Five Legit Gluten-Free Beer Options for Discerning Beer Snobs
In social settings, having celiac disease is kind of like being Edward Snowden -- your options are limited (not to mention crappy), and no one knows what the hell to do with you. Telling your host at a party or your coworkers during happy hour that you can't drink beer usually elicits two things -- confusion followed by steady stream of pity in the form of multiple rounds of hard cider and half-priced well drinks.
It's not the worst problem to have, but let's face it: You're not getting any younger, and those hangovers aren't getting any shorter or less punishing.
In the past, there were only a few gluten-free beer options available, some of which were decent and some, whose name rhymes with Red Bridge, tastes like the urine sample of a capacious man who has eaten his weight in asparagus. Today, thanks to a few inventive brewers, there are several new gluten-free and gluten-removed beer options to get you back into the game.
In a 2009 study published in the Gastroenterology journal, scientists estimated that nearly 1 percent of the population in the United States is affected by celiac disease. When people with celiac disease eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, it causes an immune reaction in their small intestine that, over time, results in the inflammation of the small intestine, making it difficult to absorb nutrients and, more important, beer.
To receive a true "gluten-free" designation by the Food and Drug Administration, many breweries opt to use alternative grains such as sorghum and rice. Recently, a growing number of brewers have chosen to produce their beer using traditional grains like barley and then remove the gluten later, a practice that has effectively yielded two results -- a better-tasting pint and confusion among consumers about the difference between a product labeled "gluten-removed" versus "gluten-free."
According to the FDA, beer made from barley that has removed the gluten and contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of the protein can use the designation "gluten-removed" or "crafted to remove gluten" on its packaging. Gluten-removed beers remove the protein using a special enzyme that can be derived from either animals, plants, or by using a special plastic that is later filtered out of the beer. Many of these gluten-removed beers have less than 5 ppm of gluten, however; there can still be traces of the protein that may trigger a reaction in people who are more sensitive.
5. Brunehaut - Ambre Ale and Blonde Ale (gluten-removed)
Brunehaut's amber and blonde ales are among the few imported brews on list. The Belgian ales are made using barley and are later denatured to remove the gluten. The blonde is creamy with a tasty yeasty flavor and has a beautiful head that begs for proper stemware. The amber ale is spicy, complex, and bold with a lovely crown of creamy foam.
4. Estrella Damm-Daura (gluten-removed)
This beer isn't the new kid on the block, but it's still a go-to for people who are gluten-intolerant. This Spanish beer, according to its website, is made from a secret recipe of "toasted grains." This well-rounded lager can be easily confused with its sister beer, Estrella Damm, which has a similar label, so look carefully to avoid a buzzkill.
3. Omission - Widmer Brothers - Pale Ale and Lager (gluten-removed)
The Portland-based Widmer Brothers Omission beers could get better only if you put a bird on it. What the handcrafted pale ale lacks in gluten it makes up for with a strong, hoppy flavor and plenty of bite. The lager is more aromatic and flavorful than its gluten-full rivals, and both are welcome additions to any pool party.
2. Fox Tail - Pale Ale (gluten-free)
This pale ale is brewed using rice. It's a hoppy brew with citrusy top notes and even has a little head, a rare feat for most truly gluten-free beers. Best of all, it comes in a can making it perfect for beaches, barbecues, and, of course, for ubiquitous, hipsterific beer koozies.
1. Prairie Path - Golden Ale - Two Bros. Brewing Co. (gluten-removed)
This heady, blonde-style ale is made from barley. The Two Bros. Brewing Co., a "vegan-friendly" brewing company based in Illinois, began selling Prairie Path 15 years ago, and according to the company's website, the recipe has never changed. The gluten removal was an unintended result of their aim to reduce chill haze, the reaction that occurs when "proteins bond together in cold temperatures and release from each other as conditions warm up"; this reaction causes cold beer to appear cloudy and become clear as the beer becomes warm. Unlike other companies, Two Bros. Brewing uses a plant-based enzyme to prevent chill haze/remove the gluten.
It's no secret that dietary restrictions suck for all concerned especially in social settings, but with changing technology, there are more options available. That said, should you ask your vegetarian friend to join you at Baconfest? Probably not. Should you invite your gluten-intolerant friend to your
pathetic awesome throwback keg party? Hell yes -- break out the redneck crystal (AKA Solo cups), and don't forget a bitchin' six-pack for your friend.
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