Putting Gluten-Free Beers to the taste test

Sad to think about, but there are people who like beer, but can't deal with some of the ingredients. I can kind of relate, since I need to watch my blood sugar and sometimes get sneezing fits near fresh hops, but I won't pretend that's anywhere near the same level as someone suffering from Gluten allergies.

Glutens are proteins found in cereal grains such as wheat, barley, or rye, maybe even oats. Glutens are found in most beer, and not only in food like bread or pasta, but many others that might be made with flour or starches, even communion wafers or Play-Doh. An intolerance to gluten can cause damage to the lining of the small intestine, which prevents it from absorbing other necessary nutrients, a condition known as Celiac Disease. This can lead to autoimmune diseases, cancers, thyroid diseas, and Type I diabetes.

Many people may have developed gluten intolerance in adulthood, well after they've picked up the habit of enjoying beer. Wines and distilled liquors are gluten-free, but they just aren't beer. So brewers have worked to formulate gluten-free beers using fermentables like rice, corn, tapioca, sorghum, quinoa, millet or buckwheat (which, despite its name, is more related to rhubarb than wheat).

The folks at Louis Glunz Beers, Inc. have sent some of their gluten-free beers for me to try, along with some organic beers and ciders I'll get to later. These are also mentioned in the YouTube video. I've made note of some other Gkuten-free beers I've tried before. Regular beer drinkers tend not to like these substitutes, although they understand the need for them. I can attest to having tried a few and can say there are choices.

New Planet Off Grid Pale Ale is one of just three gluten-free beers brewed for New Planet at the Fort Collins Brewing Co. in Colorado. Off Grid's grain bill includes sorghum, brown rice extract, and molasses. It admits to caramel color to give it the proper brassy color of a pale ale. Most gluten-free beers I've tried have a slightly sour taste, but this one is held off by a citrusy American hop nose. As my glass warms up, I start to find that familiar cidery sourness. Of New Planet's two other beers, I have so far missed the Tread Lightly Ale, which uses sorghum and corn for a lighter pilsener profile, but I've had the 3R Raspberry Ale, made with sorghum and corn: the raspbeery is a tad overbearing, but that's common to other fruit beers too, and it still lets through some corn extract flavor.

De Proef Green's Quest is one of a series of gluten-free beers from De Proefbrouwerij of Lochristi, Belgium. This is a major brewer with several beers of its own that also contracts out for gypsy brewers such as Mikkeller. This one is brerwed in the style of an Abbey Tripel, at 8.5% alcohol by volume. Smell is pretty light, with a hint of sweetness over everything else. The sweetness of a Tripel stands in. I did get a bit of sour as further down the bottle,which it cannot be imagined to be the same as any Belgian beer funk. But by going for a higher-alcohol style, they've offered a better alternative to GF beers that try to imitate bland pale lagers. The Green's beer are also listed as fitting in with vegetarian and Vegan lifestyles.


Among other alternative beers, a recent standout has been a local one: Two Brothers Prairie Path Ale, a blond ale by the folks over by Warrenville. According to an information page on their web site, the brewers had been trying to work out a problem with "chill haze," in which certain protein molecules make a beer get cloudy when it's cold. The usual process is to "fine" the beer with tiny plastic particles, isinglas or gelatin to coagulate the proteins, but the brewers sought a more natural, vegan-friendly solution. They discovered an organic enzyme produced during the brewing process that essentially denatures the gluten in the beer's barley malt. Like "non-alcoholic" beers that are allowed to contain less than 0.5% alcohol, Prairie Path has been certified gluten-free, but might still contain trace amounts of glutens (and the beer on tap may be run though draft lines that held other beers), so those who are especially sensitive should still approach cautiously.

Other GF beers that can be found in these parts:

Lakefront New Grist Sorgum Beer from Milwaukee was one of the earlier mass-marketed GF beers. I first picked the slight sour apple taste that goes with most of this style. But it manages to keep a beer profile without too much adjunct sweetener.

Redbridge is the Anheuser-Busch entry in this category. A sorghum beer with Cascade and Hallertau hops. This just stays on the good side of sweet, with a note of agave nectar.

Bard's Tale is a sorghum beer formulated for its Celiac-diagnosed founders, and brewed at Gordon Biersch. I found it started out sweet, then got drier as it went down.

As I note, most beer geeks may find this lacking when compared to traditional beers, but look for the style to improve as more brewers try to reach two million celiacs.


Helpful information for this article comes from the Celiac Disease Foundation.

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  • I think you might have to go all America's Test Kitchen and explain how gluten develops in beer, in that nobody kneads it. On the other hand, ATK isn't too considerate of the gluten intolerant and certainly not those with high blood pressure.

    New Planet demonstrates the other problem; to make it look and taste like beer, they add molasses and caramel (just like Chris Koetke indicates that if you are going to bake with rice and potato flour, you have to add gum). May as well distill it as rum and be done with it.

  • In reply to jack:

    Well, Friday I was sampling out Goose Island Harvest Ale at a liquor store, and a young lady asked me what gluten-free beers she should try. Well, just by coincidence, I said… I directed her to the Two Brothers Prairie Path because it was local, and I knew where in the aisles it was. I'm a full service beer geek!

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