by Karl Webber, Beer & Wine Department
Gluten-free beer is in demand now more than ever before as celiac disease diagnoses have increased. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which people can’t eat gluten because it will damage their small intestine. Gluten is a protein found in various grains including barley, wheat, and rye. There is also demand for gluten-free beer from people seeking a gluten-free diet as a lifestyle choice.
Grains such as barley are key ingredients in the beer brewing process. The German Purity Law of 1516 decreed that beer shall only be made from four ingredients: water, barley, yeast, and hops. Although this strict rule is no longer adhered to as it once was among brewers, the gluten from grains is as vital to beer as water itself. It gives beer its body and mouthfeel and is what holds beer together, keeping the ingredients from separating or becoming slimy.
Gluten content in beer is measured in parts per million and the general standard for labeling it gluten-free is below a threshold of 20 PPM, but this can vary around the world.
Brewers most commonly use sorghum or buckwheat to replace the gluten-rich grains normally used, and it becomes a difficult task to make a beer that tastes right with the correct mouthfeel.
Gluten-free beer went mainstream some years ago with the introduction of Anheuser Busch’s Redbridge. This in turn brought more consumer awareness to other gluten-free beers that had been available. The ensuing taste comparisons and critical reviews were quick to follow.
Gluten-free beers available at Oryana include Bard’s Tale, New Grist, Redbridge, and most recently, Omission Lager or Pale Ale. The latter two, brewed by Widmir, are not labeled as being gluten-free although they do meet the below 20 PPM threshold. We have received very positive feedback on the Omission beers although they have been inconsistently availabile. The marketers of Omission beers stated that the reason the packaging is not marked as gluten-free is to encourage all beer enthusiasts to try the product.
According to celiac.com, commercial gluten-free beers analyzed in recent, highly accurate tests, do seem to be genuinely gluten-free, and safe for people with celiac disease and gluten-intolerance. If you have been diagnosed as celiac or are maintaining a gluten-free diet, you may like to try these beers for yourself if you are so inclined. You may find a tasty treat that you can enjoy without the risk of the adverse effects of gluten. Saluté.