The little beer that could

A pillar of Bristolian craft brewing, Wiper and True’s recent investment in a de-alcoholiser is slowly making the city’s already brilliant beer scene, even better


It’s a little known fact that one of Wiper and True’s earliest hits, Small Beer — 2.7% hazy pale ale — was first brewed in 2014 for a friend’s wedding. The brief for co-founders Michael Wiper, and Cesca Garton was “something that tastes great, but people can remember the speeches after they’ve had a few pints of it”. In hindsight, head of brand and marketing, Alice Howells, sees that first batch of Small Beer as the beginning of the brewery’s relationship with low alcohol beer, though she concedes that no one could have known back then that the market would tip toward the burgeoning low and no alcohol scene of today.

“Back then, Small Beer was a kind of challenge to ourselves,” says Alice. “We wanted to brew a really great product with a big hop hit, quite a malty base, and which you would never notice was just 2.7%. And once we’d done that, it just became something we were increasingly interested in and wanted to work on.” While the brewery’s interest in low and no alcohol beers has been sustained by growing demand at Wiper and True’s imitable Old Market Taproom, reaching the point of investing in a de-alcoholiser was far from a linear journey. 

“Our head brewer, Marvin [Linder], is German, and did a lot of research into these German-manufactured de-alcoholisers that he’d known about for a while,” says Alice. “We ended up talking about this technology more and more, though exploring it seriously was one of those projects that we picked up and then put down a lot, ultimately meaning it’s been in the works for a really long time. In the background of all this, we did a lot of sampling different alcohol free beers to try different production methods and kind of work out which approach we felt would work best with our beers, and that's how we landed on the de-alcoholiser.”

At the moment, Wiper and True is the only brewery with this specific piece of equipment in the UK. Originally designed for use in macro breweries, the manufacturer of this technology has been working on developing smaller-scale machines suitable for use in microbreweries, and chose Wiper and True to be its UK pilot partner. It took just over a year to import and install the de-alcoholiser, during which time the manufacturer’s in-house master brewers worked closely with Wiper and True’s production team to interpret and translate their recipes into versions suitable for the de-alcoholiser. 

“There is barely any difference between our flagship beer, Kaleidoscope, and the alcohol-free version of it that we’ve made,” says Alice. “We've just slightly dialled up the maltiness to give it a bit more body and mouthfeel.” The de-alcoholiser works not by boiling off the alcohol from a fully fermented beer, but by high pressure reverse osmosis. “So basically, the beer gets passed at 30 bar pressure through membranes inside the machine — your shower at home is normally two bar pressure, for context — but with no heat.

“The alcohol molecules cannot pass through the membranes, so they’re retained along with a small amount of water while everything else goes through. What you’re essentially left with is all the flavour of the original beer in a slightly smaller volume of alcohol-free liquid, so the flavour is actually slightly more concentrated before we dilute it with water back up to its original volume.” 

The results have been so well received – both by the internal team and drinkers of 0.5% lager, Tomorrow – that Wiper and True put its flagship pale ale, Kaleidoscope, on the line by releasing a 0.5% version of it just before Christmas. Granted, it’s January when Alice and I catch up about how the release has gone down among consumers, so while one would expect the beer to be doing well, I am surprised to learn that the alcohol-free version of Kaleidoscope has been outpouring its alcoholic counterpart in brewery’s taproom since its release. 

“People just seem really excited about the choice, which is one of our main reasons for wanting to do alcohol-free options,” says Alice. “It’s empowering for people to feel like you don't have to be drinking to have a really delicious beer, and you don't have to be drinking to go to the taproom. We’re also starting to see more trade accounts, with more pubs and restaurants wanting to be able to offer people a good choice, and with Bristol loving to get behind Bristol brands, we’re seeing the offering go down really well.”

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