The idea of a beer made without gluten used to be a cruel joke, a tease for millions of parched beer lovers living gluten-free by medical necessity. Fortunately, things have changed—and how! Today, gluten-free beers are springing up all over the globe. Thirsty innovators are creating beer in gluten-free varieties with satisfying profiles that range from light strawberry-honey to dark pseudo-malt.
Beer is said to be the third most-consumed beverage in the world, topped in popularity only by water and tea. People have been brewing versions of the sudsy libation for over 5,000 years. In all that time, the basic process hasn’t changed much: indigenous grain sugars ferment with water and yeast to create carbon dioxide and alcohol—a delectable drink.
Beer’s nuanced flavors derive from the natural mineral components found in native water sources and the hops. Its taste is further shaped by ingredients that may be added during manufacturing, like honey, fruit and other starches. But the basis of beer has historically been malted gluten-containing grains, primarily barley. In fact, the concept of barley-made beer is so ingrained in the United States that the Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau only qualifies those beverages made with barley as true beer.
Raise a Glass
With the introduction of gluten-free suds, the beer world is transforming. Today’s gluten-free beers are made with alternative grains like sorghum, millet, corn or rice.
Most recently, a few breweries are using a new procedure that “de-glutenizes” the barley malt. Companies like the storied Estrella Damm brewery in Spain are manufacturing barley beer with centuries-old formulas but utilizing new proprietary processes to extract the gluten from the finished product. These beers test to less than 6 parts per million (ppm) gluten after processing,* qualifying them as “gluten-free” under both the Codex Alimentarius (“Book of Food”) European standard, as well as the U.S. FDA’s proposed standard.
Just before press, Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland, Oregon, launched its own de-glutenized barley beer (one lager and one ale). Omission Beer, the first de-glutenized brew manufactured in the United States, is available only in Oregon at this time.
Some tasters say they notice an unmistakable finish in beers made with alternative grains like sorghum. They say de-glutenized brews made with traditional barley ingredients are more likely to have the familiar beer taste. But are de-glutenized beers truly rendered gluten-free by these new manufacturing processes? Are they really safe for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity?
Late last year, scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia published the first study on this issue. Their research raised many questions about the efficacy of the current de-glutenizing process.
The controversy is based on a new testing methodology these researchers developed that uses mass spectrometry to measure both intact and partially degraded hordein. (In barley, the gluten protein is called hordein.) Their method appears to be able to detect the presence of hordein at extremely low levels. Applying this new test to two de-glutenized barley beers, they found that some hordein remained.
What does this mean to gluten-free beer lovers?
“It’s very important to understand the stage of development of the testing technique,” says Australian researcher Matthew Morell, PhD, theme leader in CSIRO’s Food Futures Flagship. “The test has not been developed or independently validated to the point where it can be used for the rigorous determination of the absolute, rather than relative, hordein content in individual beers.”
In other words, this is only the beginning of putting the researchers’ new test to the test.
For its part, Estrella Damm brewery’s Xavier Sitgas calls the study “very good starting material for looking into the gluten analysis from a different point of view.” However, he is proud to point out that Estrella Damm has sold more than 12 million bottles of Daura Gluten-Free Beer and it has yet to receive a single complaint from a consumer.
In the United States, two regulating agencies have authority over the booze category—the Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The TTB doesn’t allow beer manufacturers to put “health claims” like “gluten-free” on their labels. The FDA currently does.
So which agency regulates which beers? The TTB recognizes beer as only those malt beverages made with barley and hops. Thus, the only gluten-free beer it regulates is barley beer like Estrella Damm’s Daura de-glutenized beer, not beer made with gluten-free grains.
This poses a problem for consumers shopping for gluten-free beer. The TTB does not allow the gluten-free label to be slapped on bottles of Daura, despite the fact this beer currently tests to less than 6 ppm gluten.
Other gluten-free beer made with non-traditional beer-making grains like sorghum, millet, corn and rice are not regulated by the TTB because, again, they’re not considered true beer under the agency’s definition. Regulation of these “non-beers” thus falls to the FDA, which currently allows gluten-free labeling but doesn’t define what “gluten-free” actually means.
The FDA has proposed a standard of less than 20 ppm gluten. It’s expected to release final regulations on labeling gluten-free foods and beverages later this year. At that point, we can expect more labeling changes throughout the U.S. gluten-free marketplace, including on many brands of beer.
Cooking with Beer
Even if you don’t enjoy the taste of beer, don’t overlook it as a culinary ingredient. Beer’s bubbles provide extra oomph in recipes like gluten-free breads and cakes which often can use a lift. Using beers with varied flavor profiles can change the taste and aroma of your baked goods in marked ways. In any recipe calling for a liquid, like water or milk, consider whether gluten-free beer might spice things up.
Gluten-Free Chocolate Beer Cake
MAKES ONE 9-INCH BUNDT CAKE
The toasted, toffee-like notes of a gluten-free ale complement and enhance this cake without making it too rich or over-the-top sweet. The carbonation contributes to the light, airy structure of this cake, creating a confection that rivals any other. Top with Cream Cheese Frosting.
¾ cup sour cream or dairy-free sour cream replacement
2 large eggs or 3 teaspoons Ener-G egg replacer powder mixed with 4 tablespoons warm water
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (not teaspoon)
1 cup gluten-free ale or beer
8 tablespoons unsalted butter or dairy-free butter alternative
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch alkalai processed)
2 cups granulated cane sugar
2 cups gluten-free all purpose flour blend of choice
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if included in your flour blend)
1 tablespoon baking soda (not teaspoon)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch springform tube or bundt pan and dust lightly with gluten-free starch.
2. In a small bowl, whisk sour cream with eggs and vanilla.
3. Measure out 1 cup ale, letting the head settle to be sure your measurement is correct. Pour ale into a large saucepan. Add butter and heat over medium heat just until melted. Whisk in cocoa powder and sugar until smooth.
4. Add egg mixture to the saucepan mixture and whisk. Add flour blend, xanthan gum and baking soda and stir well to combine.
5. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out fairly clean
6. Let cake cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes. Then invert cake to remove from pan onto a cake plate.
Serves 12. Each serving without frosting contains 333 calories, 12g total fat, 7g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 63mg cholesterol, 334mg sodium, 55g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 3g protein
Cream Cheese Frosting
MAKES ABOUT 1½ CUPS
Spread this frosting on top of the cooled cake.
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese or dairy-free cream cheese replacement, room temperature
1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
Up to ½ cup heavy cream, liquid soy or coconut creamer, or kefir
1. Whip cream cheese and sugar until smooth.
2. Slowly stir in only enough cream to make frosting a spreadable consistency.
Each serving of cake with frosting contains 453 calories, 20g total fat, 12g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 90mg cholesterol, 396mg sodium, 66g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 5g protein.
Gluten-Free Beer Bread
MAKES 1 LOAF
This light, moist, aromatic loaf makes any sandwich better. Try this recipe several times, using different beer each time, and see what a difference one ingredient can make. You may have a hard time choosing a favorite!
3 large eggs, room temperature, or 3 tablespooons arrowroot mixed with 6 tablespoons warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar (omit if using ginger ale)
2 ¾ cups gluten-free high-fiber flour blend of choice
2 ½ teaspoons xanthan gum (omit if included in your flour blend)
¼ cup dry milk powder, or dairy-free milk powder, almond meal, buck- wheat flour, or brown rice flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated cane sugar
1 (10-ounce) bottle gluten-free ale, sparkling water, club soda or ginger ale, room temperature
2 ¼ teaspoons rapid rise or bread machine yeast
-Milk of choice (dairy, soy, coconut or hemp milk), for brushing top
-Sesame seeds, poppy seeds or other topping of choice
1. Grease a standard 9×5-inch loaf pan.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, apple cider vinegar and honey.
3. In another large bowl, whisk together flour, xanthan gum, milk powder, salt and sugar.
4. With mixer on low speed, slowly pour dry ingredients into liquid mixture to combine. Continue beating while slowly pouring in the ale. When incorporated, add yeast.
5. Beat batter until smooth. Then increase mixing speed and beat for 4 minutes. (Mixture will be rather thin and wet, not thick like wheat bread dough.)
6. Pour batter into prepared pan, filling half the way up. Brush top lightly with milk to help it brown. Sprinkle with toppings of choice.
7. Cover pan with oiled wax paper and let dough rise in a warm, moist place for 30 minutes to 1 hour. (An oven preheated to 200°F, then turned off, with a bowl of water in the oven to add moisture, is a good option).
8. Preheat oven to 375°F.
9. Place pan in preheated oven and bake for approximately 35 to 45 minutes. When done, internal temperature of the loaf should be 205 to 210°F. It should be golden brown with a nice crust.
10. Remove loaf to cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes. Gently remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Serves 12. Each serving contains 186 calories, 6g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 55mg cholesterol, 225mg sodium, 28g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 4g protein.
TIP To make Beer Bread in a bread machine, add liquid ingredients (at room temperature) first and then place dry ingredients on top. Set machine on gluten-free setting or only one rise and no punch-down. Check to be sure the loaf has reached 205 to 210°F before finishing the bake.
Gluten-Free Beer Batter Tempura
Light beer in a classic tempura batter helps create a lacy, crisp coating for vegetables. This recipe can also be used with chunks of tofu, chicken or shrimp, if tolerated.
-Broccoli florets, mushrooms, asparagus spears or other vegetables of choice
½ cup + 2 tablespoons gluten-free all purpose flour blend of choice
½ teaspoon xanthan gum (if not in flour blend)
-Salt and pepper, to taste
5 ounces light-bodied gluten-free beer
-Oil of choice, for frying
1. Wash and cut vegetables into 3-inch pieces or break florets into bite-size portions. Set aside.
2. In a shallow bowl, whisk flour blend with xanthan gum and salt and pepper, to taste.
3. Slowly pour in beer and stir with a fork until batter is thick enough to cling to your vegetables. If batter is too thin, stir in more flour a teaspoon at a time; if too thick, add more beer, a teaspoon at a time.
4. Pour enough oil into a wide sauté pan to cover vegetables when placed in the hot oil. Heat oil over medium flame. To test for proper temperature, drop a small dollop of batter into the heated oil. If it sizzles but doesn’t burn quickly, oil is ready; if it doesn’t sizzle, oil isn’t hot enough.
5. Dip each vegetable into batter, coating tops only of mushrooms or broccoli and the entire stem of other vegetables. Gently submerge each battered piece in hot oil and fry until batter is light golden brown, turning once if necessary to fry the entire piece. Each piece should cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
6. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, remove hot vegetables from the oil when cooked and place them on a plate covered with a towel to absorb excess oil. Place drained pieces onto a baking sheet and keep warm in a warming drawer or oven on low until ready to serve. Refrigerate any uneaten pieces and re-heat for another day.