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How Do Gluten-free Beers Compare to Conventional Beers?

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.

"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 Herald.net.

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12 Responses:

 
Kate
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said this on
04 Nov 2011 6:39:34 AM PDT
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.

 
Jared
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said this on
07 Nov 2011 6:58:33 PM PDT
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.

 
Kent
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said this on
07 Nov 2011 11:41:10 PM PDT
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 PDT
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!

 
Tira
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said this on
08 Nov 2011 7:41:02 AM PDT
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!

 
John
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said this on
09 Nov 2011 9:25:33 PM PDT
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 PDT
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 PDT
Enjoyed article...

 
Shelby
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said this on
25 Feb 2012 5:14:14 PM PDT
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!

 
Neil
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said this on
26 May 2012 4:13:32 AM PDT
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.

 
gguess
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said this on
22 Jul 2012 10:33:31 AM PDT
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.

 
Donna
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said this on
06 Aug 2012 8:02:26 AM PDT
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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Hi! I've just been recently diagnosed as Celiac through the whole biopsy-shebang, and I have a little bit of insight on the whole diagnosis thing and how I was eventually diagnosed, and my advice for you. Brace yourself, this might be a bit long, but it might be worth the read and I promise I will eventually get to the point. If you don't want the huge story, skip to the long line of capital As: I first saw my doctor when I had a few problems swallowing. I've compared it to when you're nervous and you feel like you have a lump in your throat - but after I eat and (sometimes) drink. I just mentioned briefly it to my family doctor when I was addressing another issue, but right away he referred me to a gastroenterologist and ordered a barium swallow x-ray test. The x-ray came back completely normal, and so the g.e. then suspected GERD, put me on acid blockers to see if they would work, no harm done sort of thing. The only thing I got out of the acid blockers were the side effects, so it was back to square 1. The g.e. said that the next test he could do was an upper endoscopy with biopsies. (hint: the celiac test!) Wanting to find a solution to my problems, the endoscopy was scheduled. Pretty painless, I was in and out in a day, but the results took much much longer. Biopsies, or the little pieces of my esophagus, stomach, and small intestine, were sent to the lab, and they came back clean. I didn't really go back to the g.e. for a whole year after that because life became busy, I wasn't prompted to follow up, and I just dismissed the swallowing problems the best I could and went on my way. Now, I've never been huge on the gluten, big bread-y sandwiches or croissants or pies were never foods that I super "enjoyed". I wouldn't feel bad after eating them, I just didn't like the taste of bread so much, but I loved cookies, cake and a lot of other things that do have gluten in them. I lead a lowish gluten life but I wasn't really monitoring it that way. Everything changed when I got really nasty (systemic) poison ivy. My eyes were swollen shut, and the rash was everywhere. I almost went to the hospital, but cooped out at the family doctor's place and got a script for prednisone (a steroid). But, I found that after I had tapered off the steroids, I had magically become lactose intolerant. So back to the family doctor again probably because I broke my toe or something, but we also got to talk about this magical lactose intolerance business (because I love anything dairy and it was indeed devastating). He was surprised as there is literally no correlation between steroids and becoming lactose intolerant. He asked me if I still had the swallowing problems, which I did, and so it was back to the g.e. for round 3. because my family doctor "does not believe in coincidences". Meeting with the G.E., he mainly addressed the swallowing problems telling me that he had done what he could to diagnose with the technology that we had at the highly specialized hospital that we were at, and I would have to travel about 3 hours away to see a different doctor who would do some tests involving the muscles in the esophagus. But right before I was about to leave, we started talking about lactose intolerance. He brought up other foods that I was avoiding (if any), and then the conversation went to gluten. I mentioned that I had an aunt that was gluten-sensitive. He advised that I do the blood test that can show an indication of celiac whenever in the future. I decided to do it that day. At this point in time, I was not eating much gluten because of the fact that it was personal preference. The normal range for values in this test is from 0 to 20. A few weeks later, I learned that I scored a 35. A second upper endoscopy with biopsies was scheduled, but this time I was told to eat a moderate amount of gluten everyday before the procedure. I ate about two slices of bread per day, which is more than I normally would. I was normal for the first two-three weeks of the gluten plus diet, but then I became really sick. I started getting the normal celiac symptoms, like diarrhea and extreme tiredness. Near the end, I had debilitating stomach pain and I was 2 times more asleep than awake each day. I couldn't do the 2 pieces of bread a day some days, but the pain was still there. I knew that I wouldn't ever have to force myself to eat bread for a test ever again. I was called a few days before my endoscopy telling me that a kid in a worse state than me had to take the OR during my time. I forced myself to eat more bread for another month and a half. The day finally came. I was diagnosed celiac, which I have concluded to be initiated by (1) the steroids/poison ivy and (2) the gluten binge fest. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA Celiac Disease isn't completely understood yet. Most of the time if you weren't showing symptoms when you were a baby (so your case) it means that celiac was/could be triggered by an event in your life that causes stress on the body (like stress, physical injury, etc.). The positive result that you got from the blood test doesn't automatically mean celiac, but it could. Here's some options: Talk to your doctor (or a different doctor) or even a specialist gastroenterologist (you can get a referral from a family doctor (general physician)) and see if you can do the blood test again, you have to have some kind of gluten for this to work in advance, so if you don't want to break your gluten-free streak, than don't really invest in this option. If you feel comfortable, you could even ask to do this test under a few scenarios (no gluten (now) and after a gluten binge, compare results). If you do this test and your indication is low off gluten and then high after gluten, I'd probably skip the biopsy. That's a strong enough sign that you don't need to put yourself through the painful-gluten binge. Maybe this is what that first doctor just assumed. But having that test when you haven't had any gluten could make the difference - it acts as a control. Go straight to the biopsy. You could do this, but I'd probably do the blood test first. I went through a lot of stress with the gluten-binge that you have to do to get an accurate result, you would also be breaking your gluten-free diet that may/may not be helping you right now. Do nothing, stay on your gluten free diet hoping that it is helping you. But if you are not celiac or gluten-sensitive (celiac before it starts to wreck your small intestine), going gluten free isn't healthy - you can do some research on this if it interests you. If you feel bad/unhealthy after going gluten free it's probably a sign. Good luck, also know that you might come to a point of stress in your life that can start celiac's destructive path. Ultimately, it is your body, and you should not feel forced or hesitate to act on health issues that impact you.

I'm sorry that life is so hard right now. Really. I can't imagine working 3 jobs and trying to manage this terrible illness. I think about American society and their obsession with food often. Whenever you look at the internet, there are all these fabulous gluten-free recipes, but when you don't have time or money to cook these things, a simple gluten-free lifestyle is just that - simple. There isn't a lot of variety, so it's kind of boring. But, I guess I have gotten used to being boring. I just eat corn chex and fruit or yogurt for breakfast. I eat a lot of eggs, beans, rice, corn tortillas, nuts, chicken, fruit and veggies. A loaf of gluten-free bread will last me 4-6 months in the freezer. I buy a bag of dried beans for $1.29, I soak them overnight, and put them in the crockpot the next day. I add different spices, sometimes chicken and Voila! - dinner is ready when I get home from a long day. Family gatherings are miserable and I haven't quite figured out the best way to deal yet. If my grandmother were still alive, I imagine she would be a lot like yours - well-meaning but not really able to understand the nitty-gritty. I just reassure my family that I am fine and that they really shouldn't do anything special for me. I bring a bag of Hershey's kisses or other gluten-free candy I can nibble on along with my meal and then I try to treat myself to a nicer home cooked meal later in the week when I have time to cook - because who has time to cook during Christmas???? And, I agree with knitty knitty. If someone else in your family/friends were gluten-free for medical reasons, it would make socializing a bit easier. One of my husband's good friends is NCGS. When we get together as a group, we can make each other special dishes and it helps to feel less isolated. Good luck!

Hi! Um, please forgive my quirky sense of humor..... Celiac Disease is genetic... All first degree relatives of people diagnosed with Celiac Disease should be tested for the disease, too. Gall bladder problems are often associated with Celiac Disease. Your diagnosis might save your whole family from further medical problems as they age and the disease progresses... You need to set a good example if relatives are similarly diagnosed.... and then everybody will have to eat gluten free at family gatherings....

That's what I thought! My father has gluten sensitivity and I almost regret telling the doctor that because I feel that made her jump to conclusions because of that. He never had the biopsy either. I feel like doctors think it's just easier to say it's celiac when they show a gluten sensitivity to avoid additional testing, even if that diagnosis doesn't make any sense at all. My doctor didn't even offer the biopsy, and said the blood work was enough. Should I seek a third opinion? I mean, I've been gluten free for 9 months...

It will prolong your life....celiac is a autoimmune disease that causes your own immune system to attack you. The longer your eating gluten the worse it gets, I mean all kinds of other autoimmune disease, food allergies, food intolances. One day you could lose the ablity to eat carbs, or sugars, or become randomly allergic to tomatoes or corn all cause you decided not to be on road to healing I am not kidding here. I am allergic to corn, can not process meats, have another autoimmune disease that makes it so I can not eat dairy or CARBS/SUGARS. I wish I could go back in time and go on a gluten-free diet a decade ago. Worse that could happen you could develop cancer or other complications and yes we have had this happen to a member before on our forums. Think of it like this your just changing brand here I will give you some links to some gluten-free foods, and how to order them, You can even order alot of them online this should help simplify it for you. I suggest thrive, amazon, or one of hte other links from there, Many you can order from the manufacture. https://www.celiac.com/gluten-free/topic/117090-gluten-free-food-alternatives-list/