7 July 2023

“Super Mixtures”: Adding Delicious Flavors to Alcohol-Free Beer


If non-alcoholic beer tasted better, it would probably make up a larger proportion of total beer sales and therefore improve public health. A group of researchers at the University of Copenhagen want to make this a reality in a new project that will also reduce the climate footprint of beer.

Picture of Sylvester
Tenure Track Assistant Professor at UCPH FOOD Sylvester Holt sniffs an aromatic hop mixture that is released in the funnel of the new FOODHAY instrument Recomposition-Olfactometer (GC-R). Photo: Lene Hundborg Koss

In 2021, 283 million litres of beer with alcohol were sold in Denmark, making beer the most popular alcoholic drink. Although we drink more non-alcoholic beer than in previous years, in comparison, only 7.3 million litres of non-alcoholic beer were sold.

“We would like people to drink more non-alcoholic beer because it is better for public health,” says Tenure Track Assistant Professor at the Department of Food Science at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH FOOD) Sylvester Holt, who leads the project.

When producing non-alcoholic beer, you extract the alcohol from a regular beer in a de-alcoholizer. However, this process leads to the loss of aroma compounds from the hops, which must then be reintroduced.

“Unfortunately, the taste is not quite the same, which is why people often describe non-alcoholic beer as boring and flat,” says Sylvester Holt.

In the project, the researchers will conduct brewing trials in UCPH FOOD’s pilot brewery, where they will also investigate which brewing parameters yield the most stable beer that can be stored without compromising flavour. A loss of flavour can especially occur when storing IPA, which has a strong hop profile.

“We are working with some aroma profiles in a completely new way, aiming to create innovative taste and aroma profiles for the non-alcoholic beers. The goal is to find one or more “super aroma mixtures”, so that the beer will taste fantastic while at the same time reducing the climate impact by using less hops. The aroma hops typically come from New Zealand and the United States, which adds transportation to the resource and land area consumption,” explains Sylvester Holt.

New FOODHAY instrument to harvest aroma impressions from hops

There are more than 250 different types of hops, each with its own taste and aroma characteristics. 

“We select a hop with a unique aroma profile, which we mix with water to create a “cold tea” that we can serve to a panel accustomed to evaluating taste. The panel members smell and taste the cold tea to describe the properties of the hops,” says Sylvester Holt. 

The task of the tasting panel is to identify the best properties in the hop tea. The researchers can then determine what kind chemical substances create these properties using a gas chromatograph, which can assign names to the chemical ingredients.

Another newly acquired gas chromatograph, obtained through the high-technology laboratory platform FOODHAY (see box about the laboratory platform), can individually freeze the substances and release them into a mixture. This allows the researchers to smell whether they have captured the properties that the tasting panel has described and assessed (see picture).

“If the project is successful, we will be able to harvest aromas, which we can use to design different mixtures, resulting in entirely new aroma profiles and create more diversity on the beer market,” explains Sylvester Holt.

PhD student trained as hop flavourist

Once the researchers have identified the aromatic substances that form the basis of a mixture with some unique properties, this knowledge must be applicable to beer brewing. Therefore, the chemical substances need to be combined in a recipe that also describes exact quantities. The researchers can then share the recipe with a partner who produces the individual substances and makes a mixture that can be sold to the industry.

During the course of the project, the researchers will experiment with blending different mixtures, with the aim of identifying one or more super mixtures:

“When you put together a “super mixture” from different properties in hops, new interactions between the aroma substances occur which can change the final flavour profile. It is highly specialised work, which can perhaps best be compared to the work of a flavourist in creating a new perfume,” says Sylvester Holt.

To help with this, a PhD student will be engaged and trained as a hop flavorist at the The Flavor Academy at BarthHaas in Germany. To Øl and EvodiaBio (a spin-off company from the Department of Plant and Environmental Science – article is in Danish) will participate in the guidance of the student.




Tenure-track assistant professor at the Department of Food Science at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH FOOD) Sylvester Holt, sylvester.holt@food.ku.dk


Communications officer at UCPH FOOD Lene Hundborg Koss, lene.h.koss@food.ku.dk


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