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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

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

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    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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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    I love Bard's. I will stick with the sorghum. "Gluten removed" or " low gluten level" is not worth it to me

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    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!

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    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.

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    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.

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    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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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