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:
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
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
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
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.