While last year’s launch of Heineken 3 promised beer drinkers they could “Have it all“, Heineken’s latest release forces drinkers to make some big choices.
Heineken 0.0 was released in Australia last week boasting zero alcohol and just 69 calories per bottle. However, while the alcohol-free version has 20 per cent fewer calories than its midstrength sibling, it comes with a hefty 188 per cent more carbohydrates, which includes the equivalent of a teaspoon of what are listed as ‘sugars’.
Heineken 0.0 carries 50 per cent more carbohydrates than even the full-strength version.
Carbohydrates and sugar are sensitive topics for brewers as they battle perceptions about beer in the face of declining consumption and increasing health-consciousness among consumers.
Lion, which brews Heineken and Heineken 3 under licence in Australia, has run a major campaign since 2015 to educate consumers that most if its beers are “99.9% sugar free”.
Alcohol free beer is a worthy goal but the process of removing alcohol can also remove or damage the flavour of beer and it’s a challenge to do so while maintaining an appealing beer flavour. Alcohol is also an important aspect of the mouthfeel and perception of flavour in beer which must be replaced in some way to ensure an appealing product.
Heineken, and Lion, have been reluctant to provide details about how they produce their alcohol free version or what they add back to balance the alcohol removal.
Removing the alcohol from beer
Because alcohol is a natural byproduct of the brewing process, and a major contributor to mouthfeel and perceptions of flavour, producing a beer with no alcohol that is still satisfying to beer drinkers, is a challenge.
Brewers first make a beer and then remove the alcohol through a variety of processes, though the process of removing alcohol can also remove or damage the flavour of beer.
Vacuum distillation is a common process for removing alcohol from beer, relying on the high volatility of ethanol compared to beer’s other components. The use of a vacuum allows for comparatively lower temperatures to be used for the process, which causes less damage to the beer.
However, volatile aromatics such as esters are also removed and to compensate many brewers create a more aromatic beer that is then distilled. They can also recover a beer aroma extract from the evaporation that is then blended back into de-alcoholised beer.
While Heineken has provided different explanations to Brews News about how it removes the alcohol from 0.0, it is understood that it uses this approach including blending back flavour compounds.
In a series of emails, a Heineken spokesman confirmed that Heineken 0.0 is blended with natural flavourings. ‘Natural flavourings’ also listed as an ingredient in addition to water, malted barley and hop extracts.
Despite a lengthy email exchange, Heineken’s spokesman has not advised what natural flavourings are used and why, if they are flavours created as part of the brewing process, it is necessary to list them as an added ingredient.
Lion’s Beer The Beautiful Truth campaign, now known as Beer: It’s Beautiful, was informed by “consumer research showing 87 percent of Aussies don’t know what goes into beer, and 73 percent want more information on the beers they drink.”