VIDEO: Inside the UK's only non-alcoholic brewery
Nirvana Brewery is the only brewery in the UK solely dedicated to producing craft ales under 0.5% abv.
Brother-sister team Becky and Joe Keane, together with Steve Dass, first opened in the brewery in 2017 after the siblings' father went teetotal. Coming from a family of craft beer lovers, the duo observed a gap in the market.
“While there were a lot of alcohol-free beers out there, there wasn’t anything craft, or any ales…we enjoyed sharing together,” Becky told FoodNavigator during a recent visit to the East London site.
Today, Becky runs the business with her brother-in-law Andrew Keresey, and sells a range of no- and low-alcoholic beers to restaurants, pubs and retail stores.
The current line includes Nirvana’s Bavarian Helles Lager (0.3% abv), Dark & Rich Stout (0.0% abv), Traditional Pale Ale (0.0% abv), Organic Pale Ale (0.5% abv), Hoppy Pale Ale (0.5% abv) and Classic IPA (0.5% abv).
Alcohol-free brewing technique
Non-alcoholic beer is predominantly made in one of two ways, Becky explained.
Dealcoholizing beer is a popular method used by some of the larger brewing companies. “In the past, alcohol-free beers have usually been made by dealcoholizing full-strength beer. Typically, a brewery would make a full-strength, then either boil off the alcohol or filter it through…a membrane to remove the alcohol.”
This method tends to impart an ‘artificial taste’, the co-founder elaborated, “and obviously beer isn’t supposed to be boiled [after fermentation], so it [can] damage a lot of the flavour.”
This is why Nirvana Brewery has opted for a ‘more natural’ technique that fits in with the ‘proper craft’ style. “We just wanted a normal beer, but brewing to low gravity – which means much lower malt sugar,” Becky explained. “It means there is not enough [sugar] for the yeast to ferment to full-strength.”
The end product tastes ‘just like any other craft beer’, she said. The brewery uses the same malts and hops found in its full-strength counterpart, yet incorporates different temperatures to achieve a desired result with low or no alcohol.
“We use slightly different temperatures…and different yeasts – which means that the alcohol doesn’t form as quickly as you would expect with a normal ale yeast. These little tings mean that we can actually make a beer totally the same as a normal craft beer, it just forms a very low amount of alcohol.”
Who is drinking alcohol-free?
According to Becky, most believe the Millennials are driving the move towards alcohol-free. However, the majority of Nirvana’s customers are from X or Baby Boomer generations.
“We’re finding that more of our customers are coming from [the over-45 category] – maybe people who have a good taste for craft beer already, but are trying to change their habits a bit, trying to spend more time focusing on their health and wellbeing.”
Alcohol-free beer enables them to do so, while maintaining that ‘really nice ritual’ of ‘having a really good beer’.
Whether it’s Boomers, Gen Xers or Millennials, the category has ‘changed massively’ in recent times. When Nirvana first launched, it was met with much scepticism, Becky told this publication.
Today, when the co-founder approaches bars, restaurants or retail outlets that may be interested in stocking Nirvana’s products, she is regularly met with keen interest.
“People are going crazy for it,” she is told by bar managers, who may stock two or three alcohol-free options these days. “And that [change] literally happened with the space of a year.”