Gluten Free and Thirsty: Giving up on “beer”

Written by on April 17, 2012 in Beer, Gluten Free - 5 Comments

Creative Commons Photo Credit: paulswansen

Time: Any Friday night, 8pm.
Place:Kingsdale Market District

After six glasses of wine, I’ve dragged my cart down the gluten free aisle, and entered the seventh stage of grief: acceptance and hope. I accept I can’t eat wheat, and I hope that the gluten free brownie mix, rice flour pasta, quinoa flakes, or tapioca flour pancake mix won’t taste like a crumbling, sugar-laden mess. To be fair I’ve had plenty of gluten free treats that make me swoon with delight, but for the most part trying to make something that’s usually made with wheat out of rice, much like making beer with sorghum, will leave a consumer wanting.

My opinions of gluten free beer and food are similar to Holden Caufield’s infantile, annoying whining in Catcher in the Rye: they’re all a buncha phonies. 

The thing is- I don’t need brownies and I could care less about pasta, but beer? BEER?! Ciders, meads, wine, liquor… they’re all delicious in their own right, but let’s be real–if I’m eating pizza on a patio in June, there better be some kind of beer I can drink that doesn’t taste like lightly carbed urine. I’ve had Redbridge, St Peter’s, and Green’s sorghum based beers. And while Green’s is evolving and following in the footsteps of the beer-y yet boring Estrella Damm, I have yet to see their de-glutenized beers on the shelves at any of Columbus’ finest beer stops.

So I am giving up on trying to find a gluten free beer that tastes like beer. From now on I’m just going to look for a delicious libation that’s actually good. I need to forget what barleywine tastes like, dissolve my memories of Pliny and scour  my brain of any fondness I hold for Founders or Avery and look to new horizons– something interesting, something dynamic, and something that I actually will want to drink again.

In my effort to find something more interesting than Daura and more tasty than St. Peter’s bland sorghum brew, I went ahead and tasted side-by-side the following gluten free “beers”:

New Planet Off Grid Pale Ale

5.0% ABV, brewed with sorghum and molasses
I started with a more traditional take on gluten free beer- sorghum and brown rice syrup base, added caramel color, hops, yeast, and a hint of molasses. It pours amber due to the caramel additive, and has a hint of sweetness and prevalent hoppiness on the nose. Over all though, the flavor is pretty bland. The mouthfeel is disappointing (as in most gluten free beers), and although it seems carbonated to an acceptable level, the more you drink of it the more you wish it had a higher level of carbonation. There is some hoppy bitterness to cover the sweetness often found in sorghum based beers, but to me, Off Grid is boringly redundant. New Planet has made another gluten free “beer” that tastes like sorghum with a hint of hops. And although their lineup of gluten free beers is appreciated, I hope they begin to evolve with more adventurous glutenless brews.
Find it in Columbus: Gentile’s, Weiland’s

Epic Brewing Glutenator

6.9% ABV, brewed with sweet potato and molasses
Sweet potato and molasses prove to make a decent combination for a light, cidery gluten free beer. Instead of using a combination of the default gluten free replacement  ”malts” (rice, sorghum and buckwheat), Epic got creative and tried something new. I have to appreciate the ingenuity and say that in using a different base; I had no idea what to expect from this beer. It was tasty and slightly sweet, but needed to be carbonated more. The smell was bland, color was a light tawny, and it had a light mouthfeel. Regardless, the Glutenator served it’s purpose– it quenched my thirst on a warm day. I was a little bummed out because the hops were basically non-existent but I think I would buy it again. I definitely wouldn’t go looking for it specifically.
Find it in Columbus: Gentile’s

Dogfish Head Tweason’ale

6.0% ABV, brewed with sorghum base, strawberries, and buckwheat honey
Winner for the day, Dogfish Head’s quarterly, between-season release won for drinkability and for being totally interesting. Although DFH starts this recipe with a sorghum base, the quality of the syrup comes through in the final product. The base has hints of molasses and stone-fruit, and when they add 150 pounds of hand-pressed strawberries to a five barrel batch, it creates a whole new delicious monster. Top it off with buckwheat honey and you have a tasty, cider-like brew that is really good. DFH hit on something– they played to sorghum’s strengths. Instead of trying to recreate the bitterness of an IPA or the mouthfeel of an amber ale, they created something entirely new. Tweason’ale pours a slightly rosy gold, is well carbonated and light. Strong hints of fruit on the nose, drier flavor, and a very slight tart finish.
Find it in Columbus: Gentile’s, Kroger, Weiland’s, Market District, Grandview Carryout (Available between seasons – Look for it next between summer and spring)

About the Author

Debbie is a glutarded dog mom that loves gin and Columbus. You can find her slingin' homebrew supplies, beer & wine at Gentile's on the weekends.

5 Comments on "Gluten Free and Thirsty: Giving up on “beer”"

  1. Ben Croswell April 17, 2012 at 9:37 AM · Reply

    Have you tried any of the Bard Tale beers?
    I am not a beer expert by any stretch but do like the Bard’s Tale.

  2. brian from bard's April 17, 2012 at 10:57 AM · Reply

    I would like to add something to Ben’s comment. Bard’s was the first sorghum-based, gluten-free beer on the market and is the only one that malts the sorghum like barley is malted in traditional beer. Why do that? The malting process is what gives beer its flavor, aroma and color. So, if beer-like is what you are looking for then try Bard’s.

    • Debbie Bitzan April 17, 2012 at 11:10 AM · Reply

      Thanks for the heads up! I actually almost included Bard’s in this lineup but left it out because I read that Bard’s used malted sorghum. It’s on deck for review (by on deck, I mean sitting in my fridge).

  3. GlutenFreeBeer.org April 17, 2012 at 9:38 PM · Reply

    Hi Debbie,

    I appreciate you article. I can find a place for many of the gluten free beers from time to time. New Planet is trying to fill a void in a responsible way and I applaud them for it. I will say though, that I tend to agree with you on the Dog Fish Head. What I like about what DFH has done is that they are not trying to be what everyone else is, they are going for craft brew. Life will be much easier for those of us who have to avoid gluten if we find what we can do and can enjoy and quiet trying to recreate what we feel we have “lost”. DFH has done a great job at that. If you have Celiac disease, you have to be careful with deglutenized brews as some, in my opinion, are only trying to participate in the gluten free market and are not too concerned with truly being gluten free. Even if you don’t “feel” bad after consuming even small amounts of gluten, it could still be destroying your small intestine. Be careful folks and let’s enjoy something unique in a gluten free beer.

  4. Bruce May 22, 2012 at 9:04 PM · Reply

    Debbie, I think you are being a bit harsh in your judgment of sorghum based beer. I’m not “glutarded” but just being adventurous I have tried 5-6 sorghum beers and brewed three different sorghum beer recipes. Sorghum is NOT barley! It has it’s own mild but distinctive flavor. “Normal” beer in the US and Europe is barley based but “normal” beer in Africa is sorghum based. I tend to judge barley beers and sorghum beers separately and have found good and bad examples of both. I’ve never had a sorghum based beer that was so bad I refused to finish it but I can’t say the same for a few of the barley based beers I started! Bruce

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