Friday, March 2, 2012

Glüten-Tag!: The Gluten-Free Beer Project

With a recent revelation in my Special Lady-Friend's (hereafter SLF) dietary regimen, I have been provided with another brewing related challenge -- to find and capture the ever elusive tasty gluten-free beer!

You can learn a lot more about gluten sensitivities from websites and blogs by people with far more relevant PhDs after their surnames (see links below), so I will spare you from this pedant's attempt to explain SLF's situation . Just know it sucks, and this dietary limitation is not by her choosing. I'm sure it must be even more torturous living with an obsessed brewer and borderline alcoholic while such a ban is in place. Pause and reflect on a fallen drinking homette next time you are sipping a nice malty brown or IPA -- she would appreciate.

Before I rant against the gluten-free beer options out there, let me acknowledge that gluten-free brewing is tough. I find it particularly ironic that each of the grains we are most familiar with in brewing--barley, rye, and wheat--contain gluten. Not that I am a strict adherent, but according to the infamous German purity law of 1516 (Reinheitsgebot, now repealed) you cannot make a gluten-free beverage that is called beer. Beer is, or used to be, essentially, glutenous.

In more recent brewing history, of course, what qualifies as "beer" has been importantly challenged. Although there is a lot to say for tradition and the centuries of brewing history and precedent, the limits and definition of what we recognize as beer arguably evolves as our culture does. I believe beer is a remarkable cultural barometer, and while an important part of culture is preserving what has come before, participation in culture necessarily involves innovation and experimentation. After all, that's how the familiar brewing styles were first developed.

So, problem stated, onto potential solutions:
  1. Wine - We like wine. But wine is not beer, and cannot be quaffed in a similar manner.
  2. Cocktails - We like cocktails. To maintain her alcohol intake at home, SLF has taken up gin-and-tonics. Gin-and-tonics are not beer, and cannot be quaffed in a similar manner.
  3. Redbridge (a gluten-free beer from Budwieser) - Solution dismissed promptly upon tasting. 
  4. Other gluten-free beer - We've read some good reviews, especially regarding "Daura" by Estrella Damm (Spain), and Green's (UK) but have had a tough time acquiring these. And they are relatively expensive, and none are comparable to malty brown ales or a Lagunitas IPA. We are excited to try Dogfish's new Tweason'ale, a sorghum beer that is described as "molasses and pit-fruit...[with] strawberry notes." (Each of these are acceptable options, and will no doubt have a place in the fridge, but their availability is restricted, they are pricey, and are they are not very "beery.")
  5. I'm a brewer; I will make you gluten-free beer (and reap all the benefits of a satisfied and alcoholically impressed Special Lady-Friend)!
So, embracing my inner experimentalist and brewer, I am embarking on a foray into gluten-free homebrewing. I've done a bit of research, and have discovered a bunch of informative and helpful resources out there in interweb land. While I plan to continue posting about the gluteny homebrew that I make, I will also trace my gluten-free investigations, and hope to inspire others to contribute their suggestions and experiences.

Sorghum you miss me when I'm gone?
Get it? 

One thing we are trying to get away from is the distinct sorghummy character that is frequently found in commercial examples of gluten-free beer. A future post will detail our attempts to malt buckwheat to supplement and perhaps even replace sorghum. I heard about this idea from John Plise on a Brewing Network Sunday Session podcast. (Check out his great website.) Other grains that people use are quinoa, millet, and amaranth. One thing that I have not read a lot about is utilizing yeast and hops to make gluten-free beer taste more, well, "beery." I will plan to experiment with different yeasts and hop regiments to see how they can effect the taste of these non-barley beers.

There is the possibility that "beer" made from wild grains led to the cultivation of the cereal grains that we are most familiar with today. If this is true, gluten-free beer may have preceded agriculture. Maybe we aren't being so innovative after all...
If I knew it was that kind of party...

Gluten-free beer links:

Gluten-free food links:

  • Gluten Free Girl - A ridiculously comprehensive cookbook of sorts.
  • Art of Gluten-Free Baking - An excellent GF baking resource.
  • - General celiac info., food lists, ingredients, etc.

  • _________________________

    A long overdue update: We have found Omission from Widmer Bros. to be by far the best low-gluten option. The reason its so tasty? Because it is actually made with barley! They use a remarkable enzyme called Brewers Clarex to reduce their beers to below 20ppm of gluten. 

    This enzyme is now available to homebrewers from White Labs, and is called Clarity Ferm. It is advertised as a clearing agent. You can get Clarity Ferm from most online homebrew ingredient vendors, such as MoreBeer and Northern Brewer.

    I'll be doing some batches shortly with Clarity Ferm, and will post my results here.

    1 comment:

    1. My special lady and all of her sibs are G free. I hear that there are Japanese Beer options: Kirin being the beer of choice.