The unique challenge of making gluten free beer 

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Is gluten free beer the up-and-coming brewing industry niche as part of the overall "free-from" food industry? Based on market research, with one percent of people living in the U.S.A. diagnosed with some form of celiac disease, the answer is "yes."

Add to that the growing number of people who are turning to a Paleo diet, which eliminates grains, and that means the market is growing and will continue to grow — at least for the foreseeable future. Some major national and international craft brewers are developing recipes to brew beer without barley and wheat, and yet have a profile akin to brews with traditional grains using carefully selected combinations of sorghum, corn, millet, rice and buckwheat. This means brewers have to find the right variety of yeast and hops to properly interact with the non-grain ingredients. Essentially, it's working around centuries of perfecting water, grain/mash, yeast and hops combinations for the traditional styles in the Ales, Lagers and Wheat categories for a new kind of beverage.

RELATED: Rita's gluten-free shopping list

Before the appearance of gluten free beers — pioneered by European breweries — people with gluten intolerance opted for hard cider (made with apples) or mead (made with honey). Many still do. Then came gluten free beer. The first I tasted I finished drinking only out of politeness to my hosts. And therein lies the essence of expectation and palate. Beer is beer because each style has certain qualities that make it distinctive and we each have our preferences. Admittedly, when I taste a gluten free Pale Ale I want it to taste like a traditional Pale Ale, with modifications for a brewer's craft — which makes for a brewery's brand.

Generally, gluten free beers lean toward profiles that feature a lighter body than traditionally brewed craft beer. They have fruity accents and a crisp, cider-like finish. When I asked a half dozen people whose only option is gluten free what their favorite brand is, I got six different names. When I asked six people who can drink regular or gluten free, the majority said Green's Discovery Amber Ale, imported from England, with one touting Omission Pale Ale and Lager and the other making a case for Dogfish Head Tweason Ale. Favorites are based on the same reasons we have favorites for traditional brews.

dogfish-head-tweason-ale.jpg lists most of the restaurants, bars and brewpubs that offer bottled gluten free beer. (No gluten free is on draft to avoid any chance of contamination with wheat, barley or rye ingredients.) I was told, if you don't see a choice on the menu, ask; "GF" beer might not yet have gotten listed. Many liquor stores/bottle shops and health food stores carry one or more brands, based on their customer choice. Across the board, I was told it is important to have turnover so as to have a fresh supply.

While homebrewers are making gluten free beer, they're generally getting supplies online. Anita Johnson at Great Fermentations said, "We don't feel that we can certify that a kit made here can be GF; we are all probably covered in gluten and it really isn't a large enough market to worry about. We do sell rice syrup solids, sorghum and gluten free yeast that people use to create their own GF beers. We also carry Clarity Ferm from White Labs. This product reduces the amount of glutenin a beer to levels that make the beer safe for some with gluten allergies to drink. We refer brewers to the Gluten Free Facebook page for GF recipes."

To date, no Indiana brewery is dedicating a secluded space to gluten free brewing.

New Grist, a gold color Pilsner Style beer with a fruity aroma created by Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, was the first U.S. brewery to gain gluten free federal government label approval. Russell J. Klisch was issued a patent for his gluten free process on Sept. 13, 2007.

New Grist was on the Oct. 2008 Hoosier Beer Geeks posting of GF beers available in Indianapolis. Since that listing with five GF brands the market has exploded worldwide. A random check of other people's lists yielded some 30 GF brands many of which are available in Indiana.


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Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn has been covering craft beer and the arts for NUVO for two decades. She’s the author of True Brew: A Guide to Craft Beer in Indiana.

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