What if it were possible to create a craft beer that could be ready to drink within seconds by merely adding some cold sparkling water into a ready-made liquid? In a world where tea, coffee, and even soda are becoming pod-based, an instant craft beer might not sound so strange at all.
At least not to José Braghetto, brewmaster and founder of Pratinha Brewery, a small craft brewery located in Ribeirão Preto, a city in the interior of the state of São Paulo that’s known for its beer roots—and not by chance dubbed “Brazilian California.” In search of an innovative sip in the beer market, Braghetto came up with the idea for an ultra-concentrated beer that requires only the addition of sparkling water.This instant beer belongs to a new line named Magic Booze, a startup project from Beer Hack Lab, the experimental and innovation branch of Pratinha Brewery.
The production of Magic Booze follows any other traditional brewing process, but after it is brewed it undergoes a process of freezing at low temperature and pressure reduction, which forces the liquid to go through a process of sublimation, turning it into a thick extract. In the next step, the beer gains an addition of malts and hops to enhance aromatic notes, and voilà: beer concentrate. The first and newly released Magic Booze was a version of an IPA already sold in the market by Pratinha Brewery, Pratipa (with 6% ABV and 65.2 IBUs), which conquered Best Label Design competition in the World Beer Awards 2017.
Magic Booze is also space-saving. While barrels are traditionally used to stock beer, with the instant beer the stocking volume is drastically reduced. At a 10:1 proportion, Magic Booze can be transported and stored in postmix packages and kegs. This not only reduces cost, but it also makes the instant beer compatible with soda fountains.
The product is currently sold in the Brazilian market in pocket-size, 1.6-ounce sachets that produce an 8.4-ounce glass of beer. Pratinha is also developing compatible capsules for domestic machines and plans to export Magic Beer to other markets. But that will require many different steps and investments, and Braghetto likes to do things with a lot of precision. It took nine months (and an investment of almost $2.3 million) to develop Magic Booze into a proper product that could surprise even the pickiest people in the beer industry.
“Generally speaking, we rarely find unanimity,” he confesses. “Skepticism is absolute in this case. Whenever we talk about it, the polite reaction is ‘interesting,’ while more direct people shout: ‘That can’t be good!’ But at the first sip, after a surprised expression, the words are ‘But it's beer!’ followed generally by a nervous or maybe relieved giggle.” Some people may not like it, of course, but Braghetto believes it is mostly because they do not like the beer style or something related to it. “It is rarely because of the fact it is a reconstructed beer,” he says.
From the very beginning, his non-negotiable premise was that it had to be indistinguishable in sensory terms from a typical craft beer. “Our starting point is a craft beer from our portfolio, so the production process is pretty usual. But after the beer is ready to bottle, that’s when the challenges begin: from ultrasonic decarbonation to dry-freezing and then partial reconstitution, passing through hops and malt adjustments, there are many things going on in the process,” he explains.
Braghetto says it was like a big puzzle to put everything together, with different problems to solve in each phase. “Some of the types of equipment required to do it, like a dry freezer, you can find on the market, but others we are still developing in-house to optimize our production process,” he adds.
Located just across from the brewery where he produces more than 15 different labels (many of them award-winners), Braghetto’s lab boasts open fermentation tanks with microbiological filters, algae-based photobioreactors to control all CO2 levels, and soundproof glass to allow many strains of yeast to work in a space as quiet as possible. It’s a mix of a science lab, garage brewery, and innovation room. It’s also the perfect environment for a guy so passionate about technology (he was one of the first Brazilians to fly into the stratosphere aboard a supersonic jet of interception) and science.
"We did not want to make an instant beer, but to produce a real beer beer that could be 'reconstructed' without losing its sensory characteristics and that would continue to be a beverage," he says. That’s the plan, at least, since according to MAPA (the Brazilian Agricultural Ministry, the equivalent of the FDA in Brazil), the product cannot be labeled as "beer" in the local market, but as "mixed alcoholic beverage." It seems that even regulators can no longer keep up with market developments.
“We're going through changes and innovations at a pace never seen before, we are accelerating exponentially, and the beverage market is no different," says Braghetto, adding that the beer market is ready for disruptive products. “There will always be those who prefer things to remain as they have always been, but on the other hand, some people are more open to innovation, either because they have new habits, or just because innovations are part of their everyday lives already,” he says.
Proof of that, according to Braghetto, is that it has become more common to find other ways to consume beverages in the market, from hard sodas and flavored water to more casual wines and ready-to-drink cocktails. “Why not a different approach to our good old beer?” he asks. If it’s up to him, this change will be fast—as fast as serving a glass of beer from a sachet.