Malt, hops, yeast and water – the four fundamental ingredients of any beer. But an unassuming brewery in Italy has decided to throw another element into the mix: air.
Before all you beer guzzlers out there get excited at the prospect of having beer being conjured from thin air, the process is actually quite complicated, and it begins at a high-tech craft brewery found in the ancient town of Gualdo Tadino.
The beer, called Sans Papiers, has its most important ingredient, water, sourced from the very air that surrounds the brewery. They use a patented technology that is able to condense humidity from its atmosphere, and is the only company in the world to do so to make beer.
The pure air the brewery sources from, being located in the Umbria region of Italy up on the Apennine Mountains, also makes the resource a coveted one.
“Water is the most important ingredient in beer,” states Matteo Minelli, CEO of brewery Birra Flea, which produces Sans Papiers, among other craft beverages. “Since about 85% of beer’s content is water, it is very reasonable to say that.”
Not just hot air
Sans Papiers is a blonde ale, a very light and refreshing style of beer. To make it, more than water – whether condensed from the air or not – is needed.
Another key ingredient in beer is malt. It’s what gives beer its base and body. In the case of Sans Papiers, barley grown at family-owned organic farms in Umbria is used.
The result? A pure malt ale clocking in at 4.8% ABV that is dry, well-balanced in bitterness and true to its style. It’s best enjoyed between 4-6°C and paired with light dishes like fish or drank to wash down a hearty burger or pizza.
Like most craft beers, it’s also unpasteurized, letting naturally-produced nutrients that are good for you to remain intact. It also allows for secondary fermentation to continue in the bottle, giving it a nice fizz and creamy head.
It tastes as good as any blonde ale out there made from natural water. But why make a beer that needs to go through the added trouble of condensing air?
Sustainability at the heart of it
It’s all about sustainability, explains Minelli, and the method of sourcing for water is but one key consideration here. There is also the matter of energy.
Their brewery in Gualdo Tadino is powered by a self-sustaining photovoltaic system that is reducing their CO2 emissions by a whopping 93,000kg a year. They then use this to power their Veragon V10, the magic machine that produces water by extracting it from the humidity of the surrounding air.
An adjacent biogas plant is also in the works, which will be able to process the waste products from beer manufacturing to produce additional energy and heat for their own use.
This results in a remarkably sustainable chain. The sun powers the condenser, the condenser creates water from the air, and the water is then used to make beer. And when complete, the biogas plant will be able to reuse beer processing waste, further minimising environmental impact.
“Since water is increasingly scarce all over the world, Sans Papiers sources water from the air instead,” reveals Minelli. It is his intention to be 100% eco-sustainable with this innovation, hopefully inspiring others to do the same.
“It is a totally sustainable system and we sincerely hope that our beer will be a good example for others to follow in the future.”
Journey to the East
It was towards the end of tumultuous 2020 that Sans Papiers arrived in this part of the world in Asia, all thanks to newly-founded Singapore-based distributorship BeyondTaste by BT.
Entrepreneur Jane Pang came to know about Birra Flea and Sans Papiers when her long-time business partner in Italy mentioned that his nephew was a representative of the brewery. She quickly saw the potential of the brands in Singapore fitting in with the burgeoning craft beer scene, and started this new venture to make this work.
“Sans Papiers is the world’s first beer made from air, and given the opportunity to market it to Asia, the prospects and space to expand is limitless,” says Pang.
She also notes how the new generation of craft drinkers are a more curious, environmentally-conscious bunch, which is great news for a brand like Birra Flea and Sans Papiers.
“People are naturally intrigued when they hear about a beer made from air. They are also curious to know if it tastes good,” she remarks.
“The market for craft beer is also growing thanks to more conscious consumers who care about the origin of the products they consume and the production processes behind them.”
If you’re one such conscious individual and are based in Singapore, you can get a hold of these beers and try them for yourself. They can be bought directly from BeyondTaste by BT via their Facebook page. An e-commerce site is also in the works.
Fittingly, by the end of the first quarter of 2021, you’ll be able to find it at Shangri-La Hotel Singapore’s Waterfall Ristorante Italiano as well.
As to when the beer will be air-lifted (or shipped) to other parts of Asia, Pang is taking a cautious approach.
“For now, we will start with homeground Singapore to understand how these products work with Asian palettes, before eventually marketing it to our partners in Vietnam and Korea, keeping an eye of course at how shipping logistics might ease in the months to come.”
About the Author
Dannon Har is the Managing Editor of Spill. Discovering his innate gift for drinking only at a ripe age, he spares no time trying to find more delicious drops to imbibe during his time on Earth. When he’s not minding every detail at Spill, he spends his time concocting luscious libations and sharing them with folks that visit his home bar.