Hangovers over? Non-alcoholic beer firm Nirvana Breweries banks on flavour to break into Japan

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

Low-to-no alcoholic (LNA) beer brewery Nirvana Breweries has its eye set on the Asian market starting with Japan. ©Nirvana Breweries
Low-to-no alcoholic (LNA) beer brewery Nirvana Breweries has its eye set on the Asian market starting with Japan. ©Nirvana Breweries

Related tags non-alcoholic drinks Japan Flavour

Low-to-no alcoholic (LNA) beer brewery Nirvana Breweries has its eye set on the Asian market starting with Japan, and is convinced that its broad range and distinct flavour will set it apart from the competition.

According to Nirvana Breweries’ Director and Founder Becky Kean, the secret to their beer’s distinct flavour lies in their brewing process.

It is common for regular beer breweries that produce LNA beer to have made the transition over from alcoholic beer production, such as Heineken’s Heineken 0.0, so the normal process of manufacturing for these firms would involve boiling to remove the alcohol from their alcoholic beer.

“Our beers are made to be alcohol-free from the beginning of the brewing process, meaning that they do not go through the normal process of filtration or boiling to remove alcohol from regular beer to become non-alcoholic, like most options out there do,” ​Kean told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“We make it such that the alcohol does not form fully or at full strength by brewing the same way as a normal craft beer, just limiting the amount of alcohol that is formed [by] using less malt so there’s less sugar to ferment, different temperatures, and a ‘lazy yeast’ to ferment the brew so there’s less alcohol being formed.”

All of Nirvana Breweries’ beers are controlled to contain 0.5% of alcohol by volume or less, and Kean also claimed that their technique maintains flavours that would normally be destroyed by the boiling process such as hops.

“We also don’t add anything extra to the beers – some others tend to add backend sugars or lactose to try and create a fuller flavour, which can create an artificial sensation of there being a bit more body that you would usually get in alcohol,”​ she added.

“So the way we do it means you get a very clean taste and you can really taste all the ingredients.”

In addition, the firm is confident that its wide range of six different LNA craft beers will draw attention, given that most non-alcoholic options currently focus on just lagers.

“At the moment we have six core products: A lager, a pale ale, an IPA, a stout, and an organic in our low-alcohol range (0.5% and below), and a completely 0% alcohol pale ale for those who want absolute zero alcohol for any reason, health, religion, etc.,” ​she said.

“Previously, alcohol-free beers have been just lagers or weak beers, but never really much of a craft beer range, so we wanted to give consumers who aren’t drinking alcohol a variety of styles to choose from.”

Starting with Japan

Nirvana Breweries’ first target market in the Asia Pacific region is Japan, which has a relatively more mature low-to-no alcoholic beverage market and is also seeing rapid growth due to rising consumer awareness for health reasons.

“When we were in Japan, a lot of consumers were telling us that they did not respond well to alcohol, so we believe 0.5% beer can really do very well there as it won’t result in the side effects that regular beer might have for them,” ​said Kean.

“A lot of the growth in the alcohol-free [beer] is coming more from countries where health and well-being is a focus, [for example] in Japan, as opposed to countries where alcohol consumption is restricted.

“We’ve had a lot of queries from the more urban countries in APAC too, so for example South Korea, Singapore, and even some parts of India as well.”

Health and wellness

Although beer is not commonly associated with health and wellness, Kean said that this is actually a misconception, and that LNA beer is actually ‘one of the healthiest options you can get after water’​.

“If you remove the alcohol, the calories are much lower – a standard bottle of our beer is usually less than 50 calories. Our lager is about 66 calories per bottle, which compared to a normal beer is less than half,”​ she said.

“The sugar is very low, the calories are very low, and there are actually quite a few vitamins that occur from the yeast reactions, such as Vitamin B12 and even folic acid in quite high amounts.

“I always say it’s safest to consult a doctor if in doubt, but the alcohol levels are really low so it’s perfectly safe for a normal functioning body, and there isn’t anything in there dangerous even for pregnant women.”

All in all, the trend in APAC for LNA beers looks to be on the rise for health reasons, which Kean added was very similar to what has happened in Europe.

“Alcohol-free beer is being chosen for positive reasons rather than restrictive reasons such as driving or pregnancy. This is happening in Europe, and the same sort of thing is happening in Japan and South Korea as well,”​ she said.

New product development

Responding to queries about developing localised versions for Japan, Kean said that though nothing specifically Japanese is in the pipeline yet, some special brews may be on the way depending on the market response in the country.

“We did a kombucha beer in Japan, basically our version of a sour, blending the fermented tea with one of our pale ales, and the slight sweetness of the pale ale blended with the sourness of the kombucha to create a nice unique drink,”​ she said.

“In Japan, that was one of our most popular styles, and we may look at bringing that, or some variation of that, further.

“We’re also looking at making some more fruit beers and sour beers to create even more variation in the styles that we currently have.”

Nirvana Breweries expects to officially launch into Japan within the next two years, though it is as yet unknown whether the recent coronavirus outbreak will have any effect on this timeline.

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