A heartfelt letter to homebrewers from NABLAB
Sep 14, 2023
It’s me, NABLAB. We need to talk. First of all, let me say that you are great. For years you have been making excellent beer and pushing style boundaries. Your creativity and innovation were driving forces in the High Gravity and Extreme Beer revolution of the earlier 2000’s. And your pioneering spirit helped grow the popularity of sour and wild fermented beers.
Now that High Gravity beers are declining in popularity in favor of more sessionable, low ABV styles, I have noticed you taking a greater interest in me (NABLAB). While I am flattered by your interest, I think that we should take things slow. Let’s take the time to get to know each other well before you brew your first low ABV beers.
It’s not you, it’s me. Like I said, you are very skilled at making a huge range of beer styles. But NABLAB is not like anything you have brewed before. Without the proper precautions, the low ABV levels can increase the risk of growth of spoilage microbes, some of which could be pathogenic. For food safety reasons, it’s essential that you take the proper precautions.
So what can you do? First of all, stick to using maltotriose-negative yeast to achieve lower attenuation. Maltotriose-negative yeast achieves around 65-72% attenuation in a typical beer wort. Mashing at higher temperatures will reduce the attenuation even further. By also reducing your original gravity, a maltotriose-negative strain will be able to get you in the range of 1-3% ABV. Avoid maltose-negative strains for homebrew, since these strains require pasteurization in order to stabilize the beer and prevent fermentation of the remaining maltose. Nobody likes gushers or exploding bottles.
Second, control your pH through the process. The shorter fermentations of low gravity NABLAB won’t drop the pH enough to prevent the growth of spoilage and pathogenic microbes like they do with regular beers. Make sure the pH is lower than 4.6 at the start of fermentation and around 4.0 in the finished beer. You don’t want to make anyone sick.
Third, and most simple, keep the beer cold after packaging. Not only will this reduce the risk of spoilage, you will also have fresh beer available at all times without having to throw a few bottles in the freezer at the last moment. If using kegs, keep the dispensing lines cold, too. It should be noted, that most of the worlds’ largest producers of NABLAB beers are taking a cautious approach to not serve in draft at this time, until more is known about the potential of supporting pathogens in draft systems.
I am challenging to brew for commercial and homebrewers alike. With a proper understanding and management of the challenges and risks, homebrewers can love and enjoy brewing styles like me. If you need support, Lallemand Brewing is there to help you out.
For homebrewers able to manage the risks of brewing low alcohol styles, cheers to you! For everyone else, keep up the good work brewing more traditional styles. I’m glad we had this chat.