Even as recently as five years ago, gluten-free beer choices were pretty dire. Gluten-free guys and gals amongst us were stuck with some unpalatable choices. Many of those with celiac disease or other gluten intolerances often made the understandable choice to make the switch to wine or spirits.
But with the rise of the Gluten-Free trend and the increased awareness of gluten-related conditions like Celiac’s Disease, how things have changed! Gluten-free and gluten-reduced beers are now starting to rival traditional brews in terms of creativity, flavor, and after taste. While not every offering is worth your time, you can easily find some satisfying suds free from wheat, barley and grains.
First: what exactly is the difference between gluten-free and gluten-reduced?
Truly gluten-free beers are made with gluten-free grains, such as buckwheat, millet, sorghum, and quinoa. These alternative grains create those beers’ more unusual flavour on the palate.
Scientists studying gluten sensitivities have agreed that under 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten is safe for almost all people with gluten-related conditions, including Celiac’s Disease. Thus, in order to be listed as “gluten-free,” all gluten-free beers must meet this strict requirement.
Important note! Remember that people with serious gluten intolerances may still have a reaction to some gluten free beers due to risks of cross-contamination at the production facility.
What about gluten-reduced beer?
Gluten-reduced beer refers to beers made from “regular grains” (e.g., wheat, barley or rye – all which contain gluten), but which have had their gluten “broken down” by enzymes. This means there is still gluten in the beer, but the pieces are smaller and believed to be too small to be detected by your body as gluten .U.S. government restrictions prevent brewers from labelling these beers as “gluten-free” –however, they are legally allowed to label them as “gluten-reduced,” providing that they they pass the same tests that show they contain less than 20 ppm gluten.
Our favorite Gluten-Free and Gluten-Reduced beers
Without further ado, and in no particular order of preference (they’re all pretty great!), here is our list:
1. Celia Saison (Gluten-free)
Ipswich Ale Brewery
You may have heard of The Alchemist, a brewery based in Waterbury, Vermont. They are responsible for the legendary Heady Topper, considered one of the best American IPAs. Demand for it is huge, so at times it’s almost impossible to get your hands on one. What does that have to do with this beer? Well, it was The Alchemist’s founder, Jon Kimmich, that developed the recipe for Ipswich Ale’s Celia Saison – so in terms of craft beer pedigree, that’s pretty impressive. Note also its clever name: it actually uses Celia hops and simultaneously references those with Celiac Disease – their target customer. Celia Saison is a sorghum-based, Belgian-inspired summery beer with just a touch of orange on the palate.
The Burning Brothers take their unusual name from the former careers of founders Dane Breimhorst and Thom Foss. The two met as fire eaters in the circus! They rekindled (get it?) their friendship over a shared passion for home brewing. When Breimhorst was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, they decided to launch this completely gluten-free brewery. With a whole host of year-round and seasonal brews (including 2 IPAs), their Roasted Coffee Strong Ale truly stands out from the crowd.
Easily available all over the country, Dogfish Head Brewery is a mainstay on the craft beer scene. They also happen to brew a pretty amazing gluten-free beer, made with sorghum. The Tweason’ale is released quarterly (between their seasonal offerings) and has gluten-free beer lovers lining up to stock their coolers. It is flavored with strawberries and a touch of buckwheat honey, giving it a sweet flavor and making this is a seriously drinkable beer.
4. RedBridge Lager (Gluten-free)
Well, we all knew that the macro breweries would get in on the gluten-free trend, and Anheuser-Busch has answered the call. Their RedBridge lager is made with sorghum, and to be honest, it just doesn’t taste that different from their typical lager offerings. Is this a compliment? Probably not. That said, if you are looking for a basic, pretty low-cost gluten-free beer to quaff at a BBQ or the beach, this is a good go-to.
5. Codename: Superfan (Gluten-reduced)
Odd13 Brewing is dedicated to staying ahead of the curve on gluten-reduced beers, in great part because owner Ryan Scott’s beer-loving wife Kristen has a gluten allergy. To get gluten-free beer lovers in on the hazy IPA trend, they have crafted their Codename: Superfan. It is a cloudy, hazy and juicy burst of hops that could do battle with any regular hazy IPA on the market.
6. Delicious IPA (Gluten-reduced)
Stone is beloved across America and Europe and has been producing some seriously great IPAs for more than 20 years. Their Delicious IPA does what it says on the can – it is a gluten-reduced beer that tastes damn delicious! A blend of Lemondrop and El Dorado hops means that this gluten-reduced IPA is bright and citrusy. It has less than 10 parts of gluten per million, meaning that it is well below the FDA’s gluten-free maximum of 20 ppm.
Ground Breaker is committed to using local produce and ingredients out of their home town of Portland. They use Oregon hops and fruit in their wide range of celiac-friendly beer. While their Pale Ale and Dark Ale are good, they are really known for their stand-out IPAs. They have five on rotation, all with different levels of hoppiness. If you happen to be in Portland, make sure you stop by their fully gluten-free Gastropub for burgers, pizzas, and of course – more beer.
8. Glutenberg IPA (Gluten-free)
Anyone who is particularly concerned about even the slightest trace of gluten needs to check out the Glutenberg Brewery. Based out of Montreal, this is a 100% gluten-free facility that caters to a wide fan base of grateful celiac sufferers and beer lovers alike. Their IPA is the standout, made from corn, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, and black rice, all hopped up with some floral and citrus notes. This one is worth seeking out!
Another macro brewery makes this list, owing to its ubiquity and ease of access. The Spanish S.A. Damm, famous for their ubiquitous Estrella Damm, brews their award-winning Daura with barley malt and then removes the gluten with enzymes, leaving this beer has a robust, malty flavour. This beer has racked up a ton of awards since its launch in 2006!