More and more people are going Gluten-Free! Whether it’s as part of an elimination diet, or due to a serious health issue, there are many reasons people might want or need to avoid gluten in the foods they eat. But a gluten-free diet presents many challenges, especially for the avid beer drinker.
Because beer is naturally an extremely glutenous product many who go gluten-free switch to drinking ciders and wines, the most popular beer alternatives, but these drinks can never replace beer for a true beer-lover! Luckily creative brewers have seen the need for gluten-free beer options and stepped up to create new kinds of beer, but the fairly new world of gluten-free beers can be a challenge to understand.
So if you’re wondering what exactly goes into a gluten-free beer, if they’re safe for someone with celiac disease to drink, or where to find gluten-free beers to drink… we’ve got you covered! We’ll guide you through the ins and outs of gluten-free beers and leave you ready for a drink.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. This protein can cause health problems for those with gluten intolerance, especially for those with autoimmune conditions like celiacs disease. Those with this condition experience inflammation in the small intestine when gluten is absorbed, and over time this inflammation can cause damage to the organ. About 30% of the population is a celiac carrier, and though not all develop the disease, many choose to go gluten-free to avoid the damage gluten can do or because they discovered a sensitivity!
What to Know about Gluten-Free Beer
Beer is traditionally made from wheat barley and rye, which means it’s not a naturally gluten-free product! Though the brewing process reduces the gluten content of the grains that go into beer, there is still gluten present in traditional beers beyond the 20ppm safe for those with celiac disease to consume. But while no traditionally brewed beer can be 100% gluten-free, more and more breweries are experimenting with nontraditional grains to create great beer flavors. There are also some gluten-removed beers made with traditional ingredients that are altered to have the gluten protein chemically removed, though these have been found to contain some traces of gluten.
Types of Gluten-Free Beer
Gluten-free beer can be made with gluten-free oats, rice, maize, teff, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, or sorghum. But not all gluten-free grains are the same! Each of these grains creates a slightly different brew. Just like how different strains of wheat barley and rye can affect the taste and carbonation levels of traditional beers, the use of different grains creates different results. Oats are commonly paired with traditional beers and work wonderfully in gluten-free options. Sorghum beer tends towards sweetness. Rice and millet can create bready German beers, while buckwheat beer doesn’t foam like traditional beers, but the grain does help to emphasize phenols and creates a beer that tastes similar to traditional Belgian styles.
Once you’ve opened your mind to beers made with non-traditional grains your options for what beers can be made from, become nearly endless. Brewers work with fermentable ingredients as odd as mushrooms and sweet potatoes and brewers have even found that chestnuts create a maltiness that rivals traditional rye! The world of gluten-free beers is full of the same excitement and experimentation that modern craft breweries are popularizing in the traditional beer scene.
Of course, none of these gluten-free beers will taste exactly like traditional beers, and none of them take like each other, but that is hardly the point. As with the varied and delicious wheat barley and rye craft brews, the creativity and craft that goes into these beers make them unique, delicious, and well worth a drink.
Gluten-Removed Beer (and why it isn’t Gluten-Free!)
Some wheat barley and rye beers are considered “gluten-removed.” These beers are still made with grains that contain gluten, but the protein is removed in production using a process called hydrolysis. Unfortunately, some bits of gluten may remain afterward, though in quantities too small to show up on traditional tests.
While these beers are just fine for someone on a reduced gluten diet, someone with celiac disease can have an adverse reaction to as little as 100mg of gluten, and in some studies, those with celiac disease have had adverse reactions to these gluten-removed beers.
These beers do not need to be discounted entirely for those whose sensitivity is not super-sensitive, but they do tend to lack the creativity of gluten-free beers and are not ever going to be 100% safe to consume for someone looking to eliminate gluten entirely.
Luckily, due to FDA guidelines, most gluten-removed beers will be marked as “gluten-reduced” or “crafted to remove gluten” rather than “100% gluten-free,” so they are easy to spot on the shelves for the careful shopper.
Gluten-Free Beer, What to Drink?
Now that you’ve got a taste for the process, we’re sure you’re wondering if there are great gluten-free beers to buy. Never fear, Gluten-free beer is everywhere, and now that gluten-free beers are no longer new on the scene, many of the available brews are just as delicious as regular beers. Established breweries are adding gluten-free options to their catalog, and dedicated gluten-free breweries have started up.
Some popular and nationally available gluten-free beers from established brands include Redbridge Lager by Anheuser-Busch and Coors Peak Copper Lager by Coors Brewing Company. These brews are certified 100% gluten-free but may have been processed in the same facilities as gluten-containing beers. Still, the easy availability makes these beers appealing!
The best bet for beer 100% free of gluten and 100% full of flavor, is to source your beer from a dedicated gluten-free brewery. Luckily, as gluten-free diets have grown in popularity, there are quite a few in the US and Canada, and their beers are sold in many retail stores and at craft brewhouses.
These dedicated Gluten-Free breweries are popping up all over the US and Canada from the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast! Just a few breweries with dedicated gluten-free facilities are Evasion Brewing, Alt Brew, Ghostfish Brewing Company, Buck Wild Brewing, Glutenberg, and Aurochs Brewing Co! These breweries vary in size and method, crafting their brews from many different ingredients for different results. But all are guaranteed to have excellent beers safe for someone on a gluten-free diet.
For a more in-depth review of gluten-free brews, read our blog post on the best gluten-free beers.
While many are not ready to commit to the effort it takes to brew beer at home, if you want total control over the brewing process or are eager to play around with the fermenting and flavors, homebrewing is an option. Gluten-free beer is made at home exactly how you’d make traditional beer, substituting gluten-free ingredients for your traditional grains. Gluten-free homebrew kits are for sale that can help you on your way to crafting your own beers from all kinds of gluten-free fermentables.
Here are some recipes you can try at home:
Now that you know all about the process of making gluten-free beer, are aware of what to avoid to find a 100% gluten-free option, and have a taste of all the tasty brews on the market, we hope you’re excited to drink beer without needing to worry about breaking your gluten-free diet!
Is there a great gluten-free beer that you enjoy? Have you ever made gluten-free craft beer at home? If so, let us know in the comments section below! To read up on other kinds of beer, click here for our beer styles blog posts.