More and more people want the food and drink they consume to be gluten-free, whether that’s for a medical reason or a ‘lifestyle choice’. The range of gluten-free products on offer has increased accordingly, and this includes gluten-free beer. Brewers are working hard to meet this demand and deliver beers low on gluten but high on body and flavour.
What is gluten and why do some people avoid it?
Gluten is the name for a family of proteins that occur naturally in certain grains, including barley, wheat, and rye. It’s what gives bread its deliciously chewy texture, and it’s part of what gives beer its body.
Some people are unable to tolerate gluten in their diet. Coeliac disease, which affects around 1% of the population, is the most sever form of this intolerance. It is an autoimmune disorder that can cause nutrient deficiencies, anaemia, severe digestive issues and an increased risk of many diseases.
The most common symptoms of coeliac disease are digestive discomfort, tissue damage in the small intestines, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, headache, tiredness, skin rashes, depression, weight loss and foul-smelling faeces.
There are others who react negatively to gluten despite not testing positively for coeliac disease. People in this group may represent up to 13% of the population. Symptoms of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity include diarrhoea, stomach pain, tiredness, bloating and depression.
Beyond that, many people seek to avoid gluten in their diet for one reason or another. Some studies in the USA, for instance, estimate that this may account for more than 30% of the population.
One side note: some people who believe themselves to be gluten intolerant are actually allergic to wheat. While avoiding gluten would certainly help with the symptoms of wheat allergy, it is not necessary for these individuals to avoid all gluten. There are plenty of beers brewed without wheat that would be safe for such people to enjoy.
Food sensitivity and food intolerance
Food sensitivity and food intolerance are not the same thing.
Food sensitivity is a reaction by your immune system to the presence of a certain food in your diet. Your body produces antibodies when you eat the food you are sensitive to; the symptoms caused by this reaction can vary from person to person.
Food intolerance means you cannot digest a certain food well, usually because you lack a certain enzyme. A good example of this is lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar contained in milk. If you do not have enough lactase (the enzyme) to digest it, the lactose will be fermented by your gut bacteria, which causes gas and bloating.
Does beer contain gluten?
As you probably know, one of the four ingredients in beer is malt. But what is malt?
Malt is grains, typically barley, that have been through the process of steeping, germination, drying, and roasting. Other grains commonly used by brewers are wheat and rye.
As barley, wheat and rye are the main sources of gluten in our diet, it follows that beer too contains gluten.
It’s not called liquid bread for nothing!
What determines how much gluten is in a beer?
Some beers may contain other grains alongside barley or wheat in their grain bill – that is, the part of the beer’s recipe made up by grains. Some macro lagers (e.g. Bud Lite and beers of that ilk) will contain rice, which will lower the overall amount of gluten found in the beer.
Other factors that decrease gluten levels include use of stabilisers and specific equipment like a centrifuge, filters, and a whirlpool.
Factors that can raise the level of gluten in a beer include the use of wheat, the amount of malt used in a recipe, and the original gravity of the beer. Original gravity is a measure of how much of the natural sugars contained within the grains was extracted into the beer during the first stage of brewing.
But if you want to avoid gluten, all is not lost. You can still enjoy a beer.
Beer can be gluten-free
If you love beer but gluten doesn’t love you, there’s some good news. There is more gluten-free beer available now than there was even one or two years ago, and there are more breweries producing more types of gluten-free beer all the time. Even malt-heavy styles like stout can now be made naturally gluten-free.
Read to the end of the article for a list of some of the gluten-free beers on the market in the UK and Ireland.
You may be wondering: if beer normally contains gluten, how can it be made gluten-free?
There are two main routes brewers can take. The first is to brew a beer in the usual manner and then process it to remove the gluten. Brewers add enzymes to the beer which break the gluten down during the fermentation and conditioning stages until it falls to a low enough level for the gluten-free label to be applied. Beer made in this was is sometimes called de-glutenised.
The second is to brew the beer using grains such as rice, millet, or quinoa that do not contain gluten in the first place. These beers are sometimes referred to as naturally gluten-free.
What qualifies as gluten-free?
The labelling of gluten-free foods in the UK is regulated by the Food Standards Agency.
It states that food and drink may be labelled as gluten-free at 20 parts per million of gluten or less (or 0.0002%). This equals the smallest level detectable by validated testing methods.
Food and drink with 100ppm of gluten or less may be labelled as ‘very low gluten’ – however, only foods with cereal ingredients that have been specially processed to remove the gluten may make a ‘very low gluten’ claim.
In the USA it is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau which controls labelling on beer. There too the threshold of 20ppm is used.
Let me know what you think
Before I get into the list of gluten-free beers, I want to ask you a couple of questions: do you know someone who has had to adjust their diet to avoid gluten? Do you know someone who’s cut beer out altogether? If so, why not share this post with them. Perhaps they will be able to rediscover the pleasure to be had from a good pint!
If you’ve tried any of the beers listed below yourself, let me know in the comments what you thought of them.
Examples of gluten-free beers
What follows is by no means an exhaustive list. These are just a few examples of gluten-free beers I have managed to find online. Tasting notes are the brewers’ own. I have concentrated mainly on beers available in the UK and Ireland.
9 White Deer Brewery / Stag Saor Pale Ale / 4.5% / The malt character of Stag Saor Pale Ale gluten free beer is more subdued by using a lager malt, this gives a lighter colour and body compared to other pale ales, this gives the hop character somewhere to shine, similar to our Stag Bán the hops are late in the boil which gives more aroma and flavour with less bitterness. The hop profile is of citrus with a slight floral aroma.
9 White Deer Brewery / Stag Saor Red Ale / 4.2 % / Irish red ale but gluten free, this is a malty layered beer with depth in flavour. Irresistible toffee and caramel flavours with a medium body, a beautiful Irish red Ale at just 4.2% and a lower carbonation level this is a very sessionable beer, similar to our Stag Rua it will pour with a creamy white head and leave a lacing all the way down the glass, this hints to a complex grain bill and in turn gives the depth of flavour, not seen before in gluten free beer.
9 White Deer Brewery / Stag Saor IPA / 5% / A Classic IPA, using vast quantities of new age hops this gluten free IPA is full of flavour. Hop usage is late in the boil which gives big flavours and aroma without big bitterness. IPAs never serviced the gluten free market but that is now changed, and what a beer to change it with. A well balanced quaffable IPA bursting with flavour and aroma.
9 White Deer Brewery / Stag Saor Kolsch Style Lager / 4.2% / Stag Saor Kolsch Style has a gentle hop and malt character, a classic German style of beer brewed with German Nobel Hops, Premium Irish and German Malt and German Yeast.
9 White Deer Brewery / Stag Saor Stout / 4.2 % / This is a double chocolate and Madagascan vanilla stout, Stag Saor stout is Irelands first gluten free stout, based on the same recipe as our draft stout Lon Dubh but with heaps of cacao nibs and vanilla but this version is bursting with chocolate. This is a rich and luxurious beer with incredible smoothness.
Allendale Brewery / GFPA / 4.7% / A fruit, citrus nose with hints of pineapple – an exotic fruit nose promising much, which happily follows and expands through to the taste. The hops appear as soon as it hits your palate. It has a lovely mouthfeel, reasonably full in the body for a pale ale. The judges found it punchy and well-balanced. The fact that it is gluten-free is a bonus.
Anarchy Brew Co / Exile / 4.9% / No gluten can attach itself to this clean, slick pale ale. Big American hops give rise to the awesome flavours with smooth as f*#k bitterness!
Autumn Brewing Co / Alt Brew No.01 / 4.5% / A refreshing, light and easy drinking pilsner with a sweetness in aroma and flavour. Naturally gluten-free Californian rice malts and German Tettnang hops give a smooth bitterness and a clean finish.
Autumn Brewing Co / Alt Brew No.02 / 4.6% / A light golden ale brewed using the finest naturally gluten-free Californian rice malts and traditional English hops. Additional Cascade hops gives a subtle twist to the aroma and flavour of this bittersweet ale.
Autumn Brewing Co / Alt Brew No.03 / 4.8% / Dark with a subtle nutty aroma, the naturally gluten-free artisan millet malts give a depth to the roasted flavour, with a hint of dark chocolate and dry finish. The brewers tell me they believe this to be the UK’s first naturally produced gluten free beer.
Black Isle / Goldfinch / 3.5% / Amber in colour with a creamy head and a malty tangerine aroma. Strong malt flavours with nicely balanced bitterness, some slight floral and citrusy notes.
Brewdog / Vagabond Pale Ale / 4.5% / A kick-ass, hop-forward pale ale, that just so happens to be gluten free. Vagabond Pale Ale melds citrus and tropical hop flavours with a light caramel malt base, backed up with a raucously resinous bitterness.
First Chop / Pip / 6.3% / Classic fruity saison flavours from the yeast, hints of banana, oranges and grapefruits. Spicy and herbal notes with peaches and limes from the hops and a blast of grapefruit from the cold pressed grapefruit oil.
First Chop / Pod / 4.2% / A classic oatmeal stout, the vanilla really bringing out the chocolate flavours, beautifully balanced bitterness and peppery, spicy hopping with hints of citrus.
Greens / Dark Ale / 5.8% / A bottle re-fermented ale, complex and warming, ideal for the fireside. Pronounced chocolate flavour with sour cherries and burned sugars, has a rich and complex mouthfeel.
Greens / Dubbel Ale / 7.0% / Bottle re-fermented and naturally gluten free. The latest edition to our range of beers from ancient grains. The dubbel style originated in Belgium, possibly as a “second style” offered for sale by monastic breweries. Green’s Dubbel is the world’s first version of this style produced from ancient grains, all gluten-free ingredients.
Note: As well as the two listed, Greens produce a wide range of gluten-free beers.
Magic Rock / Fantasma / 6.5% / Hazy, dank and tropically fruity with a restrained bitterness and great drinkability. We really don’t think you would guess this was a gluten-free beer.
Mikkeller / I Wish / 5.5% / A super hopped up American Pale Ale, designed, not just for the gluten sensitive, but for all beer fans alike. I Wish is a fresh, tasty and risk-free experience. In your face, gluten!
Note: as well as I Wish, Mikkeller produce six further gluten-free beers.
Mongozo / Premium Pilsener / 5.0% / The beer has a mild, slightly bitter, ‘hoppy’ flavour and is easy and refreshing to drink. The beer is brewed using only high-grade, certified-organic barley malt, rice and hops. The rice used also has Fairtrade certification.
Nene Valley / Release The Chimps / 4.4% / An IPA for everyday drinking. A pale malt base gives a crisp mouthfeel that allows late-addition and dry hops to come through with a clean punchy bitterness and a good deal of hop flavour for such a light beer.
Note: all of Nene Valley’s beers are now gluten-free unless specifically labelled otherwise.
St Peter’s Brewery / G-Free / 4.2% / A clean, crisp, gluten free ale with a pilsner lager style finish. The colour of pale straw with citrus and orange marmalade aromas from American Amarillo and Admiral hops. Flavours of zesty mandarin and tropical fruits give this unique beer a pleasing taste. This product contains Sorghum extract, and hops. There is no malted barley in this product. Certified by Coeliac UK as an approved gluten free product.
St Peter’s Brewery / Dark G-Free / 3.9% / Dark copper in colour, this full bodied beer has aromas of citrus and vintage marmalade, from Suffolk-grown Sovereign bittering hops. This gluten free beer is full bodied, and has a smooth and satisfying flavour. Won Bronze Medal at The International Beer Challenge 2016! This product contains Sorghum extract, and hops. There is no malted barley in this product. Certified by Coeliac UK as an approved gluten free product.
Tap Social / Tung Feeler / 4.3% / Tung Feeler is a crisp refreshing golden coloured gluten-free pale ale. With low hop bitterness and medium high levels of carbonation, Tung Feeler is a perfect substitute for a light pale ale or a fuller bodied lager for those who want or need to avoid gluten.