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Promising New Gluten-free Beers Meet Major Standards, But Government Agency Cries Foul

Celiac.com 07/20/2012 - Many of the millions of Americans who suffer from celiac disease and gluten-intolerance are eagerly awaiting the FDA's forthcoming standards for gluten-free product labeling. Until then, different agencies may apply differing standards, often with confusing results.

Photo: CC--The Northwest Beer GuideThe recent dust-up between Widmer Bros. brewing of Oregon, one of many breweries crafting gluten-free beers, and the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau ("TTB") over the ingredients in Widmer's gluten-free brew, provides a good illustration of the confusion that can arise when different sets of standards and rules govern what can and cannot be called 'gluten-free.'

Widmer Bros. is a division of Craft Brew Alliance (CBA), the nation’s ninth’s largest brewing company, and recently unveiled two new gluten-free beers, Omission Gluten Free Lager and Omission Gluten Free Pale Ale. Unlike most gluten-free beers, which are brewed from sorghum and usually taste very different than traditional beers, Omission is made using traditional ingredients, including barley--which contains gluten.

Widmer then uses enzymes to reduce the gluten in both beers to a level that is well below the 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten threshold set by the World Health Organization for gluten-free products; the very standard likely to be followed soon by the FDA. Professional testing show gluten levels for Omission beers at just 5-6 ppm. Meanwhile, those familiar with the final products say they taste very much like traditional beers.

However, it is not the gluten levels in the beer that seems to be at issue, but the fact that Widmer begins their brewing process with barley and other traditional ingredients. According to the TTB, wine, beer or distilled spirits made from ingredients that contain gluten cannot be labeled as ‘gluten-free.’

Certainly the commonly accepted European standard of 20 ppm means that the vast majority of products labeled 'gluten-free' still contain measurable levels of gluten, a good deal of those likely above the 5-6 ppm of Widmer's beers.

For beer drinkers with celiac disease, finding a gluten-free beer that tastes like a traditional beer is like finding the Holy Grail. Given that Omission beers supposedly taste closer to traditional beers than most gluten-free beers currently on the market, and given that they come in well below the standard for products to be labeled gluten-free, there are undoubtedly a number of people with celiac disease and gluten-intolerance that are hoping Widmer will prevail in their battle against the TTB.

What do you think? Should the gluten-free standard be based on scientifically established gluten levels of the final product, or on the gluten levels in the ingredients originally used to create it? Should Widmer be allowed to label and sell their Omission beers as 'gluten-free?'

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40 Responses:

 
Issac
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said this on
20 Jul 2012 5:30:23 AM PST
As long as there are no generic modifications or chemical residues involved in removing gluten, I have no problems with this approach. Who cares?
I've yet to taste Omission, but have had (gluten-removed) Brunehaut several times and find it far superior to the 4-5 "alternative" ingredient gluten-free brews I've tried. It's just good beer.

 
gguess
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said this on
22 Jul 2012 10:38:10 AM PST
The issue is not the level of gluten left in the beer, but rather the levels of gluten fragments left. Most test methods only measure the levels of full-length gluten protein in the beer. Celiacs have issues with shorter fragments as well (any over 12 amino acids).

 
Gluten Free Beer
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said this on
22 Jul 2012 6:40:09 PM PST
I have to agree with Issac on this - gluten removed gluten free beers will always have the "holy grail" taste. As long as the product is labeled as "gluten-removed" I do not see the problem.

 
Steve Trent
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 5:44:11 AM PST
I don't have any problem with Widmer's approach to this. Currently, I use Red Bridge, a sorghum-based lite beer and find it to be very good.

 
Todd
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 6:57:26 AM PST
I literally JUST had an argument with a grocery store manager a couple days ago because they had this beer in the gluten-free section and there was zero labeling on it that said it was gluten-free (plus it said it had barley in it). He swore up and down it was gluten-free and that the government wouldn't allow the beer company to label it that way, which to me didn't make any sense AT ALL. Now I at least know why it's the way it is and happy to hear they passed the gluten-free test, so I'll be trying it out in my next grocery run, thank you!

 
Bonecrusher
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 7:13:11 AM PST
Love at first taste! Day-long diarrhea afterwards. This doesn't work for me.

 
Bonecrusher
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 7:14:11 AM PST
Love it - - then got sick. Not safe enough for me.

 
Michael
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 7:48:32 AM PST
We tend to become addicted to our poisons. Celiacs who crave the smell of wheat bread and traditional beers are addicted to gluten. I have overcome my addiction and am repulsed by such smells. My doctor says the immune system of a celiac who was diagnosed as an adult, who had the disease for many years, is going to experience a "Pavlov's dog" effect and react to wheat or barley. Besides, it's not the parts per million that will get you, it's the number of parts. What beer drinker that is going to drink this stuff is going to drink just one bottle? Someone at the TTB is smart and I side with them. Calling this the holy grail emphasizes just how addicted one is.

 
Tammy
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 7:49:29 AM PST
I think that there is valid reason that I can conjure to base the gluten-free status of a product on its start ingredients. The final product in which consumers consume the product should be the final determination. If they really want to get technical, the so called gluten-free beers that start with sorghum like Redbridge shouldn't be called beer simply because it didn't start with the traditional ingredients. I am just saying that we are entering the effects of the Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) inability or unwillingness to define what can and can not be labeled gluten-free.

 
Lauren
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 8:45:55 AM PST
Not a problem. Just say gluten removed by such and such amazing process. It sounds like beer drinkers would prefer the gluten removed to gluten-free beer.

 
Sarah
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said this on
09 Aug 2012 10:02:26 PM PST
Harvester gluten-free beer tastes like actual beer and does not make celiacs sick. Problem... SOLVED!!!

 
Gloria Brown
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 10:09:14 AM PST
The standard for any product to be consumed by those who are gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive needs to be zero ppm, and equipment capable for detecting such needs to be developed.

 
Jared M.
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 10:46:54 AM PST
Even if ultimately they aren't allowed to label it "gluten-free", they can still sell the beer, right?

 
Karen
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 11:35:02 AM PST
The TTB is acting on the public's behalf. If the company wants to profit by marketing / selling to the celiac/gluten-free community, people with a medical condition that constitute a consumer group for this product, they need to spend some of their marketing budget and do reasonably substantial, independent medical testing.

If people consuming their product over 6 months or a year verifiably have no ill effects, they have a case (and GREAT marketing) for refuting the scientific and medical community data and an accepted standard.

 
Bruce Lakin
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 12:42:08 PM PST
Bard's. New Grist. Red Bridge.

Nothing bad has ever happened to me from drinking these "beers," even when indulging in them. I will stay with these beverages I enjoy and that I know are safe for me. Beer taste is quite subjective. As the man said, parts-per-million add up, even from tasty quaff upon delicious swig.

 
Sue
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 4:10:44 PM PST
I love Bard's. I will stick with the sorghum. "Gluten removed" or " low gluten level" is not worth it to me

 
Alan
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 4:14:23 PM PST
The European standard is the problem. 'Gluten-free' shouldn't mean 'not much gluten'.

 
Kat
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 5:27:20 PM PST
I had this for the first time the other night. I was a little scared when I took a huge chug from my glass and then read the ingredients. I guess I didn't preread because it was labeled gluten-free. But it was amazing and I didn't feel sick at all so I kept going! I normally get sick from any small contamination and can tell as soon as it hits my tongue. I think European standards are way more advanced than ours... I say go for it!

 
Diana
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 5:53:56 PM PST
I agree with Lauren. The beer company should label it gluten removed for those of us who don't want to get sick like Bonecrusher did. I'm not well enough to take chances. I would have been arguing like Todd with the store manager if I saw barley on the label.

 
Robbie
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 6:05:52 PM PST
I like the lager. I tried Red Bridge and it is nasty. The Omission Beer is great and tastes great with a gluten-free pizza. I don't care how they label it, just as long as they can keep selling it. I have no problem with it and it is refreshing.

 
Janet Lund
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 6:12:23 PM PST
I believe that any product that measures ANY amount of gluten, up to the 20 ppm has come into contact with a gluten containing ingredient or it would not rate ANY gluten amount. Therefore, it should not make a difference for them.
They SHOULD have producers just PUT the PPM amount in their product On the Label and call it Low Gluten, if it has ANY AT ALL, and leave the decision up to consumers as to IF they want to risk it. Because, SOME people get ill at Less than 20 ppm

 
David Schanz
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said this on
24 Jul 2012 6:26:43 PM PST
Amen! My sentiments exactly.

 
Sarah
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said this on
09 Aug 2012 10:06:56 PM PST
Same here!

 
Heather
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 7:36:22 PM PST
I agree with them not labeling them gluten-free, because they're not. For people who are very sensitive, 5-6ppm is not ok. I'm all for finding better tasting gluten-free beer but I don't like getting sick because something labeled "gluten-free" should really be labeled "low gluten." It's like the Domino's Pizza thing all over again.

 
cine
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said this on
23 Jul 2012 8:31:48 PM PST
This sounds like it's made the same way Spain's Estrella Damm Daura is made. Estrella's tastes wonderful. The first time I had it - no problem. Second time (I think it was from another shipment), I was glutened. I did drink more of it the second time so maybe that contributed to it. But it felt like I was playing russian roulette. The guy at Wegman's told me it used to have a gluten-free label on it but it no longer does. Sounds like Omission is following in all their footsteps. Green's also makes me sick. Guess I'll have to learn to make my own mead.

 
carie cpink

said this on
23 Jul 2012 8:47:47 PM PST
Widmer's foray into gluten-free beers isn't strictly economic... the head brew master's wife is a celiac, as is the CEO of the Craft Brewer's Alliance, which gives me pause. Living in the brew capital of the US, I grew to love and appreciate a nice, hoppy IPA. A prost to Widmer! Now, get working on that IPA.

 
stillnotregistering
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said this on
24 Jul 2012 3:15:10 AM PST
I'm curious, do you have dermatitis herpetiformis, which I have read renders one senstive to even trace amounts of gluten?

 
Debbie Sadel
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said this on
24 Jul 2012 3:21:02 AM PST
I'd love to try it. I've been drinking New Grist, Redbridge and when I can afford it, Estrella Damm Daura (gluten removed) which I love because it tastes and smells like beer. Now just say this stuff is affordable and I'll be in heaven. Perhaps "gluten removed" beer would better describe it.

 
KnitYeah!
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said this on
24 Jul 2012 5:02:10 AM PST
I really don't care how they make it! But... if I drink it and it makes me sick... it isn't "gluten-free" enough for me!

 
Patti
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said this on
24 Jul 2012 7:49:26 AM PST
Redbridge contains corn syrup! Not gluten, but not good either. Yuck! This beer company actully let's you see the exact ppm on the ELISA lab test per batch. Visit the web site omissionbeer.com and you can enter the batch code that is on the bottle and see the report. Consuming gluten is the issue and sensitivities vary. Maybe TTB should label any ppm under 20ppm as gluten-low and 0 ppm as gluten free. If people are concerned about the beer, they should be concerned about all the other gluten-free products that are legally labeled gluten-free that are closer to the 20ppm. Again, it is a matter of knowing what you can tolerate, investigating, and unfortunately trial. If it triggers a gluten addiction by association, then avoid it.

 
John S
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said this on
24 Jul 2012 9:26:45 AM PST
The enzyme process may get rid of gluten per se, but if the gliadins, or perhaps peptides thereof, are present, then it could still be harmful to celiacs. So "gluten free" from gluten sources may need more than just gluten measured. I'll stick to Redbridge.

 
An Onimous
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said this on
24 Jul 2012 10:18:20 AM PST
I've only tried Red Bridge, and to me it was indistinguishable from most premium "normal" beers I've had... plus it left no bitter aftertaste in my mouth, which is rare for any style of brew (for me).

The other big challenge for g-f beer companies is to brew some at COMPETING PRICES.

There should be a clear distinction betweeen gluten-free and gluten-reduced/removed products. As for the PPM requirement of each, gluten-free must contain 0 PPM, while the latter should contain no more than the current 20 PPM standard. Each type must be properly labeled so any simpleton can differentiate between the two.

Any substances added or used and then removed for the gluten removal process must also be disclosed on the label or packaging.

 
Lee
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said this on
28 Jul 2012 3:56:08 PM PST
Estrella Damm Daura is a readily available Spanish beer (at least in the East coast US) that has 6ppm and contains barley. I am a celiac, love the beer and have had absolutely no reaction. Same goes for my 5 immediate family members with celiac who have tried it.

 
Ross
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said this on
31 Jul 2012 7:04:05 PM PST
I am a very sensitive to gluten and have no problems when drinking this beer. The pale ale is by far the best tasting gluten-free beer on the market. Their gluten-free numbers do not lie.

 
Agustin
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said this on
02 Aug 2012 6:44:06 PM PST
Gluten ppm limits:
Europe 20 ppm
Spain 10 ppm
Australia 3ppm

I think 20 ppm is too much. How much is permitted in US for being gluten free?

 
Cheryl Morris
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said this on
25 Aug 2012 6:49:16 PM PST
I am willing to give it a go! Where can I buy it in Richmond, Virginia? I have tried the Red Bridge and Bard's which are not at all like beer. I don't miss bread half as much as I miss drinking a good beer so this is good news that there is one out there that actually tastes like beer! To be fair, I agree that the label should read "gluten-removed" so that anyone who wishes to avoid it won't be accidentally tricked into trying it.

 
Meghan
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said this on
29 Sep 2012 12:28:50 PM PST
I had a horrible reaction to Omission pale ale. It tasted great and I thought I'd be fine, but my body disagreed vehemently over the next several days. Whether it's the gluten fragments or 20ppm is too much gluten for me, something in it is enough to make me react. Symptoms or no symptoms, it's the systemic inflammation I'm worried about. I'll stick with wine, sorghum beer, or go without.

 
volubilis
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said this on
04 Aug 2013 10:04:39 AM PST
I just found Omission beer and thought it was wonderful. However, I was sick for several days. I can't be absolutely sure it was the beer but I'll stay away from gluten removed beers from now on. I found this article by looking for literature about the safety of gluten removed beer. Can anyone point me in the right direction?

 
Terry
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said this on
05 Oct 2012 3:47:13 PM PST
Interesting. The Omission packaging doesn't actually say "gluten-free" -- indeed doesn't really say the word gluten anywhere -- but suggests that you can go to a website to check gluten test results. The retailer, however, has it in the gluten-free section. I wonder how FDA is going to handle something like that.

FWIW -- the beer is delicious, the pale ale particularly so. Also FWIW, I have celiac disease and don't have a notable bad reaction to it. I don't drink more than one or two, though. I suspect a 20 parts per million standard only works if you're not drinking millions and millions...

 
Troy
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said this on
01 Nov 2012 10:30:17 AM PST
Here's my deal: unless some dude fixes your gluten-free meal at a restaurant in the back of his gluten -free car, then seals it and serves it to you in another gluten-free area, you WILL be exposed to something around 20PPM just by BREATHING in most restaurants. I say the same for your local "gluten-free" products from the grocery. 20PPM is NOTHING and Omission tests WAY below that. Domino's is the biggest offender. Their so called "gluten-free" pizza is nothing but a marketing gimmick as they prep and cook it in gluten covered areas. It will most likely make you suffer a gluten reaction. I know..

Now about the fella that says it's not gluten-free, consider what I typed above. It is as gluten-free as you are going to get and still eat. If you got sick, well, maybe it was that you simply can't handle a decent beer. The stuff isn't some lightweight 3% beer. It's a 6% alcohol beer and will have the same negative effects as many other gluten-free alcoholic beverages, for better or worse.




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