Limited gluten free beer options present an opportunity for BC Craft Brewers
Many of us know someone who is gluten free, gluten intolerant, or who suffers from Celiac and who can’t have beer without feeling ill or worse. Some of these folks may have enjoyed beer in the past and bemoan their inability to drink the sweet barley nectar any longer. If they’re lucky, these folks can find gluten-free beer at their local liquor store or bottle shop.
A friend of mine will often drink one of the few gluten-free beer options available when he feels like drinking beer. Unfortunately there are not all too many options for someone so inclined, and those that are the most popular are Glutenberg Brewing out of Québec, or Omission out of Portland, Oregon. For anyone who is looking for gluten free beer, these two brands are often top of the list, or indeed may be the only options they’ve seen. While they may not be the only options available, they are certainly the most popular.
Glutenberg as the made-in-Canada option has certainly set the bar high in the gluten-free beer market. With two readily available brews in BC – the Blonde Ale and the Red Ale – they are already providing some much needed spice into what is a fairly lacklustre market. Glutenberg has now added two more styles to their lineup through their new mixer pack. By adding an IPA and an American Pale Ale to their core list they are certainly offering more choice to anyone who wants to drink beer yet cannot do so for dietary reasons.
Furthermore, Glutenberg offers consumers even more options through their Série Gastronomie, with the brewery making Saisons and barrel aged Brown and Golden ales, all made gluten free and with other interesting adjunct ingredients. Sadly for any gluten free beer lovers outside of Québec, these special beers are only available in La belle province currently, although many of us are hoping they will start to offer these limited beers in other provinces soon.
Speaking of interesting ingredients, gluten free beers are often made with different, gluten free grains and other adjuncts to emulate the aromas, flavours, and textures of the style of beer they’re brewing. Who knew that it was possible to make good tasting beer using ingredients such as buckwheat, millet, corn, quinoa, black rice, and amaranth?
However, the main concern so many beer drinkers have is that these beers, made as they are with so many unusual grains and adjuncts, are simply not going to taste like beer and are therefore a poor substitute. In the case of Glutenberg and Whistler Brewing at least, the flavours and texture are indeed very close to the desired flavours sought by the styles they’re trying to emulate.
The Forager from Whistler Brewing, for example, is as light as you’d expect from a Lager-style beer. The beer is made with sorghum and rice, and is slightly darker than a typical lager. The main difference between Forager and a normal craft lager made with barley is that the Forager has a distinct residual sweetness and lacks some of the crispness many drinkers seek out in their lager-style beers. In spite of this, the Forager is an admirable and acceptable substitute if you’re looking for a BC-brewed gluten free option.
With Glutenberg’s four beer options – American Pale Ale, Blonde, India Pale Ale, and Red – and their efforts at refining the flavour profiles of their beers, they are certainly ahead of the game in terms of flavour.
Their new IPA, for instance, provides plenty of dank hop flavours, along with a moderate bitterness level. There is a slightly sweeter tone to the flavour but without knowing it was a gluten free beer most drinkers would likely attribute this to being a malt-forward IPA.
Similarly, Glutenberg’s other options hit very close to the mark and are nearly indistinguishable from the styles they’re recreating. The APA is surprisingly malty with a distinctly herbal hop character and notes of dill. The Red Ale shows plenty of the caramel and roasted tones expected of most any classic Irish-style red ale. The Blonde Ale has a lingering honey note, yet drinks just like a golden ale with some grassy hop tones. Expect many seasoned beer drinkers to struggle to tell the difference between any of these beers and ‘the real thing’.
In the beer category of gluten free products, Whistler’s Forager is the only BC-made beer at the time of this writing; offerings from other breweries are strangely absent. For gluten-free drinkers the limited beer options available means that cider and white wine may be the only alternatives when they wish to imbibe a non-spirit-based bevvy.
But hope is not lost for beer drinkers that are looking for gluten-free alternatives and that are open to cider. A number of breweries and cideries are now producing hopped ciders to bridge the cider-beer gap and there are definitely some good ones out there. Central City Brewing was one of the first in BC to bring out a hopped apple cider in their Hopping Mad. A fairly crisp cider, Hopping Mad has that delicious hop aroma that many of us crave in our beer. For a number of gluten-free beer lovers, Hopping Mad or similar styles of cider are certainly a viable alternative.
Then there is always straight-up apple or pear cider, of which there is plenty on offer in BC. With many making their ciders gluten free there are quite a few options available. Left Field Cider out of Logan Lake, BC also makes a dry-hopped version similar to Hopping Mad called the Bunk House, in addition to their mainstay ciders the Big Dry, the Little Dry, and the Pear Dry.
While there are certainly gluten free options available, the relative scarcity of gluten free beers would seem to present an opportunity within the burgeoning craft beer industry in BC. With the explosion of breweries in the province, and with a growing number of drinkers that are conscious of their gluten intake, a brewery that makes at least one – let alone makes exclusively gluten-free beers – would certainly be well-placed to collect some of that market from the current players.
Thankfully with companies like Glutenberg, and Whistler Brewing – among many of the other US and international breweries that are producing a gluten-free or gluten-removed beer in their product line – there are at least some options that a gluten-free beer drinker can rely upon when a beer is the only drink that can slake their thirst.