Over the past two decades, we’ve watched the gluten-free community inspire progress and innovation across the board. This is particularly notable when it comes to new products. Take standard pantry items that were unheard of years ago, like vegetable pastas and naturally gluten-free ancient grains and seeds (like sorghum, quinoa and chia).
The need to be gluten-free has played a role in the grain-free trend sweeping the country. It may also be quietly prompting innovation in the beer industry, according to Chris Rice, president and publisher of All About Beer magazine. As we prepared our beer review for this issue, I chatted with Chris, a beer aficionado and father of a child with celiac disease.
Me: What’s the background of gluten-free beer?
Chris: The emergence of gluten-free (and gluten-reduced) beer truly expanded in the 2013-2014 timeframe. It was then that we saw the emergence of many new gluten-free beer products. Since then, there hasn’t been as much brand evolution—but this could be changing.
Me: How so?
Chris: Over 3,500 small, local breweries have opened since 2013. A lot of these producers have been innovating around IPAs, stouts and lagers. This innovation is tied to experimenting with hops, barrels and to the expansion of traditional brewing styles. There are four basic ingredients in beer—hops, water, malted barley and yeast. Hops, for the most part, has been the big story of the past ten years. American brewers have been fully tied up in hops experimentation. Recently, however, craft brewers are having conversations about experimenting with fermentable grains. This is where you’re going to find innovation in truly gluten-free beer.
Craft beer evolved out of the homebrew culture. Homebrewing took off in America in 1980 when it was legalized and it’s now a popular hobby and a growing community. It led to small-scale production breweries and prompted American IPAs, barrel-aging beer and real innovation. I think we’re going to see a grassroots movement of gluten-free beer emerge from the homebrew clubs.
Me: Are you seeing anything yet?
Chris: There’s at least one truly gluten-free brew club. Located in Portland, Oregon, it’s called Zero Tolerance Gluten Free Brewing (zerotolerancebrewing.com). If you think about how much of the beer industry has evolved out of homebrewing, this could be a start, a sign of good things to come. This and grain experimentation could have a real impact on expanding gluten-free beer portfolios.
Let’s raise a glass to that! (And keep our fingers crossed.)