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How Do Gluten-free Beers Compare to Conventional Beers? 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.

"People are becoming more knowledgeable of the symptoms in which gluten can cause on one's health," said New Planet Beer Marketing Director Danielle Quatrochi, "so people are being diagnosed sooner and more often than before. There's also been a lot of press around the benefits of a gluten-free diet, opening the door for companies to add gluten-free options to their product mix."

Photo: CC--ipolinskyGluten-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.

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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."

Read Harold Swaney's full article at welcomes your comments below (registration is NOT required).

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12 Responses:

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said this on
04 Nov 2011 6:39:34 AM PST
Nice review of the beers! Having had all of them, Greens Double Dark, Greens Amber, and New Planet's Off the Grid Pale Ale are my favorites - they taste the most like a 'real beer'. The others are ok; all the New Planet's are pretty tasty, but the Pale Ale tastes the most like a beer. St. Peter's is quite bitter, and they're right that the New Hambleton doesn't really taste like a beer, but it's not unpleasant.

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said this on
07 Nov 2011 6:58:33 PM PST
St. Peters is hands down the best. The others are bad to outright repulsive (especially the Green's beers - more like champagne - oh my they are awful). I was particularly disappointed with the much-hyped New Planet beers when I finally tracked them down in Oklahoma (for some reason they are not distributed to Texas). They were not vastly different from Redbridge and Bards with that terrible sorghum aftertaste. A huge disappointment.

The hoppiness of St Peters helps overcome the unpleasant aftertaste left by sorghum. I always liked hoppy and bitter beers, so this does not bother me. It is very difficult to find St Peters in Dallas. I know the Whole Foods at Park Lane had it the last time I went there.

All that said, I'm finding I would rather just drink the Crispin Artisanal Reserve ciders, particularly the one that uses the Irish stout yeast. If you're going to drink sweet carbonated alcoholic beverages, may as well go with the ones that are intended to be that way IMO.

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said this on
07 Nov 2011 11:41:10 PM PST
Thanks for this comparison. There are two gluten free beers from Spain which were not reviewed, Estrella Damm Daura and Ambar. I have had several of the beers reviewed here, but Daura and Ambar are better by far. If they are not available in the US that is a shame. We can get them here in England.

Debbie Sadel
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said this on
08 Nov 2011 2:58:52 AM PST
Thanks for the article. I've been drinking Red Bridge which I like a bit better than New Grist. I'll have to try Greens and New Planet brews if I can get them in my area. Now if they'd just have them on tap in bars. I guess I'm dreaming!

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said this on
08 Nov 2011 7:41:02 AM PST
Ohhh I can't wait to try these! I'm not a true fan of beer, BUT there are times when one gets a craving for an ice cold, perfectly chilled beer. Now to find them. Here in Scranton I have tried a drink called Woodchuck. It is a hard cider that is pretty good, but it's not beer. Thanks for this article!

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said this on
09 Nov 2011 9:25:33 PM PST
Thank you for the article. There is also a pretty good blonde pale ale made in in Quebec, Canada called La Messagere. It's made with rice & buckwheat. You can search on-line for the company or La Messagere Beer. The company, Microbrasserie Nouvelle France, actually makes 3 different GF beers. I stock up when I visit Montreal.

Edouard McGrath
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said this on
02 Dec 2011 8:28:40 PM PST
Well written article. To followup, Brunehaut Brune and Blonde is now imported in the US. Brewed from Barley, this Belgium Beer IS real beer.

This year, the Brunehaut Amber won a Gold Medal at the US Beer Open. The Blonde won Silver.

Nick Belovics
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said this on
23 Feb 2012 12:36:45 PM PST
Enjoyed article...

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said this on
25 Feb 2012 5:14:14 PM PST
Great article. I have tried most of what was reviewed. Unfortunately, I have not seen St. Peter's for sale. I live in Delaware and travel to Maryland for Bard's since it's not sold here. I was shocked to find Redbridge receiving such high ratings. It finishes extremely in bitter tones & has a very metallic taste. This is aside from the fact that it's made by Anheuser-Busch. Go for Bard's if you can find it--independent brewer by 2 guys with Celiac, nice cherry finish in my opinion. It's 100% sorghum, how different can one really make that?

Agreed Green's is always a good choice, just wish it wasn't such a big bottle. I am a fan of New Grist for an easy drinking beer. Just found New Planet being sold in Maryland. Agreed, if you like hops you'll love Off the Grid Pale Ale!

Estrella is offered here but it's just ok. Too pricey because an import. If I was across the pond I'd probably drink it more. Agree with another rating--don't leave out the ciders. Really good stuff coming out of WA state and NY. Spire is a new favorite, it's not sweet!

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said this on
26 May 2012 4:13:32 AM PST
I'm a non-drinker currently hanging out in Spain, and recently tried Ambar Green gluten-free alcohol-free beer. I don't have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease - was just interested. It was just about passable, but I really wouldn't choose it unless my health dictated it.

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said this on
22 Jul 2012 10:33:31 AM PST
Sorghum malt does not cause a bitter flavor by itself, a bit of a funky aftertaste perhaps. Unfortunately, commercial craft brewers seem to think that people want a bitter beer, when I have found that nearly everyone else prefers a non-bitter to very lightly bitter beer.

I have tried most of the beers on the list, and like most. Bards is one with a bitter aftertaste but a shallow starting taste. Redbridge started off 5years with a nice American style beer, then went very bitter which killed their sales. They reformulated and now produce a GF beer with only a modest bitter aftertaste. Estrella is another beer with a strong bitter finish.

Greens is a great beer although pricy. New Grist is a great session beer that is moderately priced. The New Planet Tread lightly and Raspberry are excellent, full-flavor beers. The raspberry is not any where as sweet as the reviewer states.

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said this on
06 Aug 2012 8:02:26 AM PST
As a previous responder mentioned, Estrella Damm Daura is absolutely the best gluten-free beer available, at least to my taste. I despise sorghum beers generally; they are not worth the calories and are not just unsatisfying, but downright unpleasant. Daura faintly reminds me of a fresh bottle of Heineken - none of the other gluten-free beers taste like beer at all, and the ciders are barely passable. But Daura is refreshing on a hot summer day, and quite enjoyable, plus offering a heady high. I discovered it at a local gluten-free store where is was pretty pricey. I took the label into my local health food coop, and they now keep it stocked at a very reasonable price. I live in Milwaukee, WI, so Daura is certainly easily available in most US cities if you get the ball rolling at a cooperative retail establishment. I would encourage anyome to try this fine gluten-free beer.

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