Kukko dealcoholised beer from Laitilan Oy brewery has kept its flavour close to the original using GEA’s AromaPlus technology. (Image: Laitilan Oy)
Kukko dealcoholised beer from Laitilan Oy brewery has kept its flavour close to the original using GEA’s AromaPlus technology. (Image: Laitilan Oy)

A Finnish brewery wanted to ensure its alcoholised beer retained the aroma, colour and turbidity of its alcohol range. It turned to GEA and its membrane filtration technology to achieve required alcohol-free levels without losing the taste.

An independent brewery in operation since 1995, Laitilan Oy has grown to become Finland’s fourth-largest brewery. Its Kukko beer was the world’s first full-malt beer to receive the international gluten-free product trademark in 2005. In addition, the company produces specialty beers, ciders, sparkling wine, soft drinks, waters and long drinks, a total of more than 20 million litres in 2019.

There are several different methods for producing de-alcoholised or non-alcoholic beer. Laitilan Wirvoitusjuomatehdas Oy brewery in Finland knew it wanted to avoid the wort-like flavours in some alcohol-free beers and achieve the best results when it came to taste and quality. Retaining the genuine flavour and original features of their Laitilan Kukko beer were the key criteria when it chose the membrane filtration system, AromaPlus, from GEA.

Reverse osmosis
During a separator installation at the Laitilan Oy brewery in 2017, plant manager Tommi Suutari asked GEA about possible solutions for beer dealcoholisation. At that time, GEA had just developed and launched a new process using its membrane filtration, AromaPlus and the brewery decided to look in more detail at this as a possible solution.

Built on GEA’s membrane filtration technology, AromaPlus works via reverse osmosis (RO). It allows alcohol and water to move through, while retaining essential ingredients that contribute to aroma, colour and turbidity. The system achieves the required alcohol-free percentage of 0.5% down to 0.05%. Several brewing frontrunners have chosen AromaPlus because it delivers in terms of cost and has excellent taste results.

Cold processing
The cold process with membrane filtration has less impact on the beer’s flavour and more aroma is maintained when compared to dealcoholisation methods which rely on thermal processes. After visiting one of the first producers of de-alcoholised beer using the AromaPlus technology, the Schönbuch brewery in Stuttgart, and carrying out testing to de-alcoholise its own beer at GEA´s pilot plant, Laitilan was convinced it was the right choice.

GEA product manager Ralf Scheiber explains: “We put a lot of effort into developing the new AromaPlus process and now we’re seeing that demand for non-alcoholic beer is increasing. Our solution has been well-received and is very much appreciated by breweries and consumers.”

Design and layout
The dealcoholisation unit is mounted on a frame and comes ready for installation. It includes the filtration modules fitted with the special AromaPlus reverse osmosis membranes, the pumps for media transport or for providing the required system pressure, the entire internal piping, a CIP dosing unit installed next to the unit and the control technology for semi-automated operation.

In addition to the dealcoholisation process, the controller also manages the cleaning-in-place (CIP) of the system to ensure the proper operation and reliable cleaning of the membranes. The modern GEA AromaPlus units have a standardised layout and, depending on their size, are designed for batch processing from approximately 50 hectolitres to more than 600 hectolitres per day. GEA also offers larger dealcoholisation units for continuous processing of more than 50 hectolitres per hour.

GEA AromaPlus is in use by breweries throughout Europe, although Laitilan Oy is the first Scandinavian brewer to purchase this solution. Laitilan Oy’s dealcoholisation plant was installed in January and the new products were launched in March 2020.

This article was supplied and written by Nicole Meierotto, Corporate Media & Press at GEA.