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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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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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 Gluten-free 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.

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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

    Amen! My sentiments exactly.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    Harvester gluten-free beer tastes like actual beer and does not make celiacs sick. Problem... SOLVED!!!

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    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.

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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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