What would you do if you could not drink beer?
Most gluten-free beer is brewed using sorghum, a cereal grass traditionally used for brewing in many African countries. Sorghum beers tend to have a slightly sweet taste.
I’m not talking about finding yourself in a dry county on a Sunday afternoon or in the “family section” at a minor league baseball park. I mean, what if having a beer would cause you to have an almost immediate negative physical reaction?
My son-in-law, Mike Wirth, has celiac disease. Basically, it means he cannot enjoy anything made with grains. No pasta. No bread. And, sadly, no beer. His body does not tolerate gluten, a protein found in grains. Exposure to wheat, rye, barley and triticale in food and beverages causes a severe allergic reaction in people with the disease. Estimates are that 3 million people in the United States have celiac disease, even though more than 90 percent have not been correctly diagnosed.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, exposure to gluten creates an immune-mediated toxic reaction that causes damage to the small intestine and does not allow food to be properly absorbed. The good news is that some food manufacturers and brewers see people who cannot tolerate gluten as an underserved market. Where there is an opportunity to make money, corporate America will usually step up.
While gluten-free beers are not quite mainstream when it comes to availability, a major step forward occurred in 2006, when Anheuser-Busch launched Red Bridge. The next year, gluten-free beers showed up as a category at the Great American Beer Festival. At the 2008 GABF, 10 beers were entered in the Gluten Free category. Red Bridge won the gold, New Grist from Lakefront Brewery took the silver and Chinquapin Butte Golden from Deschutes Brewery took the bronze.
Most gluten-free beer is brewed using sorghum, a cereal grass traditionally used for brewing in many African countries. Sorghum beers tend to have a slightly sweet taste. If your taste in beer favors doppelbocks, gluten free beers are worth a try. If you lean towards imperial IPAs, the gluten-free beers we tasted will be too far towards the sweet side. During the Great Depression, sorghum syrup was actually substituted for more expensive maple syrup.
According to Russ Klisch, president of Lakefront Brewing in Milwaukee, his company started brewing New Grist in 2005 partly because his head brewer’s father suffered from celiac disease. Klisch was interested in brewing extreme beers using different ingredients, so New Grist was born using sorghum and rice extract.