This piece originally appeared in Food & Wine by Mike Pomranz
If you’ve ever toured a brewery (and actually paid attention instead of impatiently waiting for the tasting at the end), you know that brewing follows these steps: mash, lauter, boil, ferment. But apparently, Anheuser-Busch InBev has used their resources as the world’s largest brewer to alter one of those fundamental steps in a way that almost doesn’t sound possible: removing the literal boil from the boiling process.
In an effort to reach its sustainability goals and reduce its global CO2 emissions by five percent per year, AB InBev reportedly spent the past four years developing a technique that allows the brewer to save energy by never actually boiling water before fermentation. Instead, nitrogen or CO2 gas is blown into the tank to create a bubbling pattern without a literal boil.
“Boiling and these gas bubbles are the sacred formula in the brewing process. Each brewer goes through a boiling process,” David De Schutter, the company’s research director for Europe, said according to The Guardian. “Our innovation is to heat everything up to just below boiling point, which provides 80 percent energy savings at this point in time. There is a lot less steam released, which allows you to spend less on water. In our case, we managed to go from five percent evaporated water to less than one percent.”
Since, as De Schutter states, boiling is such an inherent part of the brewing process, on its surface, getting rid of the actual boil sounds downright loony. Plenty of things happen during this step beyond just boiling water including the addition of bittering hops and overall sterilization. However, though The Guardian did not specifically speak to these details, just because water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit doesn’t mean that these other processes aren’t ostensibly happening at lower temperatures. Meanwhile, large breweries also produce large amounts of CO2 during the fermentation process. In theory, that gas could be collected and recycled into this method which would further cut down on waste. Admittedly, however, this is just speculation.
AB InBev does state that this new “boiling” method doesn’t affect the taste of the final product; in fact, the global brewer suggests that this new technique actually includes the added benefit creating a beer that can stay fresh longer.
Though AB InBev says it’s already tested this new system out on a large scale in two plants in the U.K., the company also said it could be ten years before the technology is adapted at all its breweries worldwide, and the five percent target won’t be hit until that happens. However, AB InBev has also said it’s willing to offer this patented technology to smaller brewers free of charge in an effort to help the environment in general. However, larger competing breweries would be charged a fee.