How food, diet, and dieting affected my writing and my life. And maybe effects yours…
So – you’re taking this gluten-free experiment seriously. You don’t even want to switch to drinking Corona for the month, because although some people who have trouble with gluten can drink Corona and Corona Light, it’s still made from gluten-bearing grains. I’ve pointed out a bunch of spirits that you can try with a light heart. Now, the good news and bad news about gluten-free beer.
The good news? There are more and more brewed drinks out there all the time. Some of them, like pure rice sake, have been around for centuries. Even gluten-free beer is not new. There has been beer brewed from sorghum for centuries, as well as from other gluten-free grains. But you still need to check labels, because an African beer may also have wheat in it – wheat is cheaper to grow than some of the gluten-free grains, and adds a sweetness and smoothness to things. So African brewers have created some newer, mixed offerings.
Fortunately, in America people are experimenting with rarely-seen, new-to-America forms of alcohol. Here’s the bad news – these may not be available in your area. But thanks to the Internet, if it’s legal to ship to your state, chances are you can try many of these gluten-free offerings. The Holy Grail of gluten-free, as I understand it, requires a road trip. But I’ll let you know where you want to head!
Remember – you may be healing inside, if gluten is already damaging you. Go easy at first with gluten-free drinks. Drink them slowly. See what you think. Do they satisfy why you drink? Do they fill you quickly, or quicker than barley beer or wheat beer did? These brews generally cost more than your average barley beer, but you may need less of them to feel satisfied. One $6.00 bottle of Green’s Dubbel Dark Ale may easily do what three or four $3.00 Shiner Bocks used to do for you.
I’m starting with the three gluten-free beers I’ve been able to find in Texas. We can find Redbridge, made by Anheuser-Busch, which is a 100% sorghum, moderately hopped, lager-style amber beer. I’ve heard it described as anything from “similar to a Killian’s Red” all the way to reminiscent of several pale ales, but “different.” Of course it’s different – totally different main ingredients! But – sorghum is what we use to make molasses, here in the USA. So like barley and wheat, there’s a natural sweetness to sorghum that promises well for a lighter beer.
The second most common beer down here in Texas is Bard’s Beer. Bard’s is also 100% sorghum, in a proprietary malt. The style is American lager, made with German lager yeast. Warning — their web site is too cute for words.
The third beer is waiting in my fridge for my next experiment with bison nightshade-free chili. Green’s is brewed in Belgium, and priced accordingly, in the larger 500 ml size bottle. This brewery has beers made from brown rice and from pseudo-grains like sorghum, millet, and buckwheat. They also have “refermented” and “deglutenised” barley malt beers. Personally, I’d wait six months to a year gluten-free before trying a drink of these curious barley beers. You’ll have a better idea of how your GI tract will handle the brew. That’s just me – I don’t know how well the refermented beers are selling in England, which is their primary audience. (I’ve got a Dubbel Dark Ale waiting for me, for the curious. The link is the North American site for Green’s gluten-free.)
The gluten-free beer that is regional or harder to find? New Grist is from the Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, WI, and it is already building a great reputation as a very decent session ale. You’ll see it described as a hot weather beer, light and summery in taste and bouquet. New Grist is made from sorghum and rice, hops, water, and gluten-free yeast. Yes! They’ve even found a gluten-free yeast they like!
If you can find it, you will want to try G-Free from the St. Peter’s Brewery in Great Britain. G-Free is a pilsner lager, and uses aromatic Amarillo hops. They suggest citrus notes to their beer, and I’ve seen it compared to Blue Moon. It’s also a sorghum beer. (And if you’re starting to wonder: Can these beers taste different if they’re all made from sorghum? I will respond: Can all those beers from barley malt taste different?)
The New Planet Brewery in Colorado has six gluten-free offerings, including raspberry, Belgian, and blonde ale. They are guaranteed gluten-free and are described as light and refreshing. Blonde is made with Sorghum and Corn, and has some orange peel in there with the hops and yeast. Its ABV is 5.0%, slightly higher than all the previous beers, yet only 125 calories per bottle. Raspberry Is also sorghum and corn, but it has natural Oregon Raspberry Puree to liven up its hops, yeast and orange peel. The raspberry is also 5%, but 160 calories a bottle.
Here’s a French microbrewery that looks very promising – the beer is available in France and Canada, and may come to the USA soon. Messagère Red Ale is described by its brewery as a “gorgeous mahogany colour” with delicate hints of dried fruit and hops. The red, a 5% beer, is made from rice syrup and malt, glucose extract, buckwheat (which has no wheat in it – it’s a totally different pseudo-grain) millet and hops.
Original La Messagère is a pale ale, with a subtle hint of hops and citrus in the aroma. This is not as strong, a 4.7% alcohol content. Messagère Millet is a malted millet lager, 4% alcohol and very, very pale gold – the photos have no hint of redness. The newest offering is Messagère aux fruits, buckwheat and rice malt soaked in raspberry, cherry, and blackcurrant, lending it a deep garnet color.
A newer gluten-free offering is Hambleton lager and ale. These beers are referred to as sweet, and have a blend of two or three hops. Hambleton is a British beer, and contains sediment, to judge from a few squeamish reviewers’ comments. (I can say squeamish – I used to brew my own beer. That’s what a glass is for, lad! Pour with a steady hand!) This stuff sounds great.
The Hambleton Gluten-Free Ale (GFA) has an alcohol-by-volume of 4.8%. From their site:
“A tawny ale with aromas of Cascade, Liberty and Challenger hops and specially prepared dark sugars providing full bodied initial sweetness giving way to pronounced fruit and hop character with a strong citrus finish.”
Hambleton’s Gluten-Free Lager has an abv of 5.2%.
“A Pale lager style beer with an initial fullness complemented by a fruit character, derived from East Kent Goldings and Continental Styrian hops, finishing with bitterness and citrus notes. Uniquely balanced and best served chilled.”
Ramapo Valley Brewery (RVB) in Hillburn, New York USA started out as a microbrewery, but discovered that the demand for its unusual Honey Beer was so great that they needed to apply for full brewery status. RVB has the added status of being the only Kosher brewery in the US, plus it uses dedicated equipment for its gluten-free beers. Rumor has it that this is sold someplace in Texas, so I will be looking for this one. Their Honey Beer (beer, not mead – it has hops!) is described by RVB as follows: “The main fermentable (sic) is amber honey. Molasses is used for flavor, nutrients and color. Bright golden in color, the taste naturally has notes of honey and hop. Noble hops add a touch of bitterness to balance the honey sweetness.”
This sounds a lot like a ladies’ beer, but guys with a sweet tooth? It’s worth a try!
I knew about the excellent root beer from the Sprecher Brewery in Wisconsin. Turns out they also make a couple of carefully-crafted gluten-free beers. Originally created to provide traditional African style beers for Milwaukee’s African World Festival, Sprecher’s Mbege and Shakparo have become popular beers that are brewed year-round. Both are brewed from traditional sorghum and millet, and left unfiltered. Shakparo is a lighter ale with cider/fruit notes and a dry, vinous aftertaste, while Mbege is brewed with real bananas. (Yes, a hint of bananas remains in both aroma and taste, making this even more unique than the average gluten-free offering.) I’ll be looking for these on my next trip to Michigan.
You’ll have to go to the other side of the world to try O’Brien Brown Ale, the silver medallist at the World Beer Cup 2010. O’Brien currently offers four gluten-free beers – a brown ale, a pale ale, a premium lager, and a natural light beer. They’re only available in Australia and New Zealand, but they sound delightful. (However, their security certificate has expired, so you’ll have to look them up yourself.)
Like New Grist beer, O’Brien uses a gluten-free yeast for its beers, as well as malted sorghum, millet, hops and water. There’s also a touch of treacle (that is, pale sugar cane syrup) in their Brown Ale.
Billabong Brewing has not one, not two, but three GF beers, and Australia is taking note. These gems include a GF blonde lager (a “Blonde”) (4.5% abv), a Ginger Beer (4.5%) and an Apple Beer (5.0%). These beers are certified gluten-free by the Australian Coeliac Society. They contain no artificial preservatives or additives, and must be refrigerated and consumed promptly. What with the refrigerated hitch, it may be some time before any of these make it to our shores. But here’s another reason to head Down Under – great beer you can’t get anyplace else!
Riedenburger brews a gluten-free millet beer, the first gluten-free beer from Bavaria. I include it so you have something fun to look for while in Germany. The website shop is in Euros only, so I don’t think they’re shipping to the US. But if we could get everything here, it would take away some of the fun of going over there.
I promised you road trips. You’re going to have to drive all the way to Missoula, Montana to try the Kettlehouse Brewery’s Seeley Axe — a Belgian White, Reduced Gluten Beer. What does that mean? You may need to call the Kettlehouse and ask – the Myrtle Street location has it listed as a mainstay on tap. They do sell party pigs of it, but they don’t bottle or ship. Rumor has it the beer is light and refreshing with no funny aftertastes. If you’re clipping across the great state of Montana, give them a call and see if they have any on hand – and find out when they’re going to do a tee shirt for it. Because the first good women’s tee I find for a good GF beer, I’ll be advertising for them!
Your other road trip will take you to the opposite side of the USA, to the east coast. There you will find the beer known as The Alchemist’s Celia Saison, currently offered by the Ipswich Ale Brewery. Celia Saison was rated best gluten-free beer, World Cup 2010, but it’s not to everyone’s taste–it’s too light for a direct translation from malted beers. It is described as a peachy-golden color, with a fruity aroma. You’ll get a whiff and a taste of berries, citrus, and peaches, with a malty, hoppy finish. It’s reported to be on the sweet side.
I planned to talk about cider and sake as well, but I’ve run too long as it is. So, another time, we’ll touch on gluten-free cider and sake. We’ll liven up your palate – let the gluten go!
Cat Kimbriel is a fantasy and science fiction writer with a practical streak, a passion for great characters, and a focus on justice and compassion. Her current ebooks can be found over here.