Monday, April 22, 2013

My Gluten Free and Gluten-Reduced Beer Picks!

On my blog I usually write about voting and elections issues, but today I offer something a little more personal and out of the ordinary.

Almost four years ago I went gluten-free after seeing a health care practitioner who suggested I try it to see if it would benefit my health. It did, and I have become an enthusiastic advocate of the gluten-free diet. 

Giving up French bread and pasta were not so difficult, but giving up beer was a big challenge. As a longtime Northern California resident I have grown very fond of all the delicious microbrews produced in and around our region, especially on tap! Sure, there are gluten-free alternative drinks such as cider, wine and anything made with vodka. But there is nothing like a rich, foamy draft beer!

I set out with a goal to try as many gluten-free and gluten-reduced beers as I could. Unfortunately, the ones most widely available at that time (2009) were not at all to my liking. A six pack of Redbridge ended up getting poured down the sink, as did New Grist and Bard's. Clearly my assignment was going to take some extra work.

The first delicious gluten-free beer I ever tasted is Estrella Damm Daura, from Spain. A special brewing process is used to process out the gluten, resulting in a fresh, delicious tasting lager perfect for a Summer day. It's sold in a four-pack for around $8 at Total Wine, Bevmo and Whole Foods.

While I think Daura is delicious, I prefer strong ales. My next favorite GF beer is Green's, a Belgian beer that comes in a variety of flavors. These beers are strong in flavor as well as alcohol content, and though a little pricey (usually about $5 for a 17 ounce bottle), you may not want to drink more than one. But while Green's looked and behaved the way I think beer should, the flavor is a little peculiar, and some describe as syrupy, as it is made from sorghum. My quest continued.

Next came along New Planet, a GF beer company operating in Colorado. The first flavor I tried was their Raspberry Ale. This is one of two GF beers I have tried that are made with fruit (the other is Dogfish Head's Tweasonale, made from strawberries). Not being a fan of sweet beer, I was not initially excited by New Planet. But I went ahead and gave their other flavors a try. I particularly liked their Off Grid Pale Ale. They have created new flavors and packaging and are sold in moderately priced four-packs usually available at Total Wine, Bevmo and Whole Foods. 

After some further digging online, I came across Soba Ale, a beer made from buckwheat that was created by Iron Chef Masaharo Morimoto and produced by Rogue in two 22 ounce bottle flavors - Soba Ale and the darker, Black Obi Soba Ale. Although not gluten free (it still has malt in it), since it is made from buckwheat it is gluten-light. And both flavors are absolutely delicious! 

On a tip from a staffer at Total Wine, I gave Midas Touch, from Dogfish Head a try. This was the first of their "Ancient Ales" series and the ingredients are "based on molecular evidence found in a Turkish tomb believed to have belonged to King Midas. It's a sweet yet dry beer made with honey, white muscat grapes and saffron," according to the DH web site. I don't know exactly is in it, and it's a little sweet and very strong (9%!) but it works for me. It's expensive - a four pack is usually around $10-12 - but it is not hard to find in most specialty beer markets and supermarkets that carry a good selection of beer.

Now a few years into my quest, the beer buyer at my neighborhood market, Taylor's, was keeping an eye out for me. One day he said he said he had something new for me to try - Omission. Brewed by
Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland, OR, Omission is a wonderful, West Coast microbrew that is produced the way any other beer is, with malted barley, but then an additional step is taken to process the gluten, resulting in a gluten-reduced (though not gluten-free) beer. Omission comes in two great flavors, Pale Ale and Lager, and is fairly widely available in many beer shops and high end grocery stores. We now purchase this beer by the case for our household and bring it to parties where it is enjoyed by everyone!

Finally I had a good, bottled ale to turn to, but still I was pining for the real thing - beer on tap! One evening at Dad's Kitchen, my neighborhood restaurant/taproom, I met the beer makers from Six Rivers and told them about my quest for a gluten-free beer on tap. To my surprise and delight they informed me that Berryessa Brewing Co., located in Winters (a mere 40 minutes from my house!) is producing a gluten-reduced House IPA. I could not wait to try it!

The Six Rivers guys also clued me into a new Belgian ale, called Brunehaut (pronounced "Bruno"), produced by St. Martin. It comes in two flavors - Amber and Blonde Ale - and both are strong and delicious. This is a very pricey, imported beer, usually running around $14 for a four pack, but if you want to splurge it is worth it! Like Omission, this beer is produced like a regular ale then processed to break down the gluten, making it gluten-reduced, not gluten-free. It's pretty hard to find too - so far I've only found it locally at Pangaea Cafe and the Davis Beer Shoppe (though it shows up in Total Wine's inventory no one was able to locate it in my local store on a recent visit). 

Our field trip out to Berryessa Brewing one weekend afternoon was a day I will never forget. Berryessa Brewing is out in the middle of an orchard field, a very simple place that every weekend is packed with happy patrons, musicians, food trucks, dogs, kids, potlucks - it is everything you want in a microbrewery! 

Beermaker Chris Miller is producing the House IPA and other drinks, and adding a special enzyme to break down the gluten and make it easier to digest. (This may be what the other gluten-reduced manufacturers are doing too but just being more secretive about it). Berryessa Brewing's House IPA is available on tap at many establishments in Sacramento, Davis, Winters and a few in San Francisco as well (check their Facebook page for locations). The brewery also sells and fills growlers that are pressurized and capped tight, and will stay fresh in your fridge until you open them for a good week or two. 

It took almost four years for my gluten-reduced beer quest to be achieved, but with Berryessa Brewing's House IPA I can finally enjoy a pint on tap with my friends at many of my favorite places in town. Adding this extra processing step does nothing to take away from the flavor. My only hope is that more beermakers will realize that they too can offer a delicious, gluten-reduced beer and give their patrons more options!

Bottom line:  If you have Celiac, the best beer to try are those from New Planet. If you are gluten-intolerant, or just want to cut back on your gluten intake, there are now a wide variety of choices for you, Omission being the tastiest and easiest to find at this time. Bottoms up!

A well-stocked beer shop in Cole Valley, SF offers Omission & Midas Touch

1 comment:

  1. I'm a beer drinker and I vote... Thanks for the research !