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  • Scott Adams
    Scott Adams

    A Word on Gluten and Beer

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 07/12/2004 - There have been numerous claims that traditional barley-based beers are gluten free or that all beers are gluten free. Unfortunately, the area is very grey and substantiated on technicalities. The purpose of this post is to eliminate the confusion about gluten as it relates to beer.

    Gluten is an umbrella term used to describe a mixture of individual proteins found in many grains. Celiac disease (celiac sprue or gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity) is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by the ingestion of some of these glutens. People with classic celiac disease are intolerant to the gluten proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt and a couple other lesser known grains. All these grains have a relative of the gluten protein. Interestingly, corn, rice and sorghum also have gluten proteins but are not toxic to celiacs. Herein lies one of the fundamental problems; the use of the term gluten intolerance to cover only certain gluten containing grains is confusing for consumers and food manufacturers alike. Unfortunately, it seems that the inertia for using celiac disease and gluten intolerance as synonyms is unstoppable. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of both consumers and manufacturers to make sure the terms being discussed are defined and understood.

    As this relates to beer, there is a gluten protein found in barley. This protein is known as hordein. Wheat gluten is known as gliadin. Rye gluten is known as secalin. Presently, assay tests (or lab tests) are only commercially available for the testing of gliadin. We are unaware of any tests for hordein or any manufacturer that presently tests for hordein (Note: If you know of anyone that does in fact test specifically for hordein, please let us know). Therefore the idea that a barley based beer can be considered gluten free based upon the lack of testing is very difficult to fathom. It should be understood that a company using an assay test for gliadin to test for hordein will not return accurate results.

    There has been widespread speculation that the brewing process eliminates these hordein proteins making all beers gluten-free. Although commercial assay tests for hordein are not available there is conclusive evidence that the brewing process does not degrade hordein to non-toxic levels. A research study in Australia on improving beer haze shows that hordein is still present in beer after the brewing process (http://www.regional.org.au/au/abts/1999/sheehan.htm). Therefore, claims that hordein or gluten is destroyed in the brewing process is unsubstantiated and clearly, based upon the Australian research, is highly questionable.

    Based upon the continuous claims by beer companies that beers are gluten free, it is clear that the issue is misunderstood and, as always, it is up to the consumer to educate them on the facts. Hopefully, the information provided here will give consumers and manufacturers alike the ability to discuss these gluten issues intelligently and effectively.

    About the author: Kevin Seplowitz is the President and Co-founder of the Bards Tale Research Company, LLC and organization that researches the correlations between nutrition, diet, and autoimmune disorders. Bards Tale Research owns and operates Bards Tale Beer Company, LLC (www.bardsbeer.com) a company that develops commercial gluten-free beers. Mr. Seplowitz is a diagnosed Celiac.


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    Though I am a celiac, I do not have any immediate reaction to consuming gluten. I love beer, but I am not sure about its contribution to my health problems.

    Yan,

    I could have said the same thing two weeks ago before I landed in the hospital with diverticulitis and a fever of 103.5 F. Diverticula don't develop overnight. The problem with gluten is, IF you have an intolerance to gluten, you may be unknowingly damaging your intestinal track. I have known for years that I have gluten sensitivity and cheated from time to time (taking communion, eating half a slice of rye toast) with little more than upper gastrointestinal gas. But the night before my major distress I visited my home town and ate stromboli. Not one bite, or two, but the whole splendid, poisonous stromboli. I will never cheat again. Never never. Not beer, not malt, not communion wafer. And in my case, I think I'm sensitive to gluten-free oatmeal so no more McCann's.

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    Home brewing gluten-free beer is a great solution. I also love beer and got back into home brewing just to make a gluten-free beer to my tastes. Be sure to see Homebrewtalk for great suggestions. Clarity Ferm can crack the gluten related proteins in barley-only beers, but there is debate as to its completeness for celiacs. One test with it seemed to solve the issue for me, but another test batch it did not.

     

    Browning a couple of grains at home is used to favor the beer since a straight sorghum-malt beer tastes a bit odd. A couple of standard beer drinkers like my brew, which of course I do as well. However, a chance to try a full barley beer is a real joy.

     

    BTW: Bard's beer is a decent gluten-free beer similar to some types of Adams beer. Both of which are too bitter for my tastes. Commercial craft beers seem to prefer bitter hops over aromatic hops. Home brewing solves this issue since I can dry hop the beer for great aroma and no bitterness.

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    I get a migraine when I eat anything with a significant amount of wheat in it, like pasta or a sandwich. I can eat small amounts but I get an uncomfortable "histaminey" reaction and after several days of eating small amounts I get the migraine. But I can drink real beer (the darker the better) a couple times a week, or even two in one day, and I don't get the same reaction. The mass produced crap lite beer crap makes me ill though. Anybody know what my problem is? (I don't.)

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    "People with classic celiac disease are intolerant to the gluten proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt and a couple other lesser known grains."

    Might be good to know of the "couple other lesser known grains." I guess you don't.

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    There are so many sorghum based beers to choose from (at least in Phoenix) that it isn't worth it for me to suffer normal beer. Plus, vodka is completely gluten free.

    Not all vodka is gluten free. Sometimes once the vodka has been distilled some companies add mash back into the product for flavor and thus adding glutens back into the product. I would do some research on that if I were you.

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    Not all vodka is gluten free. Sometimes once the vodka has been distilled some companies add mash back into the product for flavor and thus adding glutens back into the product. I would do some research on that if I were you.

    This is a common myth, but they would never do this after distillation as it would not be clear. The quality of vodka is determined by how many times and its method of distillation.

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  • About Me

    Celiac.com's Founder and CEO, Scott was diagnosed with celiac disease  in 1994, and, due to the nearly total lack of information available at that time, was forced to become an expert on the disease in order to recover. Scott launched the site that later became Celiac.com in 1995 "To help as many people as possible with celiac disease get diagnosed so they can begin to live happy, healthy gluten-free lives."  In 1998 he founded The Gluten-Free Mall which he sold in 2014. He is co-author of the book Cereal Killers, and founder and publisher of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.

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