Gluten Free Beer Brewing Journey
Roughly four years ago I wondered if my wife had a gluten allergy. Not sure how serious it was at the time, we soon discovered that it was Celiacs. Her response to wheat and barley being cut out of her diet was life-changing. Sadly though, this change was tough for her.
She was not a rum and coke kind of girl but instead, a whiskey and stout girl. Two things would need to go bye-bye if she wanted to prevent serious health issues.
Over the past four years, we are discovering more gluten-free options. But as a home brewer, why buy when you can brew? Thus begins our journey to perfecting gluten-free beer. There is not much information about brewing gluten-free beer. While many have experimented with it, not many seem to keep attempting to perfect this difficult brewing style. Everyone seems to be at the same place. Maybe one or two test batches and then done.
Here at Florida’s Food and Brew Network we plan to change that. We are going to keep a regular log of every gluten-free beer we make. That log will contain full recipes along with notes and descriptions.
Not Gluten Reduced but truly Gluten Free
It is important to talk about this as many people are confused by the terminology. “Gluten removed” or “gluten reduced” beer is not gluten-free.
In addition to eliminating chill haze, Clarity Ferm significantly reduces the gluten content in beers made with barley and wheat. Clarity Ferm treated beer made from barley or wheat will typically test below 20 ppm of gluten, which is the international threshold for brewing considered “gluten-free.” White Labs also offers gluten testing for beers. While this test allows brewers to know the gluten level of their beers, the values may not be used on packaging labels until the FDA completes its own validation.
Based on the quote above, it may sound as if these beers fall within the gluten-free guidelines. It is awesome that Clarity Ferm can do this. However, there is a serious debate about 20 parts per million of gluten being “gluten-free.” FDA states it must not come from the use of gluten-producing grains. After all, 20 ppm of gluten is still gluten. In order for something to be termed as gluten-free that threshold refers to cross contamination.
If you have an allergy or intolerance to gluten you will probably be just fine with a gluten-reduced beer. Although, if you have Celiac’s Disease, gluten-reduced is not a safe option. It is the same as saying that vodka or whiskey is safe because it’s distilled. If the ingredients start as gluten, they will always be gluten. For some, the difference is a matter of serious health concern. Therefore, in order to brew truly gluten-free beer, you must use non-gluten ingredients.
This is where it gets difficult.
There is quite a bit of difficulty when using gluten-free ingredients. From what I have studied so far, it seems that this is where the biggest learning curve appears. Yes, the list of ingredients available is rather large, however, these ingredients are not going to offer the same aroma and flavor as barley or wheat. Plus, many of these ingredients can be hard to come by and require malting at home.
- Sorghum (Most common base ingredient)
- Corn (Maize)
- Oats (Gluten-Free)
- Sweet Potato
- and Nut Flours
Along with the list here, typically, sorghum will be your base. Rice and corn are common for lighter lagers. I have noticed Millet can be a good wheat replacement. Also, Quinoa, Oats, and Buckwheat are typical ingredients you will see in gluten-free beer.
As far as hops, it will take time to experiment with how hops stand out in a gluten-free beer. I would imagine the flavor does not come out the same. It has been commonly suggested to start simple and progress over time.
Yeast is another tricky challenge. Liquid yeasts used for beer is typically not going to be gluten-free. While, I have seen a few out there, unless it is certified gluten-free, you will be left making your own starter. While making your own yeasts starter is not that difficult, its an added step to brewing. For me, this may become a chance to start making my own house yeasts which could be fun.
Where to start
I think step one will be going with a very simple beer recipe like a Cream Ale. Probably will do 100% sorghum and light addition of Cascade hops.
After that, I will probably venture into more of a Blonde Ale. Here I can start adding in Millet as a substitute for wheat and add some local honey. For hops, I will probably start using some Centennial along with the Cascade.
Beyond that, I have ideas for a nutty brown with Buckwheat and traditional Stout with oats and doing some dark malting with rice and other grains.
I’m curious about your experiences with gluten-free beer. Leave me a comment on what you have tried or what we should try. Stay tuned for future articles that will cover each beer step by step.