When was the last time you tried a gluten-free beer? For those that have sampled them, the general reaction is: eh, it's OK, but it's nothing compared to my [insert favorite craft brew here].
Any true beer lover will tell you, alter the basic ingredients of beer -- water, barley, yeast, and hops -- and it's not really beer.
But for the millions of people who have gluten intolerance, including those with celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis, the country's craft beer scene is nothing to be excited about. For them, many of the proteins in the grains commonly used to make beer (barley and wheat) can trigger painful symptoms. Their only option is to drink gluten-free beer or none at all.
Today, South Florida's gluten-free crowd desiring a truly tasty, local craft brew may have something to look forward to. West Palm Beach residents Matt Stetson and his girlfriend Felonice Merriman have plans to bring the city its first production beer and cider brewery.
But not just any brewery -- a gluten-free one.
In 2012, Stetson met his girlfriend, Merriman; while dating, he soon discovered she had celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where ingestion of gluten leads to damage of the small intestine.
A home brewer for more than two decades, Stetson recalls the frustrating feeling he had when he couldn't share his brews with Merriman. So he did what any good boyfriend would do; he set out to create a series of gluten-free recipes, just for her.
Recently, the passion became a business; today, the couple are working to open Accomplice Brewery, what will be West Palm Beach's first craft production brewery. The name is a reference to the support he's found along the way from friends and family.
"No matter what you do, it's often about those around you that help or support you. Your friends and family. Your partners in crime," says Stetson. "Or, as we call them, our accomplices."
Aside from home brewing, Stetson is no stranger to the world of beer and wine; he got his start in the wine industry as a sommelier working distribution, retail, and manufacturing in South Florida.
"Today, I use that experience with food pairing and wines to create balanced and food-friendly beers," says Stetson. "Although I always wanted to have my own brewery, meeting Felonice gave me the motivation, and the idea to create beers that were gluten-free, as well."
In November 2013, Stetson retired from his tech-industry job in Boca Raton and pursued his passion full force. Since then he and Merrimen have visited over 70 breweries, wineries, and distilleries to learn the commercial end of producing beer, wine, and cider.
Worldwide, there are currently less than 20 breweries producing a gluten-free or low-gluten product -- and many still contain some gluten, while others "remove" it after production. As long as it meets food labeling guidelines that mandate a food or drink contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten, it can be labeled gluten-free.
Stetson doesn't just want to create another gluten-free beer, however. He wants to make the type of gluten-free beer even hard-core craft beer connoisseurs will want to drink. By upping the grain content to impart more flavor, he's able to produce a more authentic craft beer flavor, he says.
"The idea is to create beer that everyone can enjoy as a craft product, without sacrificing flavor as breweries that use large amounts of syrups to make their beer do," says Stetson. "A craft brew first, Accomplice Brewing will be just as tasty as other craft products."
Once a location is secured, expect a first-run production to include his favorite recipes, including: Chisel (a mocha brown ale); Wing Ding (an 80-calorie per 12-ounce serving session ale); and Paddywagon (an Irish amber ale). Like the brewery name, the beers' names follow the same theme: a "chisel" is a cheater, a "paddy wagon" was the name for the truck originally used to clean the drunks out of the Irish Bars in the cities, while a "wing ding" is a term originally used by hobos to describe a party or celebration.
Stetson -- who is working to obtain his licensing with the state -- is already developing custom recipes for local restaurants and organizations looking to offer a gluten-free product. He hopes to be fully-operational by spring of 2015, and is working to expand operations to include craft ciders.
"We feel that there is a lot of improvement in the craft cider industry and recognize the efforts of great makers like Cigar City, Ace, and Woodchuck," says Stetson. "We want to expand on those offerings with our antique cider, carambola Cider, and dry green cider."
Accomplice Brewery Ciderworks is expected to open before the gluten-free brewery, in the first quarter of 2015. A tentative location has been secured at 1027 N. Florida Mango Road, West Palm Beach. Visit Facebook.com/AccompliceBrewery.
Nicole Danna is a food blogger covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.
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