Gluten free has become all the rage in the last two decades, and in the last few years the number of restaurants, cafes, and food and drink brands that have begun to offer gluten free options has skyrocketed.
But who ever thought that beer would be gluten free?
It’s actually much easier than you realize to brew gluten free beer, and it can be both helpful for your clients with severe disease and for those just looking for a change in their diet or a new flavor and aroma profile.
What Is Gluten?
The best way to understand gluten is to think of glue. It is the naturally occurring substance in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale that help those foods maintain their shape.
Gluten holds foods together.
Indeed, some processed foods actually add gluten to keep the snacks together or to create a thickness quality for texture. Things like soup, sauce, and salad dressings often have gluten in the form of added flour.
What’s the Problem with Gluten?
For some people, gluten can cause discomfort or inflammation in small ways. For others, it can create severe illness.
Celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance. It is estimated that 1 in 100 people worldwide have celiac disease, which is a genetic predisposition to gluten intolerance. When gluten is introduced to the bodies of those with celiac disease, the body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine, which damages the lining. Once the lining is damaged, nutrients cannot be properly absorbed by the body.
The long-term effect of untreated celiac disease is a greater risk of coronary artery disease and an even greater risk of developing bowel cancers. Untreated celiac disease can also lead to the development of autoimmune disorders like diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
The only treatment for celiac disease is to avoid all gluten.
For those with severe celiac disease, even a small amount of gluten can send them to the hospital with intense vomiting, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal problems.
For many other people, while celiac disease is not an issue, a gluten intolerance is.
Conditions like a gluten sensitivity or a wheat allergy can lead to mild but still irritating and painful health problems like headaches, fatigue, skin problems, and even anxiety.
Gluten Free Is the Way to Be… For Some
Thus, with such a high percentage of the population requiring a gluten free diet, it is no wonder why so many foods and beverages are catering to this crowd.
While there is absolutely no reason to go gluten free if you don’t have a sensitivity, and it can actually be harmful to cut out the nutrients in gluten products without knowing how to replace them, it won’t hurt anyone to have a gluten free pizza or a gluten free beer.
It is also not difficult to follow a strict gluten free diet if you eat and drink only whole foods.
Likewise, it is not difficult at all to make gluten free beer if you are a brewer interested in catering to the GF crowd.
Brewing Gluten Free Beer
Where it’s very easy to brew gluten free beer is in the selection of grains.
All you need to do is brew with a grain other than wheat, rye, or barley.
Grains Used for Gluten Free Beer:
The most common among these choices is rice, but, like with any brewing process, it comes down to what is available to you in large amounts, and down to experimentation.
You will have to brew and explore.
Where it gets tricky to brew gluten free beer is in the malting.
While you may be able to find grain, you may not always be able to find that grain malted.
And malting is the key to extracting the sugar from the grain to get the yeast to ferment your beer.
So it will take some research and dedication to find the right grain for you that is also malted.
Malting Your Grain
Of course, you can always buy your grain unmalted and malt it yourself.
This process requires you to sprout your grains and then dry them.
Soak the grains for a few days, flushing and aerating every 8 hours.
Continue until the grains begin to sprout.
Then spread them out to dry with a dehydrator.
Finally, kiln your grains gently in an oven on low heat.
You’ve malted your grains!
Now you can crack them, boil and steep them, and add the yeast.
You can play around with your temperatures and whether you want to add an extract like sorghum syrup to get a bit more sugar into your wort for yeast fermentation. This will allow you to remain gluten free but also produce the ideal “beer” flavor and aroma.
Be Mindful of Additives
If you decide to add anything else to your beer, be mindful that those ingredients do not have gluten and have not been exposed to gluten.
Oats are a great example of a food that is naturally gluten free, but if they have been grown near a gluten plant like wheat, can contain gluten.
Fortunately, hops are gluten free, so hop away.
Gluten Free Beers on the Market Today
To begin exploring your gluten free brewing options, it can be helpful to taste what the competition has to offer.
Current popular gluten free breweries in the market include:
- Alt Brew, Wisconsin, USA
- Anheuser Busch
o Redbridge Lager
- Bard’s Tale, Minnesota, USA
- Ghostfish Brewing, Washington, USA
- Estrella Damn Daura, Spain
- Green’s Amber Ale, Belgium
- Glutenberg IPA, Canada
And that’s just the beginning!
Remember, experiment, try new things, both when you’re out drinking and when you’re home or in your brewhouse brewing.
Like any craft, this one takes practice to get it perfect.
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- Anna-Sophie Hager, Josh P.Taylor, Deborah M.Waters, Elke K. Arendt, Gluten free beer – A review, Trends in Food Science & Technology, Volume 36, Issue 1, March 2014, Pages 44-54