How 7 brands of gluten-free beer stack up against conventional suds
In her old restaurant job, it was necessary for her to visit breweries and try different kinds of beers. We became fast fans of Boundary Bay Brewery, Chuckanut Brewery, Elysian Brewery and others. Name a brewery in the Puget Sound region and we most likely tried their beer.
As her husband -- and fellow taste-tester -- it was bliss.
Then she developed a gluten problem.
Since most beers are brewed using wheat and barley, an intolerance to gluten is an intolerance to beer. The party was over.
What I didn't know is that a burgeoning market in the beer industry is the brewing of gluten-free beer. With an increase in the number of people with celiac disease and other disorders that cause gluten intolerance, gluten-free beer has been taking up more and more shelf space in the beer cooler.
"People are becoming more knowledgeable of the symptoms in which gluten can cause on one's health," said New Planet Beer Marketing Director Danielle Quatrochi, "so people are being diagnosed sooner and more often than before. There's also been a lot of press around the benefits of a gluten-free diet, opening the door for companies to add gluten-free options to their product mix."
Gluten-free options lack depth compared to regular beer, and sorghum, often the leading ingredient in gluten-free beer, gives it a distinct flavor and finish. Some beers try to mask it with malts, while others do away with sorghum entirely, using corn, rice and sugars instead.
Recently I gathered all the gluten-free beers I could get my hands on and had my wife and our family friend Kit Hansen, who is celiac, review them. Here's their verdict.
Ingredients: Sorghum, hops, gluten-free yeast
Review: Anheuser-Busch's take on a gluten-free beer is a basic American-style lager made from sorghum. This is definitely a clean beer with solid body and nice, subtle finish; the lack of a real sorghum bitter finish got it a thumbs up from the group. And though Kit said he could taste the Anheuser-Busch in it, this isn't a Bud Light clone.
Ingredients: Sorghum, hops, rice and gluten-free yeast grown on molasses
Review: There just isn't a lot to New Grist, Lakewood Brewery's take on a gluten-free beer. It has a very light body and is eminently forgettable. In fact, Erin compared it to a very light, carbonated sake.
Ingredients: Sorghum, yeast, hops
Review: Made from malted sorghum, Bards is strong up front, with notes of caramel and fruit. But, unlike most gluten-free beers that have a distinctly bitter finish, Bards has really no finish. Overall with a solid malt backbone and a nice body, Bards is a respectable gluten-free beer.
Ingredients: All three use millet, buckwheat, rice, sorghum, hops and yeast.
Review: The Dubbel Dark Ale has a slight sorghum finish, but it is sweet up front and passes nicely for a Belgian-style dubbel. The Tripel Blonde Ale has notes of fruit up front and has the characteristic mouthfeel of a true tripel. But the best Green's offering is the Amber Ale. Medium-bodied with notes of caramel, Green's Amber Ale doesn't have much of the sorghum finish and is the most balanced of the three.
Ingredients: Challenger, Liberty and Cascade hops, top-fermenting yeast and specially prepared sugars.
Review: This offering from Nick Stafford's Hambleton Ales in England didn't taste much like beer. More like a slightly hoppy barleywine. It had an aroma of dates and figs and was very sweet, but it had almost no carbonation. Erin compared it to a port.
Ingredients: All three use sorghum, hops and yeast; Pale Ale also uses brown rice extract, molasses; Raspberry Ale also uses corn extract, natural Oregon raspberry puree, orange peel; Lightly Ale also uses corn extract, orange peel.
Review: The star of this Boulder, Colo., brewery is Off the Grid Pale Ale. With a malty backbone and hoppy finish, it was hard to tell it was a gluten-free beer. Kit, who hasn't had a real beer for four years, was blown away by how much it reminded him of a true pale ale. The Tread Lightly Ale is a very light beer with a distinct sorghum finish, and the 3R Raspberry Ale is a very carbonated, light ale that is reminiscent of a raspberry cider.
Ingredients: Sorghum, hops, water
Review: If you don't like European lagers, you will not like this beer. It starts very bitter and has a distinct grassy aroma. It seemed to get better after it had been opened for a little while and was definitely a beer that paired well with food.
Where to buy
Two places with a variety of gluten-free beers:
• Sno-Isle Natural Foods Co-op, 2804 Grand Ave., Everett; 425-259-3798.
• Janell's Gluten-Free Market, 7024 Evergreen Way, Suite A, Everett; 425-347-3500
New Planet Beer
New Planet Beer is a gluten-free brewery based in Boulder, Colo. New Planet's beer isn't available in Washington, but they plan on having it on shelves in the state in early September. For more information on New Planet, visit www.newplanetbeer.com.
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