Picture it: You sit down at a bar, enjoy two or three IPAs rich with the fruity, piney aromas and flavors of hops, then get right up and immediately drive home. This is ill-advised, irresponsible and downright illegal behavior. But the information I didn’t supply you with before introducing this scenario is that those hypothetical beers are non-alcoholic. And though it sounds like a riddle based on fiction—c’mon, there’s no such thing as a vibrantly hoppy non-alcoholic IPA—this is a real-world situation that can be played out at the U.S. Grant Hotel’s bar, lounge and restaurant, Grant Grill, where level two Cicerone Jeff Josenhans has taken to removing alcohol from cask ales, before recarbonating, bottling and adding them to the menu. It’s the latest step in the venue’s non-alcoholic craft beverage program, which also includes spirits and cocktails. We sat down with Josenhans to find out more about his methods and what could be perceived by some purists as madness.
West Coaster: What inspired you to explore non-alcoholic beers in this manner?
Jeff Josenhans: It literally just dawned on me how there are no craft non-alcoholic beers on the market, and I thought to myself “how can this be possible?” The non-alcoholic quality beverage segment as a whole—wine, cocktails, etc.—is growing as well, so I just put two and two together. There’s really no reason you can’t drink craft beer at work in a non-alcoholic form.
WC: Walk us through the process of removing alcohol from traditional beers.
JJ: Basically, we maintain the temperature of the beer at 180 degrees Fahrenheit using an immersion circulator, which also keeps the beer in motion. We keep that process going for about 30 minutes or until we can’t detect any alcohol fumes for at least five minutes. Like other commercial non-alcoholic beers or kombucha, there is still a minute amount of alcohol expected to remain in the beer, albeit less than one percent. There really is no such thing as 100% guaranteed no-alcohol beer. O’Doul’s states 0.5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV), Becks Non-Alcoholic states 0.3% ABV and, similarly, when reducing wine into a sauce, you cannot completely guarantee there is no alcohol and that it is at a level which is considered safe to consume and drive, for example. What we do is measure the volume of the liquid and equate it with the loss in volume per the original ABV. For example, if we have 10 liters of 6% ABV pale ale, after the 30-minute process we should have 9.4 liters left.
WC: What styles do you offer and what led you to select them?
JJ: Our current bottled beers are Office IPA, Strawberry Blonde, PC Pilsner, Safe and Sour, and Button-Down Beer. The selection process is directly correlated to the casks we run at Grant Grill. If we don’t have enough left over from a cask at the end of a night, we do not produce any non-alcoholic beer. If there is at least one-third of the cask left, we make a decision to bottle and start the process. We are creating craft-beverage offerings and avoiding waste at the same time.
WC: You’re using local cask ales. Where are you procuring them?
JJ: We always have cask ale on Fridays and Saturdays, and currently partner with New English Brewing, 32 North Brewing, Mike Hess Brewing, Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment, Fall Brewing and Modern Times Beer.
WC: What would you say to those who don’t see a need for non-alcoholic craft beer?
JJ: There’s no shame in offering people who can’t drink for whatever reason—designated driver, pregnant, religion, whatever—a craft-beer alternative. To be honest, I really don’t understand how the craft market hasn’t got to this yet. It think it’s about time!
Tommaso Maggiore is the owner and brewmaster of Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment.
Can you tell us about the beers you make?
We’re starting from scratch, so the beers we brew are new to us and we like to think they are unique for the end craft beer drinker. We’ve traveled the globe in search of beer and have seen uniquely different styles and tastes based on the different equipment and processes; this has helped mold the styles we wish to emulate. Because of the name Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment — you can’t go wrong with music and beer — most of our beers have some sort of musical influence in their names. For example our nut brown ale that just won a gold medal at the San Diego International Beer Festival is named “Shake Your $ Maker” Brown, and then there’s “The Groupie” Belgian-style blonde, the “Mad Dub” Belgian-style dubbel, and the “Mosh Pit” West Coast-style red. Coming up with the names can be just as fun as making the beers.
Who are your brewers?
Myself and brewer Zach Jones are both relatively green without a lot of experience in the commercial brewing setting. That poses plusses and minuses; there has definitely been a bit of a learning curve, but that’s part of the sun. The plus side is that we are not locked into a specific way of doing things, and we haven’t brought baggage from previous breweries. One of the downfalls is that this is a trial by fire. if we don’t know how to do something, we try to sort through it, and on occasion it has bitten us in the ass. There are many other breweries opening up in San Diego which are off-shoots from other San Diego breweries , so it seems the beers coming out are just slight variations on previous creations.
What makes your tasting room unique?
The brewery and tasting room are located at the historic Mission Brewery Plaza — located right off the 5 freeway at the Washington Street exit — which is the oldest pre-Prohibition brewery building still standing in San Diego. Its roots date back to 1912 when the building was built for the original Mission Brewery, which cranked out suds for the masses along with many other San Diego pre-Prohibition era breweries, but unfortunately Prohibition – formally known as the 18th Amendment – was passed in 1919, and although Mission was trying to make a run with a hop-infused Soda “Hopski,” they were unsuccessful and the doors of the original brewery closed. After that, it was turned into a hospital annex during the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic, and then a seaweed processing plant until the 1980s. It’s changed hands since then, and we’re looking forward to creating beers inside a historic brewing building.
Do you have any events coming up?
Our tasting room just opened its doors, right off the Washington Street trolley station, and we have still a bit of work to do, but there are plans to offer beer classes, plus brewing classes and tours of the brewery. We’ll be working with a lot of local gastrotrucks to create beer-infused foods, and we’re looking at starting a barrel aging program with used small-batch Scotch whiskey barrels. We’ll have plenty of events in the near future, and we’ll list those on our website; or, like us on Facebook.
What are you looking forward to during SDBW?
SDBW is a beautiful celebration of beer and San Diegans love their craft beer! There are so many great events to go to, new people to meet that love craft beer, events to plan, beer dinners to attend. There’s just not enough time to get to everything. We will be doing some fun one-off cask conditioned ales and nitro beers specifically for SDBW.