Gluten-Free Beer: Celiacs Can Enjoy a Cold One

When my father was diagnosed as celiac, a condition in which the afflicted person has a violent reaction to a protein called gluten found in various grains including wheat, rye and barley, it hit him pretty hard. This is a guy who took a whole wheat bread sandwich in his lunch every day for thirty years; an Italian who loved his pasta; even the malt vinegar on his fries was now off limits.

He worked out the bread thing by dusting off the bread machine and researching gluten-free recipes. Then he found a brand of rice pasta that was virtually indistinguishable from the durum wheat variety and he also found apple cider vinegar will replace malt vinegar in a pinch.

But one thing that he really missed was his beer. Brewed by fermenting barley, a gluten containing grain, beer is off limits to a celiac sufferer. Even though the filtering process some beers go through removes most of the gluten, it simply isn’t worth it for the celiac to take the chance. The consequences of extreme discomfort are too great.

An avid hockey player seemingly since birth, my dad often appeared more comfortable on the ice than on dry land. He played with several different teams over the course of his hockey history and one important aspect of each of them was the post-game ritual of dressing room brewskies with the boys; a ritual my dad was suddenly excluded from. He could hang out for the post-game analysis, friendly ribbing and raunchy jokes, but something just didn’t seem right without a beer, he told me.

And summer is no better. Picnics, barbecues, pool parties – all seem incomplete for some people without a beer in the hand.

So, big deal. Suck it up, right? And that’s basically what he did; not like he had a choice. Although my father ended up acquiring a taste for red wine in the meantime, a few years back when gluten-free beer hit the market he came home with a six-pack and a smile like a kid on Christmas.

Quite a few brands of gluten-free beer have cropped up in the last while, as the demands of beer-loving celiacs the world over are finally gaining the attention of craft brewers. It might be a while before a company like Molson’s or Labatt bring a gluten-free variety to a beer store near you, but nonetheless selections are wide. Brewers have experimented with gluten-free grains like buckwheat, sorghum, quinoa, rice, maize, corn, teff, sunflower, amaranth, flax, millet, wild rice, soy and even rapeseed. If you look, you’ll find that sorghum and buckwheat are the most commonly used grains this side of the Atlantic.

An Internet search will bring up lots of “how-to” instructions on making your own gluten-free craft beer, but it might be easier to source out one of the many companies who’ve done the work for you. Here’s a list of the many varieties of gluten-free beers. I’m not sure how many of these can be found in Canada, but at the end of the page you’ll find a list of contacts to help you source it. The two my dad goes for, which are available in Canada, are called La Messagere, brewed in Quebec and one from Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee called New Grist.

Regular readers of my column may be surprised that I’m writing in a positive way about alcohol. I often warn people off of it and always recommend, if one must indulge, to do so in moderation. Nothing’s changed in my stance; I still think people should exercise restraint with alcohol. Our livers are so overburdened with environmental and food toxins these days they don’t really need to extra work from booze. But sometimes those of us with food intolerances just want to feel normal for a day. We’ll just call this one a late Father’s Day gift and leave it at that.

Author by Doug DiPasquale