Gluten intolerance is something that I was aware of, but do not know much about.
It wasn’t until a class colleague — Jeanette Minshall — started blogging about it that I took more of an interest. She asked me about “gluten-free beer” a couple months ago and I did not have the foggiest idea about it. Turns out there are products available, and there is also a Wikipedia page. We chatted about doing some collaborative posting on the topic.
For starters, I didn’t even know that beer has gluten. I didn’t think about it. And I guess I would just assume that it’s removed during the brewing process or that the chemistry is somehow altered to neutralize the gluten. But it makes perfect sense: other ingredients (like dairy) in recipes remain an issue for people who cannot tolerate them, so why wouldn’t it be so with gluten as well?
Apparently gluten-free beer is made by using cereal grains that don’t contain gluten or proteins that trigger a reaction in people with a gluten intolerance. This piques my curiosity, because the first thing I wonder is how the beer tastes.
In Jeanette’s blog post titled The Beer Controversy, she wrote:
There’s a lot of disagreement over beer containing gluten. Some beer producers claim that all beer is gluten free because the hordein protein (gluten) found in the barley is destroyed in the brewing process. The problem is that there is no commercially available lab test for hordein protein, only for gliadin protein found in wheat. So there is no way to test to find out if beer contains gluten and/or if the gluten in eliminated in the brewing process.
Personally I have never been able to drink beer. In university people were always amazed at how I could nurse one beer the entire night. Beer always made me feel overfull. All it took was a couple sips and I really couldn’t drink more. I literally had to force it down.
There are several gluten free beers available in Canada. There’s only one option at the Beer Store, La Messagere, it’s from Quebec. There are three varieties and they are brewed using gluten free products: rice, buckwheat and millet. Several varieties are offered by the LCBO: Bards, LaMessagere, Lakefront, Nickel Brook, and St. Peter’s. Not all varieties are available at all locations so you’ll need to check online for a store near you.
This past weekend I tried the La Messagere Blonde. This one is made from rice and buckwheat, it was the only offering at the LCBO I visited. It’s a very light tasting beer with 4.7 % alc. so a little less than regular beer. The taste was fine by me, although I’d much prefer a glass of wine. I guess I’ve been drinking wine for so long it’s hard to change my habits. I asked a friend to try it and she said it smelled like OV (Old Vienna) and was a bit bland.
When she says not all varieties are available at all locations she’s not kidding — on my last trip to the LCBO I could only find one from the UK, and the offering from Nickel Brook that is brewed right here in Burlington. I haven’t seen many on other trips either, but I haven’t looked very hard. I tried the Nickel Brook.
Nickel Brook’s beer is not actually labelled as one, but as an “alcoholic beverage”. The website notes it is “brewed in the style of a classic Pale Ale” and that it’s made from “a blend of Sorghum, Demerara Sugar and Pear Juice, which is then balanced with classic Pale Ale hoping” (typo there; it should probably say “hopping” though they’re no doubt “hoping” people will enjoy it)
It has a pale golden colour, without a very thick head though it bubbles nicely from the bottom of the glass. It does have a beer aroma, but only vaguely; to me the scent is more fruity, a mix of honeydew melon and citrus fruit, and after reading that pear juice is used I can detect that too.
The first sip? It tastes like, well, beer. But, it also doesn’t… it’s hard to explain but it’s just different to me. I find it fairly bitter and hoppy, and the aftertaste is strong and a little tart but passes quickly. While I have a hard time defining the flavour it does match up with some pale ales, and to my palate there is a bit of a grapefruit flavouring to it. I’m not sure I’ll buy this again for myself, but bear in mind I’m not a fan of very hoppy pale ales (Nickel Brook makes quite a variety of beers though so I will be trying more of their products)
Note that it is stronger than average, at 5.8% alcohol content. I bought it in a 473ml can for $2.95 at the LCBO.
While I won’t be buying gluten-free beer very often, I will have to try the one that Jeanette did at some point, and perhaps other brands. I would hope there are a number of delicious options for those who cannot tolerate gluten, but would really enjoy a beer if they could drink it.
Please drink responsibly