Whether gluten messes with your gut or you’ve given up grains out of an allegiance to the wildly popular Paleo diet, these seven alterna-brews are worth a taste.
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Whether you’re a Paleo diet devotee, a celiac disease sufferer or just up for trying something different, gluten-free beer can be a great alternative to wheat, barley, and rye-based suds—if you approach the lighter brews with the right mindset. Don’t expect a heavy malt base, but rather a crisp, cider-like beer chockfull of flavors like orange peel, green apple, and buckwheat honey. And keep in mind that tasting one gluten-free brew doesn’t mean you’ve tried them all—like their fuller bodied craft beer counterparts, they’ve all got something different going on.
Ready to give gluten-free beer a go? We tapped experts John Holl, author of the forthcoming American Craft Beer Cookbook, and Julia Herz, Craft Beer Program Director at the Brewers Association, for the best-tasting, widely distributed brews—and then did some highly unscientific taste-testing of our own. Can’t get your hands on a gluten-free beer in your area? Ask at a local craft brewery. Turns out, many g-free beers are born out of repeat patron requests.
Bard’s gluten-free craft beer is the brainchild of two self-professed beer geeks and home brewers who were both diagnosed with celiac disease. Instead of giving up their favorite frothy beverages, Bard’s Tale Beer Company founders Kevin Seplowitz and Craig Belser began malting a celiac-safe grain called sorghum. Sorghum replaces malted barley, making Bard’s naturally gluten-free. Our take on malted sorghum: it’s not bad. Bard’s is a lighter-tasting lager with a richness that mimics traditional beer. It’s definitely one of the most authentic-tasting options on our list.
Like Bard’s, Belgium-based Green’s was born out of founder Derek Green’s celiac disease diagnosis. A full-flavored beer guy, Green got to work on Discovery Amber Ale (6% ABV), a Belgian ale with subtle caramel and nut flavors made from millet, sorghum, rice, and buckwheat. Green’s gluten-free lineup of crisp and refreshing suds also includes Quest Tripel Blonde Ale (8.5% ABV), a light, cider-like fruity brew and the richer, darker, and sweeter Endeavor Dubbel Ale (7% ABV). Just like you'd expect from a pricier Euro beer, this stuff tastes sophisticated.
“The number one thing Dogfish lovers asked for at our pub, in our brewery, and on our website? Gluten-free beer, by far,” recalls Justin Williams, who handles public relations and marketing for the brewery. “But not just any gluten-free beer—they wanted gluten-free with gusto.” And that's what they got. Here’s how Williams describes the flavors in Tweason’ale, a sorghum-based beer released four times a year in between Dogfish Head’s seasonal brews: “Hints of molasses and pit-fruit are balanced by vibrant strawberry notes and a unique complexity that comes with the addition of a malty buckwheat honey.” Um, is it 5 o’clock yet?
At the 2012 Great American Beer Festival, New Planet Brown snagged the silver medal in the gluten-free beer category, and we’re kind of excited about the Boulder-based brewery’s current lineup of sorghum-based brews. Although your girlfriend might be more into the sweeter suds than you are, here’s what’s on tap: a smooth blonde ale made with orange peel; a raspberry ale made with fruit puree; and a traditional, hoppy American-style pale ale made with molasses. “During regular and blind samplings across the country, our Pale Ale is often remarked on as being equivalent in taste to regular barley-based Pale,” notes New Planet founder Pedro Gonzalez. Two new flavors—Amber Ale and Belgian Ale—will be rolled out in late spring. Also, a portion of New Planet’s profits go toward cleaning up the environment. We’ll cheers to that.
Now let’s rewind to 2011, when Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery was taking home the silver medal for its gluten-free pilsner-style beer at the Great American Beer Festival. A simple brew made from sorghum, rice, hops, yeast, and water, New Grist is still kicking two years later. The brewers describe the flavor of the “session ale” as crisp and refreshing, both fruity and smooth, with hints of green apple.
Anheuser-Busch’s sorghum-based lager is the top-selling gluten-free beer on the market in the United States. And we had no trouble tracking down the Budweiser cousin at even the most unsophisticated beer joints. While Redbridge is by no means a grass cutting beer—you know, the cheapies you keep stocked in the fridge all summer—its fruit, hop, and grain-infused flavor is less complex than other bottles on our list. Still, the crisp and refreshing brew tastes more like a beer than a cider and didn’t make us feel overly full—so that’s a win.
Unlike the other gluten-free brews on our list, Omission isn’t made from sorghum. Instead, Portland-based Widmer Brothers Brewing makes the beer with malted barley—and then takes out the gluten. While each batch is tested to ensure the gluten concentration is deemed safe for celiacs, federal guidelines won’t let the brand boast “gluten-free” on its label. Still, the gluten extraction process, although a touchy subject for straightedge celiacs, allows Omission to cling to its authentic craft-beer taste. “This gluten-free beer makes me forget that I am drinking gluten-free beer. It tastes like a lager,” says Holl. Others agree—Omission’s current offerings—a lager (4.6% ABV) and a pale ale (5.8% ABV)—won gold and silver medals in the gluten-free category at the 2012 Great International Beer and Cider Competition.