“Gluten free” has become all the rage lately, plastered all over packaging in the supermarkets. Starting in 2011 with a paper published by Australian scientist Peter Gibson, the trend has led some to believe that by ingesting gluten, your body will be subject to gastrointestinal distress and cramps. Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. If these sound familiar, that’s because they are some of the most crucial ingredients in beer.
Research has been surfacing lately to suggest that less gluten in your diet is not a bad thing, including from Gibson himself. While the evidence to discount gluten intolerance exists, there are still a handful of people who suffer from celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by gluten. Diagnosed celiacs have varying reactions to gluten, ranging from a stomach aches to chronic weight loss. As a result, these are the only people who should truly stay gluten free.
Luckily, thanks to the trend of gluten free products stocking shelves, there are beers available to celiacs and hypochondriacs alike. There are two sub-categories of these beers: truly gluten free, and “crafted to remove gluten”. The former is brewed using ingredients that do not produce gluten, the latter is brewed as your traditional beer but has the gluten removed before consumption. Considering the science behind removing strains of a natural protein, this is no small feat and should be highly praised.
Science has introduced an enzyme that can be added during the brewing process that is capable of breaking down gluten chains to a point where they are tolerable to most celiacs. Enter: Clarity Ferm, a.k.a. Brewers Clarex, the key to your gluten-removed drunken bender.
Clarity Ferm has a primary function of reducing chill haze. Most beers are clear at room temperature, but when the temperature is lowered certain proteins could react in a way that reflects light, making it appear hazy. Some commercial breweries combat chill haze by either lowering the beer’s temperature to just below freezing and filtering it. Others use enzymes such as Clarity Ferm/Brewers Clarex that will render the haze-causing proteins insoluble.
Perhaps most known for being celiac-friendly is Omission Beer. An offshoot of the Craft Brew Alliance, Omission came into being when CEO Terry Michaelson was diagnosed as a celiac. Around the same time, head brewer Joe Casey’s wife was also diagnosed as a celiac. “Imagine suddenly not being able to bring home your life’s work,” said Omission’s Brand Manager, Lorin Gelfand, in a phone interview. This spawned the desire and need to brew good tasting, celiac-friendly beer.
Their first beer was brewed with sorghum, a species of grasses that is sometimes used as a substitution for other grains in the brewing process. After playing with a few recipes, Casey went to a beer expo that happened to feature a presentation on Brewers Clarex. Realizing that this could be the answer to the new challenges in front of him, Casey started playing around with different levels of the enzyme in his recipes. “Our trade secret is our dosing [of Brewers Clarex], but it’s not a proprietary process,” said Gelfand. They were successful in creating a recognizable lineup of an IPA, a pale ale, and a lager.
For those who truly have to monitor their gluten intake, Gelfand explained that they continuously test every batch of beer for gluten levels. Omission currently uses a test known as the R5 Competitive ELISA test, used to test the gluten content in final food products. This test is conducted both in house and at a third-party lab. “We want to set the industry standard for gluten,” said Gelfand. To help with this, every bottle of Omission has a batch code on it that can be entered on their website to view test results. “It’s really important to share scientific results to gain trust with the celiac community.”
However, Gelfand also made a key point for those who truly have to monitor their gluten levels: other breweries using Brewers Clarex may only be interested in it for its ability to combat chill haze, rather than break down gluten chains.
One such brewery is Philadelphia powerhouse, Yards Brewing Company. According to head brewer Tim Roberts, “We use Brewers Clarex as a means of preventing haze in all of our core beers – IPA, ESA, Philadelphia Pale Ale, Brawler, and Love Stout.” They are aware of the ability for the enzyme to break down gluten content, but it is an ancillary benefit that makes their strong lineup tolerable to many people with celiac. Currently there are no plans for Yards to market their beer as “crafted to remove gluten”.
Another viable option is Prairie Path Golden Ale from Two Brothers Brewing Company. Much like Yards, Two Brothers set out to use the enzyme to combat chill haze. After using the enzyme in a few batches of beer, they were pleased with the results. At the time of this testing the enzyme was not very widely used, so Two Brothers went about discussing results with labs familiar with the product. It was then they were told of the effects on gluten, and began testing the levels in the final beer.
According to their website, “Prairie Path Golden Ale is proven to contain less than 5 ppm [parts per million].” Also mentioned on their site is the fact that they, much like Omission, had to be careful and overly positive of their information regarding gluten levels. Once multiple tests had been performed with the same results, the beer was tested on some of their gluten intolerant friends, who declared, “I can finally drink a beer that tastes like beer.”
Belgian brewery Brunehaut is contributing as well, featuring several gluten-removed beers. Translated into English, their website doesn’t specifically mention Brewers Clarex or Clarity Ferm. Instead it states that they have “developed a UNIQUE and NATURAL method to remove the gluten from the beer during brewing.” Three of their brews undergo their process – a light golden blond, an amber, and a coppery triple. Their testing yielded results of less than 5 ppm.
If you search the internet, you’ll find a myriad of beers that are “gluten free.” Apart from the three listed above, most will stick to using rice and sorghum in the recipe to avoid possible contamination. Most of these beers are a lot sweeter than beers “crafted to remove gluten,” but have virtually no risk to celiacs.
Dogfish Head is among the breweries with a gluten free beer. “It seems as if lots of folks who have gluten tolerance issues are pining for an interesting beer,” Dogfish founder Sam Calagione claims on their website. No stranger to interesting beers, the lineup at Dogfish has included beers brewed with lunar meteorites, based on ancient recipes, and brewed with one ingredient from every continent. Their Tweason’ale is their gluten-free offering, based on sorghum infused with strawberry and buckwheat honey, which debuted in 2012.
Striving to provide more options to gluten-conscious people, breweries like Harvester Brewing, New Planet, Bard’s, and several others boast ingredients that are completely gluten free. Based on sorghum, yeast, and hops, they are all natural and perhaps the safest option for those in need of monitoring their gluten intake.
Whether you have a medical condition that necessitates it or you feel like you should follow a gluten-free diet for various reasons, there are options available for you to enjoy a cold brew after a busy day. The list above is not meant to be all-inclusive, and there will be countless new options as time goes on. Research, try, and enjoy what’s out there – with over 3,000 breweries in the United States, the possibilities are endless.