Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped presenter Matt Tebbut and his camera team came to Marketing Sciences Unlimited (now very famous!) Sensory unit in Westerham in December to film some footage for their ‘Diet Special’ programme.
This programme was timed to go out in early January in time to catch the new-resolution makers with an aim to see if we can still have tasty treats and still stick to our diets.
Having already explored dark chocolate, sugar-free cake and fat-free cheese, the teams’ attention was drawn to beer, and in particular, reduced-calorie versions of beer – the epitome of which is alcohol-free beer. As many of the calories on beer are due to the presence of alcohol (it-self being a carbohydrate) then by reducing the alcohol level, the beer will have less calories.
Having established from local Westerham beer-drinkers that alcohol-free beer does not taste very good – or put another way ‘Oh my goodness, that’s dreadful!’ (sic!), Matt had come to seek the advice of a beer expert (AKA me – Doctor of Beer and Beer Sommelier) as to why it should be that removing the alcohol from beer compromises flavour.
I explained to Matt that as well as alcohol, yeast produce many other volatile flavour compounds during fermentation which also tend to be removed during the de-alcoholisation process. These flavours often contribute sweet, fruity notes and give body to beer, therefore leaving alcohol-free beers rather thin and not very sweet tasting. I demonstrated to Matt a range of other cereal and fruity flavours that can still be present in the beer which come from the malt and hops.
These can be adjusted by brewers to compensate for some of lack of yeast flavours, but overall it tends to be that the flavour profile of alcohol-free and low alcohol beers will be different to normal strength beers due to the absence of alcohol.
After donning a white lab coat (one of which was a bit of a tight fit which prompted the camera man to point out that it is a ‘diet special’ after all!) Matt then tried tasting some normal strength beer versus alcohol-free beer and could judge for himself the differences in flavour. The filming finished in true market research style with a trip to the local pub to canvass the opinion of the beer drinking public on alcohol-free lager, with rather unsurprising results.
Unfortunately, due to the other content and time constraints of the programme, much of the days’ filming vanished onto the virtual equivalent of the cutting-room floor, but I was pleased and rather proud to be a part of such an entertaining and informative programme.
The programme went on to highlight an innovative approach by Dutch brewers to create a more flavoursome alcohol-free beer. It is already true that, over many years, brewers have already improved the flavour of alcohol-free beer from the early pioneers enormously and are actively seeking new ways to produce better tasting low and alcohol-free beer. In fact, there is a growing demand for low alcohol and alcohol-free beer and sales in the on-trade have witnessed a 5% growth, with daytime and weekday evenings as the main occasions for consuming alcohol-free products.
Also, the growing trend for more balanced and healthy lifestyles are leading consumers of all ages to actively moderate their drinking habits and this is particularly pertinent for ‘Dry January’ and in the light of the very recent Government guidelines to reduce the number of weekly alcohol units to 14 for both men and women.
For more information on beer flavour, beer & food pairing or the sensory evaluation of food, beverages and your product let me know !
Dr Debbie Parker is Sensory Manager at Marketing Sciences Unlimited and also has a Doctorate in Brewing ScienceSubscribe