This is a new horizon in brewing developments. Just as many people work a celiac-free diet into their lifestyle, one has to wonder how they survive without the traditional libation, beer.
This is a hard path to go down for many, as American lifestyles often incorporate bread in large quantities. It’s everywhere.
However, for those of us who know someone who suffers from gluten intolerance, it might be time to get the reading glasses out and start studying how to produce a gluten-free brew, just in time for summer.
This path is two-fold.
Gluten-Free vs. Gluten-Reduced
There are two ways to go here, and if you are truly brewing for someone with celiacs disease then the former is the path to take.
Gluten-reduced beer, also labeled as “crafted to remove gluten,” is becoming more common in the commercial realm.
Omission is perhaps the most prominent brewer in this realm, and Stone’s Delicious IPA would pass by any taste test with ease. You'd never know it was crafted for a specific reason like this.
Stone Delicious IPA is also fermented in a manner that breaks down and removes gluten, rendering gluten levels so significantly that the beer qualifies as a “gluten-reduced” ale per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. How is this possible?
Yeast makes for the primary catalyst in this scenario. Clarex, a proprietary yeast developed by White Labs.
When boiled wort (unfermented beer) is transferred to fermentation tanks where yeast is introduced to convert fermentable sugars to alcohol, they then add Clarex, which separates and eliminates the potentially inflammatory nature of the gluten protein chains.
The issue most people see with this path is that Gluten-reduced beer often only gluten-enzyme eliminates or rather simply breaks up the gluten protein chain into tiny, immeasurable parts.
This is the biggest issue with gluten-free beer.
The most important thing to note here is that gluten-free (GF) grains are quite different from traditional brewing grains in terms of aroma, taste, and mouthfeel, so don’t be surprised when your first batch doesn’t taste like the beer you’re used to. It's going to end up being pretty diverse.
Malted gluten-free grains (other than sorghum) are not widely available. So, you’ll either have to malt your own or find a supplier.
Here are a few of the most common GF brewing grains:
Often used as a base for barley-like recipes, sorghum is the most common GF brewing grain. The flavor profile is fairly bland and grainy, and it can produce a subtle metallic or “sour” flavor that is sometimes mistaken for an infection. Sorghum is widely available as a grain and is still one of the only GF grains available in LME form.
Millet is a common component of birdseed, but that doesn’t mean it’s just for the birds. Some of the most popular gluten-free beers are made with millet. Like sorghum, it’s pretty bland but is a bit sweeter. Millet is often used as a substitute for wheat.
Despite its name, buckwheat isn’t related to wheat at all. So brewers shouldn't use it as a substitute for wheat either. It’s not really a substitute for anything due to its strong nutty, nearly bitter flavor profile. Toasted buckwheat can be pretty intense, so use it in moderation, much like a specialty grain, it will serve as a proper adjunct grain in cases where you need a stronger flavor profile, perhaps more suited to imperial stouts that are grain free. Experiment away!
Rice is a very versatile and widely used GF brewing ingredient. While it’s relatively tasteless on its own, rice can be toasted to produce a wide range of flavors that mimic pale malt, caramel, chocolate, and even coffee malts. It's a major ingredient in large scale brewing and is often thought to be used in brews where clarity is a prime objective.
Quinoa isn’t a grain, but it is a grain-like seed that has become very popular in the last few years. Quinoa packs a pleasantly sweet and earthy flavor profile, similar to brewing with oats. It can make a great base to your recipe, but it’s not as common as the previous mentions due to its high price. It might take more of this product to impart it's flavor too.
Gluten Free Brewing and Yeast
While yeast itself does not contain gluten, but many yeast labs grow and/or store their yeast in environments containing gluten. Thus, pitching a liquid, gluten-contaminated yeast into gluten-free wort, is a no-go. Even dry yeast may contain trace amounts of gluten due to the growing environment.
Be sure to check the packaging or manufacturer’s website prior to selecting your yeast. Here are some great GF yeast options:
DanStar – All dry yeast strains are certified GF
Fermentis – All dry yeast strains are certified GF
Wyeast – Certain liquid strains (American Ale II; Bavarian Lager) are certified GF
Many brewers have access to a yeast lab and are able to make these needs known.
As this style of brewing is ever growing and becoming more popular, the technology involved is sure to grow as well. Stay tuned for more updates on this brewing style.