Joshua M. Bernstein
At its most basic, beer is composed of four core ingredients. Equipped with water, hops, yeast, and barley, brewers can send beer into thousands of flavorful directions. For many people, however, beer is not a pleasure but a source of pain. The culprit is gluten, which is several different proteins found in cereal grains such as rye, spelt, and barley. Most people easily digest gluten. But for millions of American suffering from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, ingesting gluten causes wrenching stomach pain and cramping.
Brewers, however, do not want to deny anyone the pleasure of a cold beer. To create beers suited for celiacs, as well as people suffering from gluten sensitivities and dietary restrictions, ingenious brewers have begun experimenting with alternative grains and grasses such as sorghum, buckwheat, rice, and millet. The result is gluten-free brews as flavorful as anything found in the craft-beer aisle.
Here are 12 of our favorite gluten-free beers (updated as of July 21, 2014). You won’t know what you’re missing.
Ipswich Ale Brewery: Celia Saison
After John Kimmich’s wife, Jennifer, was diagnosed with celiac disease, the Vermont brewer (from Alchemist) decided to make her a flavorful craft beer. For this Belgian-inspired saison, John relied on sorghum syrup, Curaçao orange peel, and Celia hops to create a crisp, tart beer drinker with a peppery and citrusy profile. (Note: Though brand rights were sold to Massachusetts’s Ipswich, the recipe remains unchanged.)
Green’s Gluten Free Beers: Enterprise Dry-Hopped Lager
Brewed in Belgium, Green’s relies on millet, sorghum, rice, and buckwheat to concoct its line. While the caramel-y Discovery Amber Ale, rich and toffee-tinged Endeavour Dubbel Ale, and fruity and potent Quest Gluten-Free Tripel Ale are all wonderful, the latest release is a revelation: Crisp, refreshing, and fabulously floral, Enterprise Dry-Hopped Lager is perfect from afternoon to last call.
Sprecher Brewing Co.: Shakparo Ale
Sprecher first created this West African-style ale as a one-off for Milwaukee’s African World Festival. The sorghum-and-millet concoction (they’re common ingredients in sub-Saharan Africa, where wheat and barley are rare) was so popular that the Wisconsin brewery made Shakparo a regular. The pleasingly tangy refresher somewhat recalls apple cider.
Estrella Damm: Daura
Unlike most gluten-free beers, Spain’s Daura is made with barley malt. The brewery uses a proprietary technique to remove gluten from barley malt (the amount of gluten is below the allowable threshold), meaning Daura taste close to the real thing. The light, bubbly beer gently smells of sweet toasted grains, with a bit of bitterness on the back end.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales: Tweason’ale
In lieu of barley, the Delaware brewers turned to sorghum syrup to fuel this fruit-forward gluten-free offering that’s flavored with strawberries and sweetened with a bit of buckwheat honey. Tweason’ale is by turns sweet and tart, and it’ll ably slay thirst on a sunny afternoon.
Omission Beer: Lager
What’s left out of Omission? Well, the beer is made from low-protein barley treated with an enzyme that breaks down gluten and proteins. While Omission beers are below the established cutoff line for gluten-free products, they can’t be labeled as such. Nonetheless, the pale ale is a hoppy pleasure, the IPA is smooth and piney, and the crisp lager is made with Citra hops for a touch of tropical complexity. (Keep an eye out for San Diego’s forthcoming Duck Foot, which also makes gluten-removed beer.)
Harvester Brewing: IPA No. 2
Portland, Oregon, may be chockablock with innovative breweries, but few embrace the gluten-free mission quite like Harvester, which turns locally grown chestnuts, fruit, and hops into a kaleidoscopic array of ales. Among the standouts are the citrus-forward Pale Ale, the chocolaty Dark Ale, and the intensely hoppy IPA No. 2—currently, the hoppiest gluten-free beer commercially produced.
Epic Brewing Company: Glutenator
To craft Glutenator, the Salt Lake City, Utah-based brewery dialed up a blend of brown rice, sweet potatoes, molasses and millet. Add in a boatload of citrusy and floral American hops, and you have a balanced, bitter-and-sweet brew with a light body and moderate carbonation.
New Planet Gluten Free Beer: Raspberry Ale
After being diagnosed with celiac disease, beer lover Pedro Gonzalez founded Colorado’s New Planet. The trio of releases includes the hoppy Pale Ale, light-bodied Blonde Ale and Raspberry Ale. The sorghum syrup supplies a tangy edge that’s balanced by sweetening corn, while orange peel and Oregon raspberry purée provide a delicately fruity nose.
Lakefront Brewery: New Grist
New Grist was America’s first gluten-free beverage that the U.S. government permitted to carry the name “beer.” Its creation was spurred by a call from a doctor lamenting his gluten intolerance, which led Lakefront president Russ Klisch to create this straw-colored libation made from sorghum and rice. It tastes lightly lemony, with an aroma of hay and cloves. Can’t find Lakefront’s offering? The sorghum-driven Bard’s Gold is a good backup.
Glutenberg: India Pale Ale
A few months after launching in late 2011, the Montreal-based brewery swept the gluten-free category at the prestigious World Beer Cup for its chestnut-driven Red, dry and citrusy Blonde, and lightly bitter American Pale Ale made with millet, buckwheat, and quinoa. Equally of note is the floral, fruity India Pale Ale, which counts black rice and corn as ingredients. Bonus points for the can format, ideal for backyard BBQs and beaches alike.
Steadfast Beer Co.: Oatmeal Cream Stout
By and large, most gluten-free beers stick to lighter-hued styles like IPAs, lagers, or pale ales. Not so Steadfast, of Albany, N.Y. Sure, the brewery makes the finely fruity Golden Blonde Ale and floral Sorghum Pale Ale, but the Oatmeal Cream Stout sets Steadfast apart. Made with well-roasted oats, the inky stout is a silky indulgence. Look for its release in October.