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What makes a beer Gluten Free?

Celia SaisonCeliac disease compromises the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients, making gluten containing products intolerable.  Unfortunately, gluten is found in some of beer’s main ingredients including wheat, malt, and barley. More than 2 million people in the US suffer from this disease and you can bet quite a few of them are beer drinkers.

A number of brewers have come to the rescue of celiac disease sufferers.  Gluten free brews have been developed that substitute ingredients that do not contain gluten.  Some of these stand-ins include buckwheat, millet, honey, and most commonly, sorghum.  Many have tried and there have been varying levels of success.  Most of these gluten free beers usually have a sweeter or cidery taste that can wash out the hop flavor or bitterness. 

The Widmer Brothers wanted to make a gluten free variety that tasted more like beer.  They have released two beers in their Omission line, a pale ale and a lager, that contain barley.  Inquisitive minds wonder: how can you make a gluten free beer with gluten based product?  For these brews, they use a lower protein grain and also add Brewers Clarex, which is an enzyme that breaks down proteins such as gluten.  This component is used by many brewers to keep ice cold beers clear.  Each batch is sent off to an independent lab for assay testing to ensure levels are below the internationally accepted gluten free standard of 20ppm.  Most batches contain minute levels of gluten at less than 5.0ppm and levels are posted on the Omission website for each batch.  The end product is a brew that beer drinkers would not be able to tell is gluten free.

Companies jockeying for position in this narrow market space have not been welcoming to Widmer Brothers’ scientific advances.  Harvester Brewing released the following statement:

“On May 24th, the United States Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued a ruling on gluten labeling for alcohol beverages. The ruling, TTB Ruling 2012-2, reinforces Harvester Brewing’s long-standing decision to use only inherently gluten-free ingredients in its beer. This stands in contrast to other production methods that use barley and attempt to remove gluten proteins enzymatically.”

The ruling requires the Omission bottles to contain the following warning: “Product fermented from grains containing gluten and [processed or treated or crafted] to remove gluten. The gluten content of this product cannot be verified, and this product may contain gluten.”

More progressive taphouses and bars such as Whetstone Station, try to keep gluten free options stocked and readily available for all beer drinkers when cozying up to the bar.  One of the more renowned US brewers, The Alchemist, has even taken home medals with their gluten free offerings.  We are just glad that celiac disease suffers have more options available because of progressive brewers and thoughtful bar owners.

1 thought on “What makes a beer Gluten Free?”

  1. I will give credit to Widmer for coming up with a couple of lines that still use the traditional ingredients that we miss in beer. But to your point, it can still be a little worrying for anyone with Celiac disease. Hopefully through their advancements in the process of reducing the gluten content they can create something that everyone who is gluten free can feel comfortable drinking.

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