I don't like beer. Ever since a young child when I accidentally took a swig of my dad's beer, thinking I had grabbed my pop, beer has left a bad taste in my mouth. I even tried it again once in college - Natural Ice - which was not any better. (Hard cider is a whole other issue!)
So when I noticed that there were going to be multiple beer vendors at the Chicago Gluten & Allergy Free Expo, I decided to enlist the help of someone who likes beer. Mr. MIGlutenFreeGal took one for the team and tried all of the beers at the expo. Here are his thoughts-
"Since MIGlutenFreeGal was an official blogger at the Chicago GFAFexpo, but doesn’t drink beer, I was selected to be this website’s unofficial guest blogger for beer tasting. There were several different vendors who had tastings of their gluten-free and gluten-removed beers (more on gluten removal later).
I want to start with several disclaimers. First of all, I do not have celiac disease, and do not eat gluten-free most of the time. I am not an expert on beer, I don’t drink much beer, and I have particular tastes for what beer I do drink. If you want to know which is the best IPA, I’m not the guy to ask. I tend to like reds, stouts, and bocks. I will try to give my overall impressions of each beer, and my opinions about which I would drink if I had celiac disease or gluten-intolerance.
Omission Beer is a gluten-removed beer, brewed from barley malt and treated with brewers’ clarex to cut the proteins into smaller peptide chains that supposedly aren’t toxic to people who react negatively to gluten. According to the rep at the expo, there are 31 toxic peptide chains that have been identified, and Omission is tested to make sure it does not include those, using both ELISA and mass-spec testing. She even told me the process had been reviewed by a chemistry journal.
I have heard about this, and know that some celiacs are furious that a barley based product is being marketed as gluten-free, or sometimes the company uses oddly worded disclaimers to avoid legal definitions of “gluten-free” So I tried to look up the journal article, and while I didn’t do particularly well in chemistry, I had studied some in college decades ago. I was a little surprised by what I read in the abstract that I found at the ASBCJ. It said that there was no detectable gluten, “However, definitive evidence of the safety of treated beer for celiacs ideally requires a double-blind crossover, dietary challenge.” And also “The effect of protease treatments on the safety of treated gluten for the remainder the celiac-like diseases, ... cannot be definitively assessed until the epitopes involved have been defined.”
I also checked out an article that was posted on the Omission Beer website to see if there was something newer and more definitive about the safety of their process. You can read it yourself if you want, but frankly, it didn’t do anything to encourage me. The most surprising- and to me, most telling- finding was that many of the commercially available beers on the market would already qualify as gluten-free using the ELISA test. There are undetectable amounts of gluten in the non-craft, commercially available beers that were tested as part of the study. If those types of beers cause you to have a negative reaction, keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to try a gluten-removed beer.
Now, as far as taste, I didn’t think it was anything special. The lager style beer I tasted was like an American lager, because it is- barley malt and everything. If you like Bud or Coors, you may enjoy this. I know I probably insulted someone by lumping those two together, but to me lagers come in two types - tolerable and bad, and this was tolerable. The Pale Ale was very bitter. I like strong flavors, but this was a bit much for me. It also lacked body, which was a little disappointing in such a bitter beer..
Green's Gluten Free Beer
Green’s Gluten Free Beer was also there. I really enjoyed the beer I tasted. I now wish I had taken better notes about this one, because I didn’t write down my specific thoughts, or even which product I tasted. I have since seen that others who have reviewed gluten-free beers consider Green’s some of the best. This company makes both naturally gluten-free beer and beers that have had the gluten removed chemically. Be careful, and make an informed decision for yourself if you choose to drink a gluten-removed beer.
I know that the beer I tasted was naturally gluten-free, and based on what my tastes are, it was probably the Discovery Amber Ale. If you like slightly sweet amber ales, this is a good choice. If I were to go with a gluten-free beer for myself, this is probably the one.
The next company I tasted was New Planet. They were tolerable beers. I tried the Amber and Blonde ales. They were very hoppy. It seemed to have a lot of hops flavor, even without being extremely bitter. I don’t personally care for that, so it was a little off-putting to me. Another thing that I noticed is that they both lacked much bouquet, and had very little flavor on the back end. This is something that I’ve experienced with other commercially brewed, sorghum based beers. They just taste thin.
Estrella Damm Daura
The same booth was also serving samples of the Spanish produced Estrella Damm Daura gluten-removed beer. They make a big deal about the fact that they test the beer to have less than 3 ppm gluten in it. I did not think this was a particularly good beer. It had some light, fruity notes in the flavor. I was surprised at how light the body of this beer was, since it is brewed from malted barley and not sorghum or rice. It was also more hoppy than I tend to appreciate in a lager. Please take note, this is a gluten-removed beer, not naturally gluten-free.
The last beer on my list is the Bard’s Tale Beer. This was an exciting find, because it is a naturally gluten-free lager style beer that is made from malted grain. How do they do that? They malt their sorghum, and the difference shows up in the flavor. I thought this one had a good, full lager flavor that I hadn’t tasted in any other naturally gluten-free beers. Besides Bard’s, all of the other sorghum based beer I have ever tasted had a thinness, a lack of body and back end flavor.
I ended up having a good conversation with Brian Bizer, one of the executives at Bard’s, who thoroughly explained their process to me. They even go so far as to buy the sorghum direct from the farmer to avoid cross contamination in shipping. According to Brian, they use their hops to achieve 18 bitterness units (which didn’t mean much to me), while some other breweries add more to try to cover flaws in the beer. When he said that, it was like a light bulb went off for me. That’s why those thin beers I tried were so hoppy! He’s also very honest. His advice is to drink the cheapest beer you like. Bard’s is not cheap, but it’s also not particularly expensive for a craft-beer, and it’s naturally gluten-free."
So, my overall recommendations are:
Lager: Bard’s Beer
Ale: Green’s Discovery
Gluten-removed Beer: Be very cautious of any of them!
Bradlee (Mr. MIGlutenFreeGal)