In our canonical ranking of beverages, non-alcoholic beer appears somewhere between expired milk and nacho-flavored Pepsi. There are two big problems: It doesn't taste very good and it contains no alcohol. The latter problem is unsolvable, of course, but scientists in Spain are attacking the former head-on with a new technique that they say will make non-alcoholic beer taste just like the boozy version we all know and love.
Before you can understand what they’re doing, you must know how non-alcoholic beer is usually made and why it has a reputation for tasting terrible. Boozeless beer is just regular, conventionally-brewed beer with its alcohol removed. The easiest way to get rid of the alcohol is by cooking it off, and this is where the change in taste typically comes from. You're essentially cooking the sugars and hop extracts in the beer after fermentation, which can kill or, at the very least, seriously alter some them. According to Brew Your Own, the hop flavors will typically disappear after 15 minutes. You can vacuum seal the beer, which mitigates the nasty effects of heat by lowering the beer's boiling point, but does still result in a brew that tastes different. Some of the more well respected non-alcoholic beers like Germany’s Clausthaler are brewed using reverse osmosis, which basically filters the alcohol out of the beer and does a better job of preserving the flavors.
What the Spaniards have done, they say, is riffed on reverse-osmosis to create an entirely new procedure. Basically, they start with real beer and use some fancy lab equipment to extract a cloud of beer aroma and flavor that contains no alcohol. Then they condense that delicious beery gas and add it to some typical flavorless non-alcoholic beer. The taste-test results were overwhelming. 90% of drinkers preferred the beer with the added compounds and thought it tasted and smelled more like the real thing. This is particularly important for Spain, which is Europe’s leader in non-alcoholic beer production and consumption.
Now, if they'd just put the alcohol back in, maybe we'd be tempted to buy the stuff.