruit, and it was challenging to get the beer out in under 0.5 percent ABV, but it all worked out.

For No Fool, we kettle soured it first using a lactobacillus culture – the same one we use for all our kettle sours – then we added oat malt, wheat malt and dextrin malt, and our house base malt. We wanted to create body and mouthfeel using wheat and oats – but we had to be selective with the malt, because we were going to add fruit – and again, we couldn’t risk over-fermentation.

No Fool has less malt than Stars Align Non-Alc Stout and Mind Ya Head Non-Alc XPA - too much malt would have meant we risked too much ethanol production once the fruit was added. We were very selective in our malt choices - to provide body without increasing the alcohol volume. The Australian raspberries add a refreshing tang.


How does it differ from a standard brewing process?


Clinton: All our beers are brewed using a "standard brewing process". Most of the difference in the process is the fermentation time, addition of native fruits and spices, and the preservation process. The beers need to be pasteurised to avoid secondary fermentation.

Nic: We had to change the malt bill and water chemistry on this one. With our other non-alcs we are trying with all our might to give the beer some body and texture, which is inherently difficult if there is no alcohol to add body and sweetness. So with the target of a crisp, dry and multilayered saison we decided we would try to use fresh yuzu juice and several spice tinctures to layer flavours on top of the base non-alc beer. These are flavours that we might normally get from one or more saison yeasts, Bretts or strains of bacteria, which just isn't possible when you're only fermenting to less than 0.5 percent ABV. 

Craig: Using a similar method of wort production to our Desi Driver, we selected grains with lower enzymatic activity and mashed in hot to deactivate enzymes and minimise starch conversion keeping the fermentable sugars low. Adding fruit purée to a finished beer and starch in solution adds a risk of refermentation in package so we pasteurise each can to ensure stability.

KC: We pride ourselves in the fact we carry out a completely natural brewing and fermentation process to produce the beer and the flavour profile of the beer to complement the fruit addition is naturally derived from the yeast fermentation profile along with malt and hops. The significant difference in brewing process to other beers would be the use of a specialised yeast strain that is well suited to the purpose, and having much more stringent quality control measures as these beers are more susceptible to spoilage.

Tim: That’s a great question. It doesn’t really differ from a standard brewing process; the main difference is that it has to be pasteurised. However, it is too simplistic to suggest there is nothing different at all. There are minor tweaks, for example we use a lot less malt, we have to mash at higher temperatures, and we used a different yeast strain.


We've lined up gift packs from Athletic Brewing Co featuring two of their non-alc beers – Upside Dawn and Run Wild – plus merch including a Cotopaxi Backpack, Stubby Cooler, bandana, socks, sunglasses and more. For your chance to win one, you need to be a Crafty Cabal member and enter before July 13.

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