Creating great tasting alcohol free beer is hard!
Leaving our largely non-non-alcoholic 20s behind us, we were annoyed we couldn’t find a great drink when we weren’t drinking alcohol. We honed in on non-alcoholic beer because we all like beer and the existing alcohol free options weren’t doing it for us. After a month of research, we found there are basically three main ways of creating non-alcoholic beer:
- — Vacuum distillation (boiling off the alcohol)
- — Alcohol filtration (filters out alcohol using a membrane)
- –Stopped fermentation (stopping the yeast before it turns sugar into alcohol)
All of these methods either take beer and strip away, or block the development of, alcohol. That does a lot of damage to the taste of an otherwise delicious drink. This felt mad to us! We couldn’t believe even the best non-alcoholic beers were made this way. So we turned to a blank canvas.
We asked a world class liquid product developer if it was possible to build a beer, 100% alcohol free, from the ground up, rather than removing alcohol from beer. Blending ingredients instead of brewing them, with no yeast or fermentation. After a cheeky smile, the answer we got back was ‘yes, it’s possible but it hasn’t been done before.’ That was enough. One painfully expensive handshake later and we were off.
What were we after? We broke down our favourite components of beer into tasting notes, summarised as: crisp, refreshing, hoppy, slightly dry, and with a hint of citrus. Our newfound wizard suggested it would take 3 months of R&D. We finally got there after a full 20 months and dozens and dozens of iterations later, throughout which we and he very nearly gave up. We funded the product development by staying in our old jobs and finally handed in our notices in January 2019.
Hard work complete, nothing but blue sky ahead? Not so much. The beer was great but it turns out lab scale is a very different beast to full production. Because beer hasn’t been made this way before, we knew there were plenty of unknowns. We needed a team with skills, expertise and some top-of-the-line equipment. In the spring of 2019 we found the ideal outfit, the Start Up Drinks Lab, based just outside of Glasgow.
The three of us with Sam from Start up Drinks Lab, April 2019
But Freestar is made of many different natural ingredients. It is a complicated and delicate formulation and no one really knew how the liquid would react on a larger production scale. We soon found out… on our pilot run, 300 bottles literally exploded during pasteurisation. We labelled another thousand bottles by hand when a labelling machine broke down and we had to get product to market. It’s been a huge learning curve. Learning #1: Start ups are HARD!
We finally launched Freestar in May 2019. Designed for flavour, using all natural ingredients, no added sugar, and a load of effort and innovation. It’s vegan, delicious and refreshing and it kind of shouldn’t exist. You can buy it at select hotels, bars, pubs, restaurants and theatres across London and online at Wise Bartender, Dry Drinker and Light Drinks. Give it a try and hopefully you won’t taste the blood, sweat or tears!
Charlie, Eddy, Felix