What’s the Deal with Gluten-Free Beer?
Gluten is good. It tastes good, and it provides good qualities to food and beverages.
For some, however, gluten is bad. Very bad. This feisty protein exists primarily in wheat, barley and rye and can cause some serious problems with a wide range of symptoms for people. Once diagnosed with either celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, the only proven treatment is to eliminate gluten from the diet. An increase in diagnoses has caused a growing demand for gluten-free food and beverage items.
With wheat and barley being two of the main culprits of gluten problems, beer comes to the forefront of products on the “do not consume” list for the gluten-free people. Good news! There are some options from small and independent craft brewers for people who are eliminating or reducing gluten from their diet. However, when it comes to gluten-free friendly beer products available to consumers these days, there are three different variations.
Beers targeting the gluten-free consumer can be categorized into three categories, each with viable options. But, for those uber sensitive to gluten, there can be some risk in consuming certain alternatives.
Gluten-reduced beer is made with barley, just as any traditional, gluten-containing beer would be made. Later in the brewing process, a product such as Brewers Clarex or Clarity Ferm is added to the beer. This particular enzyme can be used by brewers as a clarifying agent for their beers, but has also been found to break down the protein that is gluten. For a beer to qualify being labeled as gluten-reduced, the producer must test the end product with a result below 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that because they are made from ingredients containing gluten (barley), they cannot be labeled as “gluten-free.” Instead, packaging for these products is labeled as “gluten-reduced” or something to the effect of “crafted to remove gluten.”
While the FDA regulates the labeling of the container itself, retail outlets both on and off premise are not monitored. Consumers and retailers get confused when this beer is labeled as gluten-free on a menu or shelf. The product is not considered to be gluten-free and should not be labeled as such by establishments.
Popular Gluten-Reduced Beers
- Delicious IPA | Stone Brewing Co. | Escondido, CA
- Gluten FREEk | Wicked Weed Brewing Co. | Asheville, NC
- Glütiny Pale Ale & Blonde Ale | New Belgium Brewing Co. | Fort Collins, CO
The majority of gluten-free beers are produced on lines that also produce traditional barley- and/or wheat-containing beer. Just as with any other gluten-free or allergen item, one might buy off the shelf, utilizing the same equipment in manufacturing can create a risk of cross contamination. While breweries sanitize draught lines and conduct proper testing, there can be a risk when utilizing lines for both gluten-containing and gluten-free products of any kind.
Popular Gluten-Free Beers
- Blonde Ale | New Planet Brewing Co. | Boulder, CO
- New Grist | Lakefront Brewing Co. | Milwaukee, WI
- Shakparo Ale | Sprecher Brewery | Milwaukee, WI
- Tweason’ale | Dogfish Head Craft Brewery | Milton, DE
Dedicated Gluten-Free Beer
Dedicated gluten-free beer from craft brewers contains all gluten-free ingredients and must test below 20 ppm of gluten. The contrast of a “dedicated” gluten-free facility is that the company only produces gluten-free beer products and nothing else. This ensures the beer itself is gluten-free and eliminates the risk associated with cross-contamination.
There are currently five known dedicated gluten-free brewing companies nationwide. These companies stick strictly to creating only gluten free products and follow the testing protocol for under 20 ppm of gluten.
- Ghostfish Brewing Co. | Seattle, WA
- Ground Breaker Brewing | Portland, OR
- Holidaily Brewing Co. | Golden, CO
- Burning Brothers Brewing | St. Paul, Minnesota
- Aurochs Brewing Co. | Emsworth, PA
When it comes to consuming gluten-free friendly beer, those with sensitivities should be diligent about educating themselves. Read labels and ask questions. Is it reduced or free? Manufactured on dedicated or shared lines? As with everything else we eat or drink that is gluten-free, consume what tastes best to you and does not have a negative impact on your health. The best news of all is that as gluten-free craft beer consumers, we have options, and that’s something to raise a glass to!