Gluten Free and Thirsty is an ongoing series by Drink Up Columbus’ favorite glutard (that’s the probably-not-PC way to say “has a gluten allergy). For previous Gluten Free articles, click here.
You won’t find me reviewing many gluten free beers. If it’s made from rice or sorghum, forget it, I don’t hate myself enough to trick my brain into thinking I’m drinking beer when I’m actually drinking day-old urine (or something that closely resembles day-old urine). Inflammatory degradation of gluten free beer aside, what I’m trying to say is I’m really not a fan of traditional gluten free beers. Although I appreciate the efforts of brewers who attempt to make tasty alcoholic beverages suitable for the gluten intolerant population, the beer enthusiast within me is usually depressed by the actual taste of the brews. To say the least, there’s a lot left to be desired in the gluten free beer world.
…and along came Daura
Spanish brewery, Estrella Damm, has been doing something special–making gluten free beer from barley malt. They make the beer called Daura “Celiac safe” by reducing the gluten content to an acceptable level, which in this case is 6ppm (<20 ppm of gluten is considered safe for Celiac patients). Their secret process is speculated to be as simple as adding an enzyme to a traditional barley-based beer that breaks down the protein, an enzyme that may or may not closely resemble Brewer’s Clarex, a popular add-in sold to homebrewers to clarify beer.
The best thing about Daura is it tastes like beer. More specifically, it tastes like a boring old lager, but it certainly does not resemble the gluten free beers that make me wretch from the aftertaste of soggy socks. It pours a medium gold with a decent but small head, is slightly hoppy and musky smelling, and tastes exactly like a lager should taste. It tastes like beer, a mediocre beer, but it tastes like actual beer, which is a big step up for glutards in search of brewskies. You can pick Daura up in Columbus at Whole Foods, Giant Eagle Market District, Gentiles, and Weilands. I’ve seen it pop up occasionally in Columbus bars, too.
…the problem with beers which “remove gluten”
You won’t find Daura with a big sign boasting its gluten free properties though. Federal regulations are murky as to whether or not products can be labeled “gluten free” if they’re not made from actual, naturally gluten free ingredients. So even if you science the shit out of your beer and remove all of the hordein (the specific name of the gluten protein found in barley), it still may not be labeled gluten free, pending proposed changes to FDA regulations.
…the reality of beer and gluten
One of the most important things to know about beer and gluten is that gluten testing of beers made in the states is almost unheard of because even if a brewery’s beer is safe for the gluten intolerant, they can’t label it that way due to FDA limitations so there’s no point in paying money for the test. The amount of gluten in barley-based beers may actually be extremely minimal because much of the protein hordein is removed during the brewing process, but nobody really knows for sure how much of the protein is in the finished product. There are studies which argue that, in general, most barley based beers are safe for those seeking to maintain a gluten free diet, while other studies debunk this claim, saying that there remains an unacceptable level of gluten protein in beer after the brewing process is finished.
Estrella Damm and a few other breweries like Sinebrychoff/Carlsberg breweries of Finland are doing a good thing by using science to make beer that tastes like beer which certifiably is safe for those who have a gluten intolerance. But this process is only just now starting to gain traction in Europe, and not at all in the states. Until the label “gluten free” is well defined and consistently regulated, we likely won’t see any improvements in the gluten free beer market.
As a glutarded beer geek, there’s only one thing I can do about this in the meantime and that’s to go all Bill Nye on some beer and use myself as a guinea pig. Armed with some gluten testing kits, my defunct digestive system, and a sleep deprived brain, I’m going to embark on a beer adventure and find out how much gluten is in my most beloved beers, how I react to them, and do a homebrew experiment with Brewer’s Clarex to see what I can do to rectify this ambiguous yet optimistic situation. Because no matter how much my body protests, I’ll always be a hophead and a lover of beer.