Today, we're veering off the baking path just a touch to talk about gluten free beer. Everyone deserves to raise a cold one without fear of an adverse reaction. Let's take a look at what gf beer even is, and the best gluten free beers available.
Nothing in this post should be construed as legal or medical advice. Please speak to your doctor!
Is traditional beer gluten free?
No! Traditionally, beer is made from malted barley, hops, water and yeast. There are many gluten-free beers on the market today, though. They are usually made from sorghum, a gluten-free grain, instead of barley, which is a gluten-containing grain.
Why gluten free beers matter
For many people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, the switch to gluten free can mean giving up some beloved favorites. Traditional beer is one of those things. But the good news is that you can still enjoy beer on a gluten free diet that tastes like you remember!
The rise of gluten free beers
In recent years, the world of beer has been evolving. As awareness and understanding of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity have grown, so too has the demand for gluten free varieties of foods that seem inherently gluten-containing, like beer and bread.
Breweries around the globe have taken note, leading to a delightful development: the rise of gluten-free beers. No longer just a niche product, they're increasingly taking up more shelf space at grocery stores and making more appearances at bars and restaurants.
Craft breweries and big beer companies alike have started to produce gluten free beers, investing time and resources into developing brews that retain all the delightful complexity of traditional beers, but without the gluten. This has been made possible by the use of alternative grains, such as millet, sorghum, and rice.
As a result, those of us on a gluten free diet no longer have to yearn for the crisp, refreshing taste of a cold beer on a hot summer day, or the comforting savor of a dark ale on a chilly night. We can now join in the joy of tasting different brews, discussing flavor profiles, and even partaking in beer-pairing dinners.
What is gluten free beer?
Traditional beer is brewed using grains that contain gluten, such as barley and wheat. Since both of those grains are off-limits to anyone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, an alternative became necessary for those of us on a gluten free diet who don't just want to drink hard apple cider.
Gluten free beer follows what appears to be the same brewing process as traditional beer, but the grains have been switched out in favor of gluten-free grains like millet, sorghum, and rice. The process is the same, but the ingredients have changed and the environment must also be free of gluten to avoid the risk of cross-contamination.
The end result is a brew that's every bit as delightful as the “real thing”—a cold, flavorful beer that we can enjoy without a second thought. And let me tell you, there's nothing quite like savoring that first sip of gluten-free goodness.
Difference between gluten free beer and gluten reduced beer
You might come across a term called “gluten reduced” beer, and it's important to know that it's not the same as gluten free beer. In fact, fermented products like beer may not meet the definition of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of “gluten free” in labeling unless they can prove that the beer met the FDA's definition of “gluten free” in food labeling prior to the distillation process. (Source.)
Gluten reduced beers are made in the traditional way, using barley and perhaps wheat, but then an enzyme is added to the mix breaks down the gluten protein into smaller pieces. The idea is to reduce the gluten content enough so that it's below the limit of 20 parts per million (ppm), which is generally considered safe for most people with gluten sensitivity.
But—and this is a big but—this doesn't mean they're 100% free of gluten. Traces of gluten might still be present. And if you're like many others with celiac disease or severe gluten intolerance, even these tiny amounts can cause a reaction (which is the reason behind the final clarifying FDA final rule 21 CFR 101.91(c)(2)–(4)).
So, if you're on a strict gluten free diet, it's best to stick with gluten free beers, not gluten reduced beers. And remember, always check the labels or ask the staff if you're not sure. It's better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to enjoying your brew.
The taste of gluten free beer
The million-dollar question: How does gluten free beer taste? This is always the first thing that comes up when I talk to people about gluten free beer. After all, taste is king when it comes to our favorite brews, right? Well, the good news is, many gluten free beers really do taste excellent!
Gluten free beers often have a lighter body and a unique flavor profile compared to traditional beers. This is thanks to the alternative grains used in their brewing process. Far from being a disadvantage, this difference in taste can be a real positive. In fact, many people—even those who aren't on a gluten-free diet—have fallen in love with the distinct tastes of gluten free beers and now prefer them over traditional brews.
Why does gluten free beer taste different?
Now that we've established that gluten free beer often does taste different, let's explore why. The choice of grains in the brewing process can bring a variety of flavors, creating unique brews.
For instance, sorghum—a popular choice for gluten free beer—can lend a sweet, fruity flavor that you might not find in traditional beers. Buckwheat, on the other hand, might add earthy tones. Each grain brings its own character to the brew, and these flavors can be highlighted or balanced by the brewer to create some truly unique alcoholic beverages.
How to properly taste and evaluate beer
If you're serious about your beer, you'll want to know how to properly taste and evaluate it. Yes, beer tasting is a thing—it's not just for wine anymore! And it can be a lot of fun, too.
Here's how it works: swirl, sniff, sip. Sounds like wine tasting, right? Well, it's not all that different. The swirling helps to release the beer's aromas. Then, you take a moment to sniff and get a sense of its fragrance. Finally, the best part—sip. But don't rush! It’s all about savoring the flavors.
Take note of the flavors you can pick up in each sip. Is it fruity? Bitter? Does it have a hint of spice? And don't forget the aftertaste—that can tell you a lot about a beer, too. The more you taste, the better you'll get at picking up these nuances. So go ahead, put your taste buds to work and explore the fascinating world of gluten free beers!
Types of gluten free beers
The craft beer industry explosion has extended, happily, to the gluten-free beer market, offering an array of types to please every beer drinker out there. Whether you love a crisp, refreshing lager, a hop-heavy IPA, a rich, creamy stout, or a well-rounded ale, you can probably find something to suit your tastes!
Gluten free lagers
For many, nothing beats the crisp, clean taste of a lager. Lagers are known for their bright, golden color and their mild, well-balanced flavor. If this is your beer of choice, you're in luck! There's loads of gluten free lagers available.
They're brewed using gluten free grains, but the result is just as refreshing and enjoyable as any traditional lager you've ever tasted. Let's take a look at the basic types of gluten free beer, but keep in mind that all beer is either an ale or a lager.
Gluten free IPAs
Gluten free IPAs (IPA stands for “India Pale Ale,” so these are ales) are becoming increasingly popular, and they pack all the hoppy punch that you expect from this type of beer. Brewers of gluten free IPAs have been experimenting with different types and combinations of hops, resulting in a diverse range of flavors. If you're a fan of bitter notes, or floral and citrus notes, you'll find plenty to love here.
Gluten free stouts
Stouts, which are dark roasted ales, are known for their dark, creamy flavors. They're often associated with flavors like coffee, chocolate, and even caramel. Gluten free beer brewers have been using ingredients like cocoa, coffee, and even gluten free oats to recreate the signature flavors of this beloved beer type.
Gluten free ales
Ales are generally very full-bodied flavorful beers. They're made from the yeast that gathers at the top of a fermentation tank, and aren't typically aged (making them popular among craft brewers).
5 Gluten Free Beers To Try
Alright, now to the good part! Here are 5 gluten-free beers to try. Note: always double-check the labels and do your research to ensure they're safe for you!
I've only chosen those beers that are completely gluten free. Gluten reduced beer isn't truly gluten free beer, so it's not safe for those with celiac disease or severe gluten sensitivity.
The copper color of this ale is all thanks to the magic of roasted millet. Not only does it add a depth of color, but it also bestows a malty, chocolaty goodness that makes this beer an absolute pleasure to drink. Who knew gluten free could taste so good?
ALT Brew Copper Ale is brewed with a blend of ingredients: gluten free grains and pseudograins sorghum, rice, millet, and corn derived products, plus honey. This brew has unique almost malt-like flavor and copper color.
Aurochs Session IPA is a light citrusy made from a blend of millet and quinoa. With a flavor that's less bitter than you might expect, this session beer is very drinkable. Whether you're enjoying a sunny afternoon or relaxing after a long day, this flavorful, gluten-free beer might be your new favorite.
New Grist's Gluten-Free Pilsner is a pioneer in the gluten-free beer world, with over a decade of brewing behind it as the first gluten free beer in the U.S. that was allowed to be labeled as such. Made from a blend of rice extract, malted millet, and sorghum. The result is a refreshing, clean and fruity taste without being excessively sweet.
Shrouded Summit White Ale by Ghostfish Brewing Company is a Belgian-style ale with hints of banana, clove and orange. It's made from water, malted millet, malted buckwheat, malted rice, hops, juniper berries, coriander, orange peel, yeast. Pale yellow in color, it has a yeasty aroma and is meant to fill the void left by a whitbier.
The Glutenberg Blonde Ale, this dedicated gluten free brewing company's first gluten free beer, is made from a combination of water, millet, corn, demerara sugar, hops, yeast. Though touted as a dry blonde, it's meant to have a certain sweetness that's really light and enjoyable.