All you wanted to know about non-alcoholic beer. Part 1



The first attempts to produce a non-alcoholic beer have been handed down in Germany from 1895. They came either as “malted gold” or “Reformbier” (both 1905) especially in abstinence economies for serving, or as the “perplex” of the Flensburg Actienbrauerei (founded in 1873, one of the two forerunners of today’s Flensburg brewery) in 1907 as an attempt on a large scale but then had only a short life. Because neither taste nor stability (durability and clarity) of these beers with stopped fermentation could convince. In 1919, US brewers presented their first beer with 0.5% alcohol as a result of prohibition – according to the new laws, this was considered alcohol-free. In Germany, the brand was for a long time 0.1% alcohol.

But after the end of the ban, these US beers disappeared from the market again. Towards the end of the 1930s, the Swiss brewery Gurten Bier AG from Bern presented the first non-alcoholic beer produced by vacuum distillation with its ex-beer, but this was hardly disseminated because of the war and its consequences. In 1962, Hans Hürlimann, owner of the brewery of the same name in Zurich, started his own research project, which he kept secret for fear of the competition. The current documents always had to be kept in a bank safe. Three years later, with the help of his research director Steiner, a yeast specialist, he finally introduced his first alcohol-free beer called “Oro” to the Swiss market. During production, a special yeast barely gave rise to alcohol, so the alcohol content was below 0.5%. Only two years later Hürlimann was present on the entire Swiss market, followed in 1968 by Germany, 1969 Austria, 1970 France, 1971 England and 1972 the United States. However, the name of the beer was not well received by the customers, which is why the brewery changed it to “Birell” in 1972.

Development in Germany

Meanwhile, the development of non-alcoholic beers in Germany continued to wait, although there would have been a tangible reason for this: In 1973, the alcohol limit for West German motorists introduced 20 years earlier was reduced from 1.5 to 0.8 per mille blood alcohol. Since 2001 vehicle drivers are granted only 0.5 per thousand. Who exceeds this limit at the wheel commits even without further incident an administrative offense, in case of doubt, the driver’s license is passé. Many Eastern European countries even went beyond that and introduced a 0.0 per cent limit. This development was not hidden even the workers and peasants state on German soil and the Economic Council of the GDR, where also a 0.0-limit per thousand, thought about taking a beer for car drivers an additional foreign currency earner in the range of motorway service areas, Especially at the Hermsdorfer Kreuz, the hub of transit traffic, the new beverage was to be bought.

beerBut the introduction was not so easy. After all, since the founding of the state, the GDR breweries have been overloaded, which has clearly affected the quality of the products. Finally, in the late 1960s, there was an opportunity. Tanks from an old disused brewery were brought to the Berlin Engelhardt brewery to expand their capacity. Master brewer Ulrich Wappler was formed by a group of four who had the task of developing the first German non-alcoholic beer with a maximum of 0.5% alcohol. For over half a year he studied patents and brewing literature from all over the world, but direct contact with master brewers from the West was forbidden to him as a brother of republic refugees. After many attempts, Ulrich Wappler and his colleagues had brewed the first successful brew in 1972 and filed a patent. The beer had 7% original wort, the fermentation was overcooled with glycol and braked, in the end it even contained less than half a percent alcohol.

The result was not perfect yet, the more annoyed Wappler that one of his colleagues during the first days of the Leipzig Trade Fair disclosed the success and so the GDR leadership got wind of it. The order immediately, during the fair a presentation event, which gave the “AUBI” (AUtofahrerBIer) from the beginning a bad reputation. Because the unfinished result of the Testsudes still tasted strongly of spice and could not attract many followers. The customer of Wappler’s “non-alcoholic” also reached the west of Germany, where so far only a few larger breweries had entered into cooperations with Hürlimann for the distribution of Birell. In 1975, the Hümmer brewery from Dingolshausen near Schweinfurt was the first to introduce its own alcohol-free beer. In the same year followed the Stuttgart-based Sanwald brewery with its “Pro beer” and the St. Martin brewery from Oberlahnstein with St. Martin Fit. However, these first attempts quickly fell behind when in 1977 Henninger appeared on the German market with »Gerstel« and in 1978 Binding with Clausthaler.