The dealcoholised drinks industry is a dynamic sector with reduced alcohol drinks becoming increasingly popular with consumers. The international reduced alcohol beer market alone is estimated to be worth over $25 billion by 2024, with significant growth also predicted for lower alcohol wines and spirits. As a result, industry is turning its attention towards the dealcoholisation technologies used for such products. We are active in helping companies develop dealcoholised beers, ciders, wines and spirits to meet this demand.
The two traditional methods of dealcoholisation either reduce or remove ethanol. Arrested batch fermentation keeps ethanol levels low by removing yeast at an early stage to terminate fermentation. Vacuum distillation, however, uses rotary evaporation or spinning cone technology to remove ethanol. A third and relatively new technology, which we use at our Nutfield site, is based on ‘membrane processing’. It can produce a final low alcohol, dealcoholised or alcohol-free product whilst retaining flavour.
How membrane processing works
Membrane processing uses a membrane to ‘filter’ ethanol and water from an alcoholic drink. The process works by flowing the alcoholic liquid parallel to a membrane at high velocity while under pressure. Water and ethanol pass through the membrane pores and so are removed from the (now dealcoholised) drink. Water is then re-introduced to replace that which was lost and recover the final volume of the dealcoholised drink.
The size of the pores within the membrane greatly influences the process. A membrane with smaller pores will reduce the loss of desirable flavour molecules (which are larger than water and ethanol) but will slow the filtration; this in turn will create a slower and more expensive process. A membrane with larger pores can filter much faster but will lose some flavour molecules. A compromise is often required to maintain product quality while managing processing costs.
How membrane processing can help you
Our facility at Campden BRI has the only unit in the UK for dealcoholisation by nanofiltration available to do small-scale commercial trials. Our pilot unit can dealcoholise any volume between one and 50 litres in a day. Larger volumes can also be processed with careful planning. The technology is also scalable to plant size. We have a range of membranes, each with a specific pore size, allowing us to work with any alcoholic beverage. In the case of highly flavoured beverages, such as gins, we use a dedicated clientspecific membrane to avoid any potential for flavour cross-contamination.
The process can create specific conditions for different products. For example, during processing the pH can be regulated, and air can be excluded for oxygensensitive products such as beer. In addition to this, the absence of heat treatment means thermal damage is minimised.
To ensure there is no loss in flavour, we can carry out comparative taste tests on membrane-processed and un-processed samples. The samples produced by our pilot unit can be used for sensory testing, proof of concept, sensory analysis and consumer testing.