“Gluten-free beer” is a term that once evoked the same excitement as “vegan cheesesteak” or “Browns season tickets.” But thankfully the growing awareness of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity has encouraged breweries large and small to better accommodate this growing audience.
Mind you, we’re not talking about mass-produced brews like Redbridge, which is a perfectly fine offering from Anheuser-Busch, or Coors Peak, which sadly, is not. Instead, we went to find those that not only stood out as good gluten-free options, but also were actual good beers.
So, we went and did our research. (Yes, according to our wives and lawyers, that’s what this experiment was.)
The trick that’ll help you enjoy gluten-free beer
We weren’t blown away by the available gluten-free choices, mostly because we used our favorites as the basis for comparison.
It was only after we stopped trying to draw these parallels that we realized gluten-free brewing isn’t just a growing market for those in need: it’s also a unique, alternative segment all its own, with creative ingredients and brewing techniques that warrant attention from any beer lover.
To be clear, not all hit the mark – in fact, most missed entirely. Even today, the lack of gluten often results in fizzy, thin textures while flavor additions make the beer overly sweet, fruity and even pine-like.
But we’re a positive bunch here at The Hop Nation, so let’s highlight three gluten-free options that DID nail it, and are worth investigating by anyone who likes beer.
Tread Lightly Session Ale – New Planet Brewery
Tread Lightly Ale is one of several strong offerings from New Planet, a brewery entirely focused on gluten-free and gluten-reduced beers and ales. While they offer a handful of decent to good selections, this one stood out as a keeper.
Although this is a gluten-reduced beer – meaning it was originally created with glutinous grains and then crafted to remove them – my research (and darts) partner, John was a fan of New Planet. John is celiac, and a devout Redbridge aficionado. And thankfully, he reported no ill-effects from drinking 2-3 tall Tread Lightly cans. He continues to buy it to this day.
The beer itself is a lighter session, with a clear, golden amber color, and a moderate amount of foam and lacing. It’s perhaps a little bubblier and less dense than most pours in this category, but it’s hardly a detraction.
Tread Lightly has a malty aroma, with a few hints of Belgian-type spice and mildly pungent hops. Yet, on first sip, those notes disappear in the wake of some unexpected fruitiness, which cuts through the spice like a champ.
One thing worth noting: there’s VERY little aftertaste, especially for something labeled as an ale. It’s a very clean drinking beer that feels right in the mouth, but New Planet doesn’t weigh you down by trying to disguise the lack of grains. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s certainly deeper and more complex than the light color would imply.
Keep a very close eye on New Planet. The company is broadening its focus beyond just celiac customers, and making beers like this for anyone who might benefit from less gluten in their diets.
A photo posted by Glutenberg (@glutenbergbeer) on
Glutenberg IPA – Glutenberg Brewing Company
So much for subtlety, eh? Whereas most gluten-free products are designed to blend in, Canada’s aptly named Glutenberg Brewing Company is unabashed in its intentions to be the world’s best purveyor of gluten-free beer.
And hey, why not? Much of the world is realizing they function better without gluten, so why hide it? Slam down a shiny can on the bar, dammit! And leave the prominent Glutenberg logo where everyone can see it!
Once you taste Glutenberg IPA, you won’t care. Trust us. While GBC’s five offerings vary in quality, their IPA is a quality choice for all beer lovers. Is it perfect? Nope. But it’s a lot closer to a traditional IPA than it has any right to be.
Using millet and buckwheat grains, Glutenberg IPA leads with a bitter aroma – bitter enough to make you wonder what the flavor might do to your palate. Likewise, the extra frothy head and odd lacing makes you think this will be another lightweight, overly carbonated waste of time.
Then you taste it. Strong citrus flavors immediately soothe your nose, while the hoppiness slices through the sweet before it gets too candy-like and artificial. The flavors meld in your mouth, creating a complex, layered experience that (again) belies the beer’s relatively light appearance.
One note – we recommend drinking this one fairly quickly. Not irresponsibly so, but we noticed that the citrus flavors become much more potent once the carbonation begins to ebb, and temperature rises. It’s not undrinkable, but it will leave a strange bitter citrus taste in your mouth that might leave you wanting something different.
Omission IPA – Widmer Brothers Brewing
Omission Beer is a growing sub-brand of the well-known Widmer Brothers Brewing from Portland, Oregon. Instead of simply creating a handful of gluten-free options to satisfy their clientele, Widmer Brothers likely felt their enzymatic gluten-removal processes were so advanced and effective that they deserved their own label.
And good on them, because Omission IPA is not only one of the best gluten-free beers we tried on this little journey, but it also sits comfortably near the top of my growing list of IPA favorites. Seriously.
Much like the parent company’s unfiltered Hefeweizen, Omission IPA is notable for its hazy, medium amber color, and relatively thin, wispy head. My partner-in-crime John (by now, a self-proclaimed beer expert) claims that Omission’s use of malted barley plays a role in this appearance … but that has yet to be confirmed by anyone but him.
Like the other beers we tried, Omission’s IPA gives off an immediate bitterness with fruitiness hanging just beneath the surface. However, unlike the others, there’s a distinct caramel aroma that makes this one a little more unique.
These aromas aren’t flukes. Initial sips deliver on all promised flavors, along with a surprisingly sweet finish from the malted barley. While it’s a little less bubbly than other gluten-free selections on our list, we found this one kept its true characteristics longer than the others, and didn’t devolve into a syrupy sludge after the bubbles subsided.
Over the course of the 12oz bottle, we noticed that the initial hoppiness faded just a touch. But that worked to the beer’s benefit, as some of the caramel found its way to the surface. This isn’t normally a flavor combination I seek out, but it’s one I’ve come to appreciate, especially in a beer made from alternative grains.
Long story short, no beer in our experiment felt more like a true-blooded craft option than Omission IPA. This was the last one we tried, and the one we return to most often.
What do you think of these picks? Any others you’d recommend? Share your gluten-free craft beer picks in The Hop Nation Facebook Group.