Gluten Free Beer Tasting Notes
Beer used to never be gluten free. Luckily, many craft brewers and even big breweries are now offering special gluten free beer. Most are brewed from alternative grains like sorghum and millet, so are naturally gluten free beers.
There is another category of beer that is called “gluten-removed;” these beers are made from barley in the traditional brewmaking style, and are not allowed to be labeled as “gluten-free” in the U.S., although local state laws may differ when the beers are not crossing state lines. Experts caution against celiacs and those with gluten sensitivity drinking these beers, since it’s unclear whether they are truly gluten free enough to be safe.
“The medical and scientific community has not validated or accepted that these low-gluten or gluten-removed beers are safe because available gluten testing methods have not been sufficiently accurate with fermented and hydrolyzed products,” said Cynthia Kupper, CEO of GIG. “That is why we conducted this first-of-its-kind study, because even if one person with celiac reacts to gluten-removed beers, it shows it would not be appropriate to certify this product category according to our standards.”
To hear the podcast interview with two authors of the study, Cynthia Kupper, CEO of the Gluten Intolerance Group and a registered dietitian diagnosed with celiac disease, and Laura Allred, Ph.D. and GIG’s Regulatory and Standards Manager, click here for free podcast.
Scroll down to the “Gluten Removed Beers” section to read more about how these beers are treated to reduce gluten and the controversy over whether they are safe for celiacs.
For more on the difference between naturally gluten-free beers and “gluten reduced” beers, check out my article, Naturally Gluten Free Beer: a Closer Look. If you are confused about which beers are naturally gluten-free and which are gluten-reduced, choose only beers with a nutrition label, since that indicates it is regulated by the FDA and therefore, does not contain barley. (For more information listen to the podcast interview with GFCO regarding their study).
Below I’ve outlined many of the offerings available around the U.S. There are more gluten free beers being added every day, so if you have found others, please add a note about them in the comments so we can all learn more!
Some of these gluten free beers are hard to find, others rather pricey, so you may not want to use them in my fish and chips recipe, but you’ll probably want to drink one with the fish and chips recipe! Use a more ubiquitous, cheaper beer like Redbridge for the batter, if you like, and wash it down with your new favorite ale, pilsner or lager!
Don’t be afraid to ask your local stores to carry any of these special brews – many are distributed through national distributors, so they should be able to order for you. For a list of many international gluten free beers, check out this list from The Brewing Network.
Naturally Gluten Free Beers
So many new options are available to those of us eating and drinking gluten-free, and that’s something to celebrate!
Prefer ales? Green’s Ales (Blonde; Amber and Dubbel Dark) are made in the true Belgian style and simply can’t be beat. Green’s just introduced a new beer to the US market: Dry-Hopped Lager. Perfect for a hot day, this refreshing, light beer boasts a Pinot Grigio-like grapefruit note, making it quite a unique brew. All Green’s beers are allergen-free and vegan.
Always one of my favorite gluten-free beers because all Green’s beers drink like true Belgians … because they are!
Holidaily Brewing Company – Using locally sourced malted, naturally gluten free grains, and brewing in Colorado’s only dedicated gluten-free brewing facility, Holidaily raises the bar on truly gluten free beer.
This woman-owned company began as a way to bring great GF brews to those, like its founder Karen Hertz, must live an entirely gluten free lifestyle. Offering a selection of blondes, IPAs and stouts, there’s something for every beer lover with Holidaily.
Ghostfish Brewing is one of the new naturally gluten free breweries I’m most excited about. Their enthusiasm over their gluten free offerings is infectious, and the blends they’ve created are so different from others I’ve tried. Their Witbier (Belgian White Ale) is truly one of the best beers I’ve ever had. In fact, it just won a Gold Medal in the Gluten Free Beer category at the 2017 Best of Craft Beer Awards. Stout and several pale ale varieties are others of their collection. Brewed in Seattle in a dedicated gluten-free facility. Their Safeway Amber Lager earned a Silver Medal in the Best of Craft Beer Awards, as well.
The Ghostfish homepage declares: “BARLEY HAS RULED THE BREWING WORLD LONG ENOUGH!”
I’d have to agree! Now, if I can just get a bumper sticker saying that!
New Grist pioneered the naturally gluten-free beer movement, as the first to gain government approval to label itself “GF,” and now also certified gluten-free through the GFCO.
Its sorghum Pilsner-Style beer offers hints of apple, but finishes surprisingly dry, rather than sweet, as the nose might lead you to expect. A refreshingly light beer. Its Ginger-Style Ale is what you’d expect from a delicious ginger beer — offering gingery tang in a smooth, light-bodied fruit beer suitable for any steamy summer afternoon.
Redbridge is made by Anheuser-Busch Brewing and they even offer free tastings when you go on a Brewery Tour. I recently visited their St. Louis brewery and enjoyed one in their Biergarten.
Groundbreaker. Another welcome addition to the naturally gluten-free beers becoming more widely available in the U.S. is Groundbreaker Brewing (formerly Harvester Brewing).
Groundbreaker claims to be America’s first dedicated gluten-free brewery — which is pretty cool. They have a pouring room/Gastropub and restaurant if you ever find yourself thirsty in Portland — I highly recommend it! Maybe one of the founders will give you a tour, too!
Their growing lineup includes Ales, a Dubbel and several beers from unique ingredients like squash. Some of these Oregonian beers draw flavor from chestnuts.
As of 2017, distributed in OR, WA, CA, ID, MA, ME, VT, RI, BC and AB Canada, and Japan.
Glutenberg beers offer several award-winning choices in gluten free ales … and they come in a can!
Naturally gluten-free, made with ingredients like chestnuts, buckwheat and millet, they are a refreshingly different kind of beer many ale drinkers swear is the best.
Hambleton Ales – hailing from Great Britain, this ale was actually one of the first gluten-free beers I ever tasted. They also have a pale lager and the brewery claims to be “the best selling British brewed gluten free beers in the world!” Hmm – worth a taste, I’d say!
St. Peter’s was also “Commended” at the 2010 “Free From Food Awards,” so if you can get your hands on one, it’s worth tasting a winner! It boasts a “pilsner-style lager finish” which I found to taste a bit like caramel, but quite dry and light. And hey, the famous St. Peter’s oval bottle is worth buying on its own!
New York’s Ramapo Valley Brewery has a dedicated facility for their special gluten-free Honey beer, which is also kosher for Passover! This honey-hop wine is on the sweet side, but is refreshingly different, and may just suit your palate.
Here’s something totally different: Agave Beer. Fiesta Latina® is the first and as of now, only beer maker brewing a fermented mix of agave, hops and yeast to create a smooth and refreshing beer with a slight finish of wine cooler (remember those?). Nice for a hot summer afternoon.
New Planet gluten-free beers out of Colorado are a delicious addition to the spectrum. Their light-body ales (Tread Lightly Ale, Off the Grid and 3R Raspberry Ales) are made from fermented sorghum and corn, hops and yeast. The Raspberry is very fruity and un-beer-like, for those who aren’t looking for a true beer taste; Tread Lightly is like a cider/beer hybrid. I was lucky enough to taste-test my way through some of their offerings when I was last in Denver – look for them to move into even more markets soon. (In my January, 2012 Gluten Free Voice radio interview, General Manager and owner Pedro Gonzalez said that they are in distribution in 29 states; since then, they’ve greatly expanded so you should be able to find these great beers near you.)
NOTE: as of fall, 2015, New Planet has introduced two new “gluten reduced” beers to its line-up, so use caution in selecting beers from this brewer to be sure you are choosing their certified gluten-free choices if you have a medical need to live gluten free.
Coors Peak – 2015 saw the release of Miller-Coors’ first gluten-free beer offering. Steering clear of sorghum, Coors instead replaced barley with brown rice, malted brown rice and protein from peas. A light, easy drinking pizza & beer kind of beer, it will remind you of a true American beer. No funky aftertaste; in fact, it’s difficult to tell it is gluten-free in any way.
In 2016, Peak introduced an easy-drinking Golden Lager as well. To learn more, listen to the free podcast with Coors Peak on my radio show, the Gluten Free Voice and read my interview with Tristan Meline, Senior Brand Manager for Coors Peak. UPDATE: as of fall 2016, Coors Peak is no longer being offered.
Other regional beers are worth looking for. Auroch’s Brewing Company is one of my personal favorites. Brewed out of the Pittsburgh area, but its fans (and the demand) are growing, so expect a wider distribution soon!
What are your favorite local GF brews?
In Europe, these types of beers are regarded as “gluten-free,” but in the US, they are referred to as “gluten-reduced,” and by law, they cannot be called “gluten-free” because they are made with gluten-containing barley. Current testing methods may not be able to accurately detect hydrolyzed and fermented gluten proteins, so many are cautious about trying these beers, and experts do not recommend this category of beverages for those with celiac disease or severe gluten sensitivity.
This class of beer is regulated in the US by the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau), not the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), because they are “true beers” made from barley (using current testing methods, these beers test to less than 5 or 6 ppm gluten, well under the FDA guidelines of <20ppm gluten to be considered “gluten-free,” but there is no accepted test for fermented and hydrolyzed products like beer — in other words, scientists are not sure that the testing is accurate for these products.) Therefore, nowhere on the label is “gluten-free” allowed to be advertised, but you may find them erroneously shelved in the gluten free beer section or on a gluten free beer menu. Take this opportunity to educate your bartender or local beer vendor on the differences.
Consistent with the new FDA regulations, TTB will continue to consider “gluten-free” label claims for alcohol beverages that are made from gluten-containing grains to be misleading to consumers who are seeking to avoid the consumption of gluten for health reasons. However, products made from gluten-containing grains may be labeled with a statement that the product was “Processed,” “Treated,” or “Crafted” to remove gluten, if that claim is made together with a qualifying statement that warns the consumer that the gluten content of the product cannot be determined and that the product may contain gluten.
If you are confused about which beers are naturally gluten-free and which are gluten-reduced, choose only beers with a nutrition label, since that indicates it is regulated by the FDA and therefore, does not contain barley. (For more information listen to the podcast interview with GFCO regarding their study).
Like the malted beverages described above, these manufacturers are instead only permitted to make certain statements about the fact that their beer is processed/treated/crafted to remove gluten, along with certain qualifying statements indicating that the gluten content is uncertain. (Read more in my Living Without article June/July 2012)
Here’s an example of one such “de-glutenized” or “gluten-removed” beer which is not adhering to the regulations. Their website is clearly asserting that their beer has no gluten (less than 5 ppm) because it was treated with enzymes. However, since there is no acceptable test for gluten remaining in such beers after enzymes, any such assertion is unqualified.
Another gluten-reduced beer is Omission Beer out of Oregon. It’s made from traditional beer ingredients. Currently offering lager and American Pale Ale. (Learn more on my Gluten Free Voice Radio Show podcast).
Like Estrella Damm Daura beer, Omission is a “de-glutenized beer” made with low protein barley. Omission has published rare details of its proprietary process to further explain how they believe the barley (gluten) protein is removed in their brew. They also offer a way to check the gluten content of every beer by entering the date code stamped on the bottle to view that batch’s R5 competitive ELISA test results (again, experts do not believe that this testing is accurate on fermented beverages).
Brunehaut is another gluten reduced beer readily available in the US. These Belgian ales (Blond and Amber) hail from Brunehaut brewery in Belgium, established in 1890. Both the Blond and the Amber are true Belgian beers. Not recommended for those with celiac disease or a medical condition requiring a gluten free diet.
Baking with Gluten Free Beer
Whether or not drinking beer excites you, you should be thrilled that gluten-free beers are finally available for us to use as cooking ingredients! That’s right – beer bread, tempura, beer cake, and the always popular, beer-battered fish and chips! What would these be without beer? Not the same, I assure you! (For beer bread, tempura and beer cake recipes, check out my newest book, Free for All Cooking!)
As far as my preferences go, I use Green’s Blonde or Coors Peak in my beer bread, tempura and beer batter recipes, Green’s Dubbel Dark in my chocolate cake (and when I gave this birthday cake to Elisabeth Hasselbeck!), Coors Peak in my Salted Caramel Cupcakes, soups and soft pretzels.
I prefer to drink the Green’s Amber or Lager, Coors Peak, Ghostfish Witbier, or anything from Groundbreaker, depending on my mood and what foods it needs to complement! What are your favorites? My friend Jeff SanGeorge has posted tasting notes of his own on his gluten-free beer blog. It’s worth checking out!
Be sure to listen to my free podcast with Coors Peak on my radio show, the Gluten Free Voice. As well as episodes including interviews of representatives from Estrella Damm brewery in Spain (brewers of “de-glutenized” barley beer Daura), Omission (“de-glutenized” beer), and Colorado’s New Planet beer and Merchant du Vin importers of Green’s Gluten-Free beers from Belgium. We talk about testing of gluten levels, brewing methods and ingredients for gluten-free beers, demand, distribution and labeling, plus some other interesting beer facts! Download and listen to the podcasts anytime!
*Some beers were provided to me for sampling by the breweries directly; others I purchased myself. As always, all opinions are my own. Check my disclosure policy for more information.