Celiac.com 11/04/2011 - For many folks, fall means changing leaves, crisp weather, football, and beer. Or just crisp weather and beer. Fortunately, for those with gluten sensitivities, the explosion of diagnoses for celiac disease and gluten-intolerance has given rise to an explosion of gluten-free products, including a number of gluten-free beers.
Gluten-free beers have often lacked depth compared to their wheat and barley-infused cousins, and sorghum, a key grain in many gluten-free beer recipes, imparts a distinctly tart flavor. Some gluten-free brewers try to offset the tartness of the millets by using various malts. Others use corn, rice and sugars in place of sorghum.
Writer Harold Swaney, together with is wife, Erin, and good friend, Kit Hansen, recently set out to do some taste assessments of gluten-free beers. He gathered all the gluten-free beers from all the breweries he could find. In total, they tasted twelve beers by seven brewers.
The trio tasted Toleration Ale, Redbridge Gluten Free Sorghum Beer, New Planet's Off the Grid Pale Ale, 3R Raspberry Ale, and Tread Lightly Ale, St Peter's Sorghum Beer, Bard's Sorghum Malt Beer, New Grist Beer, and Green's Gluten Free Dubbel Dark Ale, Tripel Blonde Ale, and Amber Ale.
First up was Redbridge, by Anheuser-Busch. Redbridge is a gluten-free version of a basic American-style lager, made from sorghum, hops, gluten-free yeast. Swaney writes that Redbridge "a clean beer with solid body and nice, subtle finish; the lack of a real sorghum bitter finish." The trio gave Redbridge a thumbs up.
Next came New Grist, Lakewood Brewery's offering of sorghum, hops, rice and gluten-free yeast grown on molasses. All three tasters were unimpressed. Swaney wrote that New Grist has a "very light body and is eminently forgettable," with one taster comparing it to a "very light, carbonated sake."
After New Grist came Bards Sorghum Malt Beer, which is brewed from sorghum, yeast and hops.
Swaney writes that Bards is "strong up front, with notes of caramel and fruit. But, unlike most gluten-free beers that have a distinctly bitter finish, Bards has really no finish. Overall with a solid malt backbone and a nice body." He calls Bards a "respectable gluten-free beer."
Next came three beers brewed by Green's. All three use millet, buckwheat, rice, sorghum, hops and yeast.
Of Green's Dubbel Dark Ale, Swaney writes that it has "a slight sorghum finish, but it is sweet up front and passes nicely for a Belgian-style dubbel." Of the Tripel Blonde Ale has notes "fruit up front and…the characteristic mouthfeel of a true tripel." Swaney reserves his highest accolades for Green's Amber Ale, a medium-bodied ale with "notes of caramel," very little sorghum finish, that he calls "the most balanced of the three."
The group next sampled Toleration from Nick Stafford's Hambleton Ales in England, which is crafted from Challenger, Liberty and Cascade hops, top-fermenting yeast and specially prepared sugars. Swaney wrote that Toleration "didn't taste much like beer. More like a slightly hoppy barleywine. It had an aroma of dates and figs and was very sweet, but it had almost no carbonation." His wife, Erin, "compared it to a port."
Next up was New Planet's Off the Grid Pale Ale, 3R Raspberry Ale, and Tread Lightly Ale. All three are made with sorghum, hops and yeast. The Pale Ale adds brown rice extract and molasses, 3R Raspberry Ale adds corn extract, natural Oregon raspberry puree, and orange peel, while Tread Lightly Ale adds corn extract, and orange peel.
Among the New Planet offerings, Swaney had the highest regard for Off the Grid Pale Ale. He commended its "malty backbone and hoppy finish." saying that it was "hard to tell it was a gluten-free beer." Swaney says his friend, Kit, who had not tasted a real beer for four years, was "blown away by how much it reminded him of a true pale ale."
Swaney characterizes Tread Lightly Ale as "a very light beer with a distinct sorghum finish," while the 3R Raspberry Ale is a very carbonated, light ale that evokes a raspberry cider.
St. Peters, which is made with Sorghum, hops, water. Swaney notes that folks who like European lagers will like this beer. "It starts very bitter, with a distinct grassy aroma," he says, noting that St. Peter's is "definitely a beer that paired well with food."