Gluten-free beers at contest in Denver. Photo: CC-Bernt Rostad
Celiac.com 10/21/2010 - Jolly Pumpkin master-brewer Ron Jeffries just took home a gold medal from Denver's annual Great American Beer Festival. This is important, because the beer, Jolly Pumpkin's Belipago India Pale Ale, won in the "Specialty Beer" category against beers made with traditional malted barley. That's right, a gluten-free beer won in a respected competition against beers malted with barley. For beer lovers, and gluten-free people, and gluten-free beer lovers that is an earth-shaking achievement.

Since their debut, Jeffries and Jolly Pumpkin have racked up a slew of awards for their unique, oak-aged artisanal sour beers, including a gold medal for their Oro De Calabaza, a strong Belgian ale brewed in the Franco-Belgian tradition of a Biere De Garde.

However, Jeffries will tell you that path of Jolly Pumpkin was not an easy one.

"It's still difficult to sell sour beer, it was even more difficult seven years ago when we first opened," says Jeffries, fresh off winning a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival for his Belgian-style, gluten-free India Pale Ale, "Belipago."

Jolly Pumpkin has been well received over the years at the GABF. The fact that Jolly Pumpkin's prizes are a reflection of the beloved following the beer has developed among its legions of fans, seems like the icing on the cake for Jeffries.

"It wouldn't be a lot of fun if we won all these awards but then everybody said, 'We just don't like your beer,'" Jeffries says. "It's fantastic to have everyone enjoying the beer than to have that validated, if you will, by a group of judges. That feels pretty nice too."

Jeffries says he created Belipago as a beer for anyone to enjoy, not just a specialty beer for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. The challenge was finding a recipe that yielded a great beer without using malted barley or wheat, traditional brewing ingredients, which contain the protein gluten.

They started small, and slowly developed and improved the recipe, Jeffries says, in part because "brewing gluten-free was all new to me. I didn't really enjoy the flavor of other gluten-free beers out there. It was important to me to brew something that craft beer drinkers could enjoy."

In the end, Jeffries devised a recipe for a dry hopped, Belgian-style IPA, that incorporated sorghum, agave, chestnuts and other components. The resulting beer, Golden Manatee Belipago has a more pronounced floral hop character than most other Jolly Pumpkin beers, with hints of spice.

According to official tasting notes, the beer pours with a golden brown color with a white head, and features a huge and citrusy aroma, medium heavy mouthfeel, with an explosion of citrus and flower notes followed by a nice bitterness. The yeast was very pronounced too, very nice. Finish had more citrus and some spice. A refreshing and very good Belgian-style IPA.

On his victory, Jeffries says "I think we succeeded in accomplishing what we wanted to do with the beer. To win against regular malt beers with a gluten-free beer, that was very satisfying. I wanted to make sure that people wouldn't say, 'Well, that was good for a gluten-free beer.'"

Jeffries plans to first grow distribution for Belipago through local drafts before he moves to bottling. He explained that small technical issues remain before they can begin bottling the beer commercially, but they are working to make that happen as soon as possible.

"We have had a lot of interest about Belipago," Jeffries says.

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