Gluten Free Beer: Discovering the Options

 

Ipswich's Celia, Element's Plasma and Glutenburg American Pale Ale

I’ve always eaten whatever I want, from ants to Uni, and all the more mainstream foods too. I grew up in a family famous for massive plates of steaming pasta and the ubiquitous bowl of warm bread to sop up the sauce my mom made. I’ve loved beer and wine equally as an adult; but more recently, beer was my focus as local craft brewers began popping up and producing amazing brews both traditional and far out.

However, over the past few years, I’ve had some digestive challenges that have forced me to change what I eat and drink. Based on elimination diets, I’ve learned my body has difficulty processing gluten, among other things. After several months of attempting to remove gluten from my diet, I feel great empathy for anyone who must remove one or more food categories from their diet.

No pasta, no bread, no beer, no crackers, no cakes, no cookies, no cannoli. Yes there are substitutes and some are very good, but corn or rice pasta doesn’t come close to traditional durum wheat pasta. Bread is one of the biggest challenges. Sometimes all I want is a slice of good levain toasted up and slathered with great butter… not gonna happen. Similarly, all I want is a cold glass of beer.

Luckily, all is not lost… beer is one area where I’ve found some pretty good gluten-free options. I’ll write future posts about other gluten-free foods I enjoy, but for this post, I’ll stick to beer. Here are three of my favorites:

  • Glutenberg American Pale Ale from Brasseurs Sans Gluten – balanced, bitter yet approachable
  • Celia Saison from Ipswich Brewing Company – aromatic, rich and flavorful
  • Plasma Sake IPA from Element Brewing Company – crisp with sweet rice and mild hop notes
Ipswich's Celia, Element's Plasma and Glutenberg American Pale Ale

L-R: Celia, Plasma and Glutenberg’s American Pale Ale

Glutenberg’s American Pale Ale is brewed by Brasseurs Sans Gluten, or BSG, in Montréal Canada and is made using water, millet, buckwheat, corn, candy syrup, demerara sugar, quinoa, hops and yeast. ABV is 5.5%. The ingredients seem strange right away because you’ve got your grain substitutes in there, and in place of the malt they simply add sugars. The result is a surprisingly balanced, if a bit sweet, American Pale Ale. From the can I poured, I found that it had a distinctly floral nose with a bit of soapiness to it, a creamy head with nice texture on my palate, and a pronounced bitter finish.

Celia Saison Originally brewed in Vermont at the Alchemist Brewery, the recipe was created for the brewer’s wife who had a gluten intolerance. Eventually, brewing was transferred to the Ipswich Brewery who continues to brew it today. Its ingredients are sorghum, water, Celeia hops, Curacao orange peel and Belgian yeast. It has an ABV of 6.5. It pours out with a beautiful copper color with a rapidly disappearing head. It may sound strange, but on my most recent tasting, the aroma reminded me of root beer with a light citrus touch. Celia has the most compelling nose of the three and while it struck me as Belgian in style, it offered sweeter notes than I would expect from a typical Belgian Saison. On the palate it was more prickly carbonation than creamy and it had a richness and density that the others lacked.

The Plasma Sake IPA from Element Brewing in Millers Falls, MA is a recent addition to the shop’s gluten-free offering and takes a different approach in both ingredients and bottling. It was the highest ABV I tasted, at 9.33%. It is made using brown rice, malted millet, malted buckwheat and Aramis hops. Given the higher ABV and a slightly cloudy pour, this was a surprisingly clean and crisp drink. The packaging indicates this beer is unpasteurized, unfiltered and bottle conditioned which certainly captures some of the buzzwords of other high quality brewers. The aromatic elements were barely there with just a hint of floral hops. On the palate the full, creamy carbonation was notable and the flavors were distinctly sweet brown rice with a mildly bitter floral note along top. The sweeter rice notes changed to more alcoholic sake notes with a tinge of bitterness.

All three of these beers are good options for anyone who wants to avoid gluten. To my taste they are all a bit sweeter than I like my beer to be, but when I crave a beer, these fit the bill nicely without all of the glutenesque after-effects.

Gluten free beer head

Tim Bucciarelli oversees general operations at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge and manages Formaggio Kitchen Online.