Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Tuesday Tasting: Gluten Free Beers
Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we go barley free.
What would you do if you could not drink beer?
I’m not talking about finding yourself in a dry county on a Sunday afternoon or in the “family section” at a minor league baseball park. I mean, what if having a beer would cause you to have an almost immediate negative physical reaction?
I've received a crash course in this issue because my son-in-law, Mike Wirth, has Celiac Disease. Basically, it means he cannot enjoy anything made with grains. No pasta. No bread. And, sadly, no beer. His body does not tolerate gluten, a protein found in grains. Exposure to wheat, rye, barley and triticale in food and beverages causes a severe allergic reaction in people with celiac disease.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, exposure to gluten creates an immune-mediated toxic reaction that causes damage to the small intestine and does not allow food to be properly absorbed. Estimates are that 3 million people in the U.S. have celiac disease, even though more than 90 percent have not been correctly diagnosed.
My son-in-law is a good guy. Mike is the kind of guy you'd enjoy having a beer with at your local. Mike is interested in beer. In fact, Mike was the artistic mind behind the popular GABF medal map that ran here during last year's festival (yes, there will be a new one out shortly). The good news is that some brewers see people who cannot tolerate gluten as an underserved market. Where there is an opportunity to make money, corporate America will usually step up.
For the "Next Beer" column in the current issue of All About Beer magazine I tasted a number of gluten free beers. Most gluten free beer is brewed using sorghum, a cereal grass traditionally used for brewing in many African countries. Sorghum beers tend to have a slightly sweet taste. If your taste in beer favors doppelbocks, gluten free beers are worth a try. If you lean towards imperial IPAs, the gluten free beers we tasted will be too far towards the sweet side.
So, do gluten free beers give Celiac sufferers a real beer experience? Well, on one hand not quite. On the other hand, who is to say? Do wheat beers give barley beer fans a “real beer” experience? Switch the grain bill and any homebrewer will tell you that you are going to taste a difference. Remove the grain altogether and the brewer needs to find balance between sweetness and bitterness.
Bard’s Gold: Amber colored with a thin, but persistent head. This sorghum beer beer was on the sweet side with some balancing hops.
Green’s Discovery Amber Ale: This ale is made with millet, rice, buckwheat and sorghum. The head looked a bit like soap suds at first pour. Dark amber color, with a medium level of hops that balance the ale overall.
Green’s Endeavour Dubbel Dark: This Belgian ale is also made with millet, rice, buckwheat and sorghum. The head lasted throughout and laced the glass. The amber brown color and sweet nose matches nicely to the Belgian style. Nice body and depth of flavor, with some fig and fruit notes in the finish.
Hambleton Toleration: This English brew has a thin head and amber color. The brewery uses challenger, liberty and cascade hops. Overall, the flavor is on the sweet side with some fruity, almost wine-like characteristics in the finish.
New Grist Beer: This Wisconsin-made beer uses a combination of sorghum and rice. Light golden straw color and a clean aroma. The beer starts off with a nice thick head that dissipates gradually. Overall a low hop profile and a sweet flavor.
Redbridge Gluten-Free Beer: This Anheuser-Busch beer was launched in 2006 and won the gold medal in the gluten free category at last year's GABF. The head on this beer goes away pretty quickly. Nice amber color and decent hop bite. Overall balanced flavor that has a refreshing crispness.