Gluten Free Beer Challenge

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Not too long ago, maybe 7 or 8 months to be exact, a strange and unwelcome shift occurred in my life. Foods that I had enjoyed since childhood with no ill effects began to reign down destruction inside my stomach, like an unstoppable rebel force. Perhaps I’m being a bit too extreme, you might ask? Okay…well, yes, I am. Be that as it may, there was a definite and lingering discomfort that I just couldn’t seem to lose. And to my dismay, I soon learned what thousands more discover each and every year…I was gluten intolerant.

This discovery was equal parts glorious and terrible. Glorious, because after removing most gluten-containing foods from my diet, my stomach went back to being happy. Terrible, because gluten is a key ingredient in pretty much every product containing wheat or barley. And you don’t have to be a genius to know this long list includes beer.

I was saved by a few things. First, the fact that gluten intolerance occurs in varying degrees of severity. My intolerance just so happens to be on the milder side (for some it can be a full-fledged intestinal Armageddon), so I can still enjoy small doses of gluten without discomfort. And second, that beer, while not a gluten-free beverage, is thankfully not a gluten saturated beverage. Oh happy day!

Anyway, on to the challenge. As the PHM’s resident (or token) “gluten-free expert,” I wanted to provide at least a little insight for our gluten intolerant readers out there. Namely by addressing the question: “Is there ANY good gluten-free beer out there?” While this challenge is certainly not exhaustive, I think it will at least provide a good platform for discussion and a good starting point for those looking for something to replace their (formerly) favorite brew.

The set-up: I did a little bit of initial research (mostly on glutenfreebeerfestival.com), but in the end it didn’t really matter. Between Whole Foods, Binny’s, Trader Joe’s, Jewel…and pretty much every other food or grocery store near me, I was only able to find four gluten-free beers. By default, these became my test subjects. Also, I decided against grading them on a letter scale, and opted instead to rank them against each other to see who would end up “king” of the bunch, so to speak. Without further ado, then…the results:

Lakefront New Grist

ABV: 5.75%

The only gluten-free beer (that I know of) that is being widely distributed by an American craft brewery. This stuff pours light…and I mean light. It looks more like a glass of champagne than beer, really. Highly carbonated and transparent. The only give away when looking at it is the small layer of froth that stays on the surface. A distinctly rice-filled scent. The taste is crisp and refreshing, yes…but that could be because it’s so watery. There’s a bit of rice flavor, and a weird sour tinge at the end. But seriously, I couldn’t pick up on any sort of malt or hop flavors. It’s a strange concoction, this one, and although I have to give it some grace for being unable to use regular malt, it still is fairly bland as beers go. Not the best start.

Rank: 3rd place

St. Peter’s Sorgham Beer

ABV: Unknown…I’d guess 4-5%

Not sure why St. Peter’s opted to name their beer “Sorgham Beer” and then describe it as “Beer made from sorghum”. Perhaps it’s a British thing. In any case, this beer is also on the lighter side, but has just enough of a reddish tinge to make me believe it’s beer and not wine. And thankfully, although there’s not much of a nose, I smell hops! Amarillo, to be exact. Also a slight buttery scent. After a few sips, I can safely say this is one of the better options out there. The mouthfeel is still fairly watery, but the slight bitterness from the hops is welcome indeed, and it actually pairs pretty well with the lightly toasted sorghum malt (I suppose that’s what that taste has to be). The little sour tinge is still there in the aftertaste…it must be a sorghum thing as well. Still, if you’re gluten intolerant, it’s sessionable.

Rank: 2nd place

Anheuser-Busch Redbridge

ABV: 4.8%

Leave it to the largest brewing company in the United States to get in on the action…and actually produce a “quality” product! Redbridge is touted as an American amber lager, and it actually looks the part. It smells the part, too…light toasted caramel and a distinct alcohol presence, actually. To be honest, if the bottle didn’t say “gluten-free beer”, you might never guess it. There’s a subtle metallic tinge in the taste, but it’s pretty well balanced and has a slight toasty maltiness. Tastes like regular beer! Which, I’m learning, is a good thing in the realm of the gluten-free. Some sourness from the sorghum at the end…but not much. All in all, an enjoyable offering. Note: like most of Anheuser-Busch’s beers, enjoy this one ice cold. Warmer does NOT mean better.

Rank: 1st place

Green’s Endeavour

ABV: 7%

The darkest of the brews, Green’s Endeavour poured a sort of murky red with a lot of froth. Apparently this is a “Dubbel Dark Ale”, but one whiff of the nose…and I was unsure whether I’d be tasting a beer or a glass of wine that was going bad. Scents of strong dark fruit and alcohol; not much else. Taste was the same…sweet, alcoholic, and intense. I literally felt like I was drinking a glass of grape juice concentrate that had sat uncovered for a week or two. No telltale “beer” characteristics to speak of (except for the alcohol). And the stuff is so pungent that you feel it in your nose as well as your throat when you swallow. Mouthfeel is syrupy and coating, and a strange tartness at the end made me grimace more than once. You might be gluten intolerant, but you still have pride. You’d be better off with a glass of port or madeira.

Rank: 4th place

So there you have it, hopheads; comments and suggestions welcome! Also, if anyone knows where I can get my hands on Ramapo Valley Brewery’s Passover Honey Beer, I would be forever in their debt.

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Comments
  1. You should really try Bard’s Beer. Bard’s was developed by celiacs and was the first gluten-free beer on the market. Only Bard’s malats the sorghum in its recipe for traditional craft beer flavor and aroma. You can find Bard’s near you on the beer locator at http://www.bardsbeer.com.

    Brian From Bard's — April 4th, 2010, 11:32 AM
  2. Brian,
    Ironically, Noel and I were just talking about Bard’s on Saturday as we brewed a batch. I’ve seen it in stores so either Noel or I will definitely give it a review. Thanks for the suggestion and happy brewing.

    Tom — April 4th, 2010, 6:16 PM
  3. Thanks Brian…I’ll definitely check it out.

    Noel — April 5th, 2010, 3:47 PM
  4. Taste is totally subjective, right? But my taste buds like the St Peters light years better than Redbridge. Sadly, I can’t find St Peters yet here in WA state. Agree with you completely on Greens (their amber is better but the tripel blonde is awful, btw) and New Grist. If you’re lucky enough to be in Portland or Bend, OR area, Deschutes carries a GF beer ON TAP in their breweries. They change the style of beer but they are up there (quality wise) with St Peters if you ask me. Not that this qualifies me to talk intelligently about this, but I homebrewed for 4-5 years before gluten intolerance hit like a ton of bricks about 2 years ago. And I’ve tried EVERY GF beer that I can get my hands on.

    Christopher — April 24th, 2010, 4:30 PM
  5. Thanks for the insight Christopher. If I had to do this all over, my guess is I’d probably put the St. Peters on top a second time around. From what I remember, it was quite good. I can’t say I’ve tried every gluten free beer I can get my hands on, but I’m committed to keep looking. For the time being, if you haven’t tried Bard’s Beer or Ramapo Valley’s Passover Honey Beer, I would recommend searching those out. I haven’t sampled them either, but I’ve heard very good things.

    Noel — April 25th, 2010, 11:39 AM
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