Oh, how I’ve missed you—your green onion spiciness, garlicky twang, and citrusy boldness that can come only from a delicate flower blessed with alpha acids and myrcene oil in the highest. In the past, I’ve been able to wallow in your loveliness by way of Oskar Blues’ Gubna and Deviant Dale’s, New Belgium’s Ranger, and Founders Devil Dancer. I believed those joyous times with Summit now to be mere vestiges of a delicious and satisfying frolicking—a cherished relationship now torn apart by an intolerance of a certain protein found in Ninkasi’s grains deemed suitable only for a goddess. Gluten is her name, and frailty, thy name is my digestive system. (Celiac disease, a gluten intolerance, and a gluten allergy, all of which hinder a person’s ability to process nutrients, affects more than 2 million people in the United States, or about 1 in 133 people). [1]

But much to my delight, Omission’s latest offering, “the first authentic gluten-free IPA brewed with malted barley to hit the market,” has come as my saving grace. Several breweries, including Green’sDogfish HeadEpicThe Alchemist, and New Planet, craft gluten-free beers using sorghum, rice, and millet in the grain bill. Harvester, a dedicated gluten-free brewery in Portland, OR, even uses locally-grown chestnuts and oats in their beers for celiac sufferers, those intolerant of or allergic to the protein, and folks who may simply want to reduce the amount of inflammatory substances in their diets. Omission, however, still uses the malted barley of traditional, glutenous beer while still yielding beverages well below the 20-ppm FDA standard. How does it do this?

In addition to strict sanitization practices (Widmer brews the Omission line in the same facility as it brews its beer that contain gluten), Widmer uses a “proprietary process to remove the gluten,” according to its website. Last May, however, the brewery reveled a bit more about the process in a press release:

Brewers Clarex, an enzyme developed by DSM Food Specialties and traditionally used to prevent chill-haze in beers, is added during the brewing process. The enzyme, which has been used by craft brewers around the world as a clarifying agent since it was introduced more than five years ago, works to break down proteins, including gluten, in the beer.

Homebrewers have been using DSM’s Brewers Clarex and White Labs’ Clarify-Ferm product to craft gluten-free beers for years. Why haven’t commercial brewers ditched the alternative cereal grains for the real stuff like Omission and homebrewers the world over? [2] Politics. My colleague Andy Crouch outlined the issues after last year’s GABF in a piece that brought to light policies that have hindered the quality and the availability of beers made especially for those people that the guidelines seek to protect. Crouch first notes the FDA’s policies from Omission’s perspective:

“According to federal guidelines, we aren’t legally allowed to claim that Omission beer is gluten-free outside of Oregon because the beer is brewed with malted barley. While the FDA proposed to define the term “gluten-free,” that definition has not been formally adopted by the organization. Part of the definition proposed in 2007, and again in 2011, states that a product may not be labeled as gluten-free if it contains “an ingredient that is derived from a prohibited grain that has been processed to remove gluten, if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food.

In other words, even though Omission’s beer tests well below the proposed 20-ppm standard of gluten-free products in the United States, Widmer can’t claim its Omission line is “gluten-free” outside of Oregon because it still uses a prohibited grain, namely barley, that has been processed to remove gluten.

Similarly, the Brewers Association Style Guidelines also exclude Omission’s beers in the gluten-free category for the same reason:

17. Gluten-Free Beer A beer (lager, ale or other) that is made from fermentable sugars, grains and converted carbohydrates. Ingredients do not contain gluten, in other words zero gluten (No barley, wheat, spelt, oats, rye, etc.). May or may not contain malted grains that do not contain gluten. Brewers typically design and identify these beers along other style guidelines with regard to flavor, aroma and appearance profile. NOTE: These guidelines do not supersede any government regulations. Wine, mead, flavored malt beverages or beverages other than beer as defined by the TTB (U.S. Trade and Tax Bureau) are not considered “gluten-free beer” under these guidelines. To allow for accurate judging the brewer must identify the ingredients and fermentation type used to make the beer, and/or the classic beer style being elaborated upon (if there is one) with regard to flavor, aroma and appearance.

That breweries cannot label and market their beers as “gluten-free” or enter these beers into competitions that use the BA’s Style Guidelines disincentivizes them to brew gluten-free beers with a traditional grain bill of malted barley, wheat, or rye. This, in turn, leads breweries to use subpar, or untasteful, ingredients to fit within these policies. “The world of defining and categorizing gluten-free products remains similarly murky and surprisingly political,” notes Crouch. “With this said,… excluding [Omission’s beers] from the world’s most celebrated beer competition that could promote drinkable beers for legions of [c]eliac and gluten intolerance sufferers seems short-sighted.”

Terry Michaelson, Widmer’s CEO, decided to start his Omission line after a celiac diagnosis thirteen years ago. He’s gone against the grain in creating highly enjoyable beer experiences for those that cannot consume high quality beers made from traditional grains, and the recently-released Omission IPA is his best offering yet. (Had I not come under the spell of a gluten intolerance, I would still happily enjoy this hop-forward delight alongside its gluten-filled cousins.) If the FDA and BA refuse to remain relevant with time, technology, and culture, let’s hope that the skilled artisans and brewery owners, like Michaelson, can rise above the tape to continue a tradition of bringing the high caliber beverages that we hold dear to everyone. [3]

Win Bassett is a writer, lawyer, and entering Yale Divinity School student. He is a former All About Beer Magazine staff member and has written for The Huffington Post, BeerAdvocate Magazine, Beer West Magazine, Serious Eats, and other publications.

He previously served as executive director of the North Carolina Brewers Guild and secretary of the North American Guild of Beer Writers. You can find him at winbassett.com and on Twitter at @winbassett.

[1] According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.

[2] Estrella Damm Daura from Spain also uses Brewers Clarex™, and in this writer’s humble opinion, remains one of the most enjoyable gluten-free lagers in the market. At least a few others agree—the beer has won gold medals at the 2011 World Beer Championships and International Beer Challenge and “World’s Best Gluten-free Lager Award” at the World Beer Awards.

[3] Because Maureen Ogle (public intellectual, historian, and All About Beer Magazine contributor) has blazed the trail in footnote use while blogging, and because I’m a former (and shortly continuing) inhabitant of academia, and because the editors of the present publication can only tolerate so many of my words before having to pour another pint, I plan to use footnotes in my pieces for further clarification and elaboration.