When I was a kid, my dad drank Black Label beer out of a can (too often as it turned out…RIP dad). He very occasionally would offer me a sip and while I had no idea what “alcohol” was at this age, I thought it was cool that I was drinking “dad’s drink”.
I also remember my very first own beer at a party in (if my kids are reading this…STOP HERE) seventh grade. It was a 7 oz. bottle of Miller and Bill Reeves gave it to me.
Fast forward to my college years and beer became a “how much can we get for the least amount of money humanly possible” kind of thing. Taste did not matter.
But then as I got older (I was going to say “matured” but who am I kidding?), I began to develop an appreciation for real beer. The 90 Minute IPA from Dogfish, the interesting varieties from Magic Hat, the care put in by a local brewery. Early in my years, I drank beer. Later in my years, I enjoyed beer. Big difference.
Then celiac hit. BAM! No more beer. But wait…there is a gluten-free beer called Red Bridge. BLAH! No more beer.
But then something good happened. Other companies began brewing gluten-free beer that actually tasted delish and were completely safe for celiacs. Life was whole again.
End of story, right? I wish.
Other companies jumped in and decided to make “gluten-removed” beer. Just the name of it pi$$e$ me off. And confusion reigned, which seems to have become the norm in the celiac world.
Well…with the help of my three BFF’s (beer friends forever), I am here to set the record straight on gluten-free beer once and for all. Let me introduce you to the three people behind my favorite gluten-free beers: James Neumeister of Ground Breaker Brewing; Jason Yerger of Ghostfish Brewing; and David Cayer of Glutenberg.
I reached out to them a few weeks ago asking if they were game for an interview and without hesitation, they all agreed. I asked them all the same questions. Here’s how it went down:
GD: Can you explain the difference between “gluten-removed beers” like Omission and Daura and “gluten-free beers” like yours?
James: Our beers are different from “gluten-removed beers” in that what we make is actually gluten-free. We use only gluten-free ingredients in an entirely gluten-free facility, significantly reducing the risk of cross contamination.
Jason: “Gluten-removed” is kind of a misnomer, first of all, since gluten cannot be “removed” from a beer. But the main difference is that beers like Omission start with barley malt, which contains gluten, and we start with only naturally gluten-free ingredients that are either produced in dedicated facilities or certified gluten-free. This means our beers have 0 PPM gluten, guaranteed. Beers like Omission claim in their promotional materials that they are “less than 20 PPM gluten”, but this is plainly false, as neither the FDA nor the TTB recognize their testing methods as valid. In fact, it’s against the law for them to make PPM claims on their product labels…unfortunately, it’s not illegal for them to make those claims on promotional materials, as those materials are not regulated by the TTB or the FDA.
David: According to the FDA, a beer can be considered gluten-free as long as it tests under 20 parts per million (ppm). Some breweries brew beer with barley or wheat and later use an added enzyme to break down the gluten protein in the grain. It’s important to say that this particular process does not make gluten disappear, it merely tones down the amount of gluten contained in the beer itself. For some gluten intolerant people, this can be a viable option but it can be very damaging for someone suffering from celiac disease. At Glutenberg, we take care of this issue by carefully selecting ingredients that are 100% gluten free, from our grains to our yeast. Our grains are pretty much all provided by Ferme sans gluten, a certified gluten free farm located in Quebec. We try to keep our production as local as we can!
GD: When you first decided to launch a gluten-free beer, did you consider making it gluten-removed? If so, what caused you instead to (thankfully) make it truly gluten-free?
James: When I first started researching gluten-free brewing I came across the enzymes.They sounded like a terrible idea to me and I quickly wrote them off. The idea that they are genetically modified black mold created to speed up beer production really went against everything that craft brewing meant to me.
Jason: No, I never considered it, because I am celiac myself and had some bad reactions to Omission and Daura before signing on with Ghostfish Brewing Company.
David: Gluten removal has never been and will never be part of our brewing process. We believe that it’s what makes us one the most respected and delicious gluten-free beer that is currently offered on the market. It has also given us the opportunity to come up with unique and daring recipes. We have a lot fun revisiting certain styles (for example, the Glutenberg White which is inspired by witbiers traditionally brewed with wheat) and give them our own twist. We choose to see it as a springboard to our creativity rather than a barrier.
GD: What precautions do you take in the brewing process to ensure that absolutely no gluten enters the product?
James: We buy from safe vendors. Typically we source new ingredients through GFCO. If I can buy it from a GFCO certified vendor the risk is lower and the time and money we have to invest in testing goes down. For everything else we have testing procedures that we have developed with GFCO as part of our certification. Because we have a gluten-free facility there isn’t a lot of opportunity for contamination.
Jason: We make sure that everything entering our brewery is first and foremost naturally gluten-free. We also make sure that it has either a) only ever been handled on dedicated equipment, or b) has been certified gluten-free by a 3rd party certification organization. If a product doesn’t meet either of those criteria, even if it’s “probably safe”, we won’t touch it.
David: First of all, each and everyone one of our suppliers is certified gluten free. Not a single ingredient that could contain gluten is allowed in the brewery. Then, to suppress any chance of external contamination, our grains go straight from the farm to the brewery. Once the beer is brewed and canned, we test every batch before releasing it on the market. Once in a while, we send random batches to an outside lab for extent analyses. The results are then put up on the website for everyone to see. If people have any doubts on our beer, they can take a look at them and be reassured.
GD: Do you think the gluten-free movement, for lack of a better word, is here to stay and will support your business for years to come?
James: As I understand it there are as many people with celiac disease that are undiagnosed as there are people on a gluten-free diet that don’t need to be. If they all switch places we will be right where we started.
Jason: One of our founding principles is that we are making beer for everyone. That includes people without gluten issues—we want our beer to be comparable to any other beer, not just other gluten-free beers. We try to reflect this principle in everything we do, and so far it seems to be working—we haven’t done a formal study, but judging by our reviews online, it seems to be the case that a majority of people visiting our taproom and buying our beer have no gluten issues. I like to think that if tomorrow they invented a cure for every illness that responds to a gluten-free diet, we’d just keep on making beer the way we do and be none the worse for the wear.
David: Celiac disease is an unfortunate but very real condition. Just like people who are allergic to nuts, they have to cut out every dish or product that may contain gluten and we will continue to provide these people with a delicious and guaranteed safe option.
As for the brewery’s years to come, aside from being pioneers in our field, beer geeks consider Glutenberg as a genuinely great beer that happens to be gluten free. We think that it’ll help us survive and even thrive in the beer world.
GD: Anheuser Busch makes Red Bridge. Coors just came out with Peak (have not tried yet.) How do you compete with these companies that have HUGE marketing budgets?
James: By making more interesting products. (Dude note: Short and to the point 🙂 )
Jason: I don’t see it as a competition. We’re not making light lagers, they’re not making double IPAs, stouts, witbiers, browns, or saisons (etc.). There is a time and a place for cheap light beer, and there is definitely a market for it, but it’s not our market. We’re not losing any customers to them, of that much I am sure!
Frankly, I’m glad they are doing what they do, because at least they are doing it 100% gluten-free. Do I wish they were making a product with better flavor? Absolutely! Do I think we could make a light lager that blows their products out of the water? You bet! But could we do it as cheaply, and get it distributed as widely? Not currently. And Coors…I got to give them props, because they went to the trouble to figure out how to brew a copper lager with malted and unmalted brown rice, not just sorghum syrup like AB does with Redbridge. The flavor isn’t all that different in my opinion, but it took a helluva lot of work and commitment, and that deserves some praise.
David: We try to make the brand as humane and lively as possible. It is undisputable that a big budget like the one Molson Coors has is always appreciated. However, what we lack in money, we more than make up for in humanity. People want to know that they are talking to a human being instead of a, for lack of better word, ‘’corporation’’. One of our weapon of choice is social media because it allows us to establish a direct dialogue with our customers. We can quickly answer their questions and address their concerns on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as inform the public when a new beer comes out. All in all, we work very hard to make them feel guided and educated. Plus, our biggest marketing trait is the quality of our beer. With the recent boom in the microbrew era, beer geeks grew accustomed to a certain level of quality in the beers they taste so at the end of the day, if people don’t think that your beer is worth it, not even the biggest marketing budget will be able to save you from a bad review made viral by beer forums and tasters around the world.
GD: What are your thoughts on Omission and other gluten-removed beers marketing to the celiac community as being safe?
James: I think that it is wrong to sell any product made with barley, wheat, or rye to the celiac community as safe.
Jason: It makes my blood boil! It’s just dishonest, plain and simple. They are no better than the snake oil salesmen of old, finding ways to skirt federal regulations to mislead retailers and customers alike into thinking it’s a safe product when at best it’s only safer for an unknown proportion of the gluten intolerant (and at worst it’s silently hurting everyone who drinks it). There is no rigorous scientific evidence supporting the safety of these kinds of beers, and to claim otherwise is a bold-faced lie. The federal government requires them to put on their labels “the gluten content of this product cannot be verified and this product may contain gluten”, so they are contradicting their own labels in their marketing materials!
David: We personally don’t consider it gluten free since we get a lot of pride from the fact that we do not use any barley or wheat in our brewing process but if some people think it’s worth a try, good for them. The FDA is reviewing their regulation so they might have to adjust in a not so distant future.
GD: What grains do you use to mimic the beer taste since you cannot use barley?
James: We are using tons of chestnuts and lentils that we roast in small batches at our brewery.
Jason: We use malted millet, malted buckwheat, and malted brown rice as the main “flavor” components.
David: We use a large array of grains but our top three includes millet, buckwheat and corn. Other grains such as black rice, amaranth and quinoa give us the freedom to dabble in other styles outside our regular series.
GD: What can the community do to help promote the celiac-safe beers like yours?
James: The consumer’s voice is much more powerful than most people realize. Most of the calls I get to open new accounts started with a customer mentioning us at the store where they shop or the pub where they want to hang out with their friends.
Jason: The most important thing is reminding everyone that “Crafted to remove gluten” is not the same as “gluten free”! It’s also helpful to encourage everyone with gluten intolerance to read labels and choose the truly gluten-free options, even if they can tolerate beers like Omission. We are often fighting for shelf space against brands like Omission, and they have the advantage of being cheaper and having a bigger distributor. Fight the misinformation.
David: Drink it and share their experience with your loved ones! We take part in lots of gluten-free expo to let people know that Glutenberg exists but nothing beats the good old mouth to ear.
I cannot thank James, Jason and David enough for their time, their commitment, their efforts, their honesty and of course, their gluten-FREE beer. The community appreciates you more than you know.
I will be reaching out to the folks at Daura and Omission and hopefully they will chime in with a response.
We’re at a crossroads folks. The gluten-free landscape is getting muddled by companies who do not have our best interest in mind. Please, please, please support the companies like Ground Breaker, Ghostfish and Glutenberg that do it right. Feel free to leave a comment below for them. Let’s show them some celiac love.
37 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Gluten-Free Beer – From the Experts Themselves”
Great interview GD! Hope you had a good time writing it!
It’s so refreshing to see these answers given the increase of bad “gluten free” products being pushed these days. I consider myself very lucky that the local brewery, EPIC, makes “The Glutenator” to compete with the Omission beers. These are the only two options I’ve seen offered in my area.
Side story, 6 weeks ago when I was diagnosed, I went to a local eatery that I knew had good gluten free options. The menu listed Omission as being a gluten free beer, but “The Glutenator” didn’t have that designation. (I’m working on educating the staff on that.) I was thrilled to drink the Omission, but on my second one, I saw the non gluten free disclaimer. Ugh. I raced home and Googled Omission and it brought me to one of GlutenDude’s articles (the second time he had helped me out as he also warned me about Amy’s products). Can’t tell you enough how much I loved finding this invaluable blog!
Great article and interview!! This makes me want to go out and get a case of Glutenberg right now. Hopefully more and more of these beers will be available in Canada soon – we still have a limited amount compared to the US. Cheers!
You are hereby invited to Pittsburgh, to experience Aurochs Brewing Company: http://www.aurochsbrewing.com/. And you are not too far to get here. So get here!
5 hours away. You have a long straw?
Thank you for writing this!! So exciting to learn about these brands!
As a formal (pre-celiac) beer snob and resident of western Washington, I was excited to find Ghostfish. And even more excited to discover it at Safeco Field so I can enjoy beer while watching baseball at the stadium for the first time in years. I am so appreciative of the work all these guys are doing to ensure suffers of celiac have not only safe beer to drink, but DELICIOUS craft beer that’s safe.
Delicious and safe. Awesome combo.
Thanks, Gluten Dude! The fact that GroundBreaker (formerly Harvester) came back to Vermont means that there must be a god! Because I sure prayed enough for its return 😉
And their little brewpub out in Portland was the highlight of our trip out west. Such a great product, such nice, cool people. Now we just have to get Ghostfish to distribute to the beautiful craft beer-loving and health-conscious state of Vermont! You’ve really got me excited to try it.
Steadfast Brewing out of Albany, NY is also a great 100% gluten free craft beer brewery. Definitely recommended for anyone in the mid-Atlantic/Northeast region. And though I’m usually a totally hop-frenzied IPA queen, I admit that it’s not autumn for me without a taste of a good pumpkin spice type beer (ah how I miss my Southern Tier Imperial Pumking). Steadfast has helped fill that need with their seasonal bombers of pumpkin spice. A little sweet for me, but has great flavor and fits the bill.
Thanks again for this! Over and out! 🙂
Pumking was like pumpkin pie in a glass, and I mean that in the best possible way. I always enjoyed Imperial Pumpkin Ale by Weyerbacher. Not as sweet as Pumking, but full of those pumpkin spices, not to mention a hefty ABV. Sigh. Since diagnosed (celiac disease totally sucks, by the way), Steadfast is my go-to beer. They have a decent pale ale, if you like the hoppier varieties, and they have a very palatable oatmeal stout if you like that sort of thing … and I do. Here’s hoping that the beers GD wrote about start getting wider distribution, as I can’t find any of them in my area (just west of Philly).
Thanks Gluten Dude for reaching out to these GF beer companies for information about their products and processing practices!
This is a very timely article. After being diagnosed as gluten sensitive the first thing I did was to goggle gluten free beer. I found Redbridge. I have acquired a taste for it and have tried all others that I could find with very limited success. I recently found Teason Ale (GF) from Dogfish Head Brewing and really liked it. But wouldn’t you know it I buy 2-4 pks and now they have stopped brewing it. I am in the Delaware/Eastern shore of Maryland area. I will check check the internet to see if I can get those that you guys offer. Hopefully I can find them. I LIKE/LOVE my beer.
Hey Roy, I know from talking to James @ Ground Breaker that you can get their beers online at Bring on the Beer, but they don’t ship to Maryland (Delaware is okay though!)
Hands down the best three gluten free breweries out there! I met the guys at Ghostfish when I was up in Seattle last year and they’re all awesome dudes. I loved that Jason said that one of their principles is to make beer that’s comparable to all, not just other gf beers – I’d say they’re succeeding, because a couple of theirs I tried were the best beers I’ve ever tasted! 👍🏻👍🏻 Seriously, they were so good I cried lol. And they said I wasn’t the first person to do that. 😂 Thanks for doing gf beer right, guys!!! ❤️
I would love to see a gluten free non alcoholic beer on the market for summer days when I don’t want to drink alcohol during the day.
These companies are doing noble work for us celiacs. I’m not traditionally a beer drinker (wine being my alcoholic beverage of choice), but I used to drink beer when traveling and needing a safe beverage. As I got older (currently 76) I found carbonated beverages less of a problem (I couldn’t handle anything fizzy when I was a kid), and I’d started to learn to enjoy beer. Then celiac struck (starting maybe five years ago, diagnosed for sure three years ago). So beer was to be avoided again. Recently I’ve tried some GF beers (real GF, not gluten-removed), and I’m beginning to enjoy them. For the reading of this blog post, I popped a can of Glutenberg American Pale Ale, and it’s pretty darn good. I salute Mr. Cayer and his associates.
This is awesome work. About a month ago, I did an article on my blog comparing gluten free and gluten removed beers and how they are made. After a response I got on Twitter, I did more research on gluten testing for gluten removed beer and found out that basically, no one has any idea how much gluten is in those beers or if they are actually safe for celiacs. I decided that gluten removed beer just isn’t worth the risk for me. Sadly, gluten removed beer is the standard in the UK and it’s really hard to find truly gluten FREE beer here. I’m glad to see these guys getting some attention, as it’s important to support the brewers who are making products that are really and actually safe for celiacs.
Awesome work guys! I work at a brewery, does not make a gf beer 🙁 But my Brewmaster and Sales Rep (as do I) do look for samples to bring back for me at beer fests that he attends! I do wish that I had more accessibility to get GF beers in my area
Hey, does anyone know for certain if Mongozo beer is gluten-free or gluten removed? Cheers!
Their Premium Pilsener includes this in the description on their website: “The beer is brewed using only high-grade organic barley malt, organic hops and Fairtrade certified-organic rice.” In my opinion, that puts them pretty squarely in the gluten removed camp. They say their Buckwheat White is brewed with “malt”, but they don’t say what kind of malt; in the absence of other information, I’d assume barley.
Great interview! I found Glutenberg at Whole Foods shortly after being diagnosed with Celiac’s. Their Red Ale blew me away. I had been searching for a good red/amber for *years* in a sea of IPAs and varients thereto!
(Glad Glutenberg’s link to this alerted me to your blog)
After I was diagnosed with celiac last fall, my husband went out and bought me every gluten free beer that he could find (yes, he is a great guy). The only two available here in the Midwest that I found acceptable were Glutenberg and Two Brothers Prairie Path. Glutenberg was exceptional — not just for a gluten free beer, but for for ANY beer. I also liked the Two Brothers Prairie Path. At the time, I didn’t know the difference between gluten-removed beer and truly gluten free beer. Well, as we all learn, gluten free does not mean celiac safe. The other night after work it was a beautiful spring evening, perfect for a cold one on the patio. I chose a Prairie Path (after not drinking one for months). Within two hours, I had to go to bed and had to come home from work the next day. While lying nearly comatose on the couch, I read this post. Ah, ha!! No more gluten-removed beer for me. Glutenberg all the way. THANK YOU!!!!!!
I have celiac and drink Daura a lot. It’s accepted as gluten free in the UK and is included in Coeliac UK’s list of safe foods/drinks. It has never caused any reaction, plus my annual blood tests and endoscopies have confirmed full intestinal healing and normal antibody count. So from all available evidence, it’s not causing me harm. Not saying it’s for all celiacs as clearly it is affecting some of you.
I got sick of the few corporate options available and none of these real gf beers are available in my area, so I started brewing my own. I use the same ingredients, malted millet and buckwheat, plus sorghum to boost it but you can’t taste it. My results have been good and I’ve really just got my feet wet. It’s very doable if you have some time/money to get started. Probably the best part is making my own recipe and brewing any kind I want.
I love Glutenberg so much, maybe too much :). The red ale in the brown can is just so good! I’ve been going low carb so I’m on a break from beer but will be back with my Glutenberg soon!
Glad to see there are true gluten free beers out there. I just wish I could find some of them around us here in Montana. My wife was diagnosed a year ago and she has tried the Gluten removed beers and they just tear her up and she is sick of Cider. Looks like I may have to make a road trip to Seattle or Portland to get some for her.
Just saw this post, nice job getting the perspective of the brewers! I’m glad to see guys like this promoting and creating true gluten-free beers in the face of all of the gluten-removed beers out there now.
Sadly I don’t have access (yet) to any of these three beers. I’ve recently begun reviewing gluten free (and gluten-removed) beers at my new blog: GlutenFreeBeerGuide.org – I’m hoping to keep adding more beers to build this up to be a good resource for the Gluten free community.
Just went on a hunt to try and find any of these three and no luck. My local package store did carry Glutenberg, but apparently stopped, said he’s going to get in back in again, we’ll see what happens. Hopefully these guys will expand to shipping their beer to CT, would love to try them. Tried one from Steadfast Beer Co yesterday, only other true GF beer I have found so far in my area, and it was ok. Been drinking the Angry Orchard, and thinking the sugar is getting to be too much for me as I feel heady the day after. Thanks for the great read!
Good job everyone and highly impressed..
Hey guys thanks so much for this – it’s just what I’ve been looking for. Over the pond here I’m UK/France based the only beers I see are gluten-removed (with th exception of green’s brewery who do 3 NGCI beers). Literally everywhere I go I see Celia which has ‘suitable for coeliacs on it’ ughhhh ten big bold BARLEY MALT on the side … I got really excited when I found some french quinoa based beer that had been recommended to me by a gf friend but it only had “malt” listed on the ingredients and it was only after my second beer that I figured something was up, searched in my bestest french and still couldn’t find what the malt was derived from, grr. I’m whole30 4 Lyf so I don’t drink – but I’ll do anything for a banging IPA once in a blue moon – I just feel it’s a little too once in a blue moon that I actually find a beer that’s safe. This ultimately comes down to the differences in EU and US regulations. To be gf certified in the EU the product must contain less than 20ppm – that’s it. What’s worse (I don’t wanna rant here so I’ll keep it short) coeliac UK seem to brand stuff and particularly gf beers almost willy nilly to those who can pay the price. The beer you produce looks amazing and if I head across the pond in the future I’ve got my list ready and waiting!
I’ll have one chilled and waiting for you.
A little late, but thanks for this. I’d been drinking gluten removed beers every so often because I fell for their marketing. I started noticing symptoms, but continued drinking them occasionally. If it was the only “gluten free” option at a bar/restaurant… I’d think, one won’t hurt, right? (Usually I’m much more diligent than this, but when I’m out with friends, caution and judgment sometimes take a backseat.) Finally this weekend it came back to bite me. I got awfully sick and decided to swear them off for good, and right at that time I saw you reposted this article. That solidified my stance against them. It’s upsetting that companies do this. You won’t see me drinking those again! By the way, I am a huge fan of Glutenberg as I only discovered it recently in my area. That’s my new go-to! Hoping to try the others.
I tried to buy any one of the three gluten free beers in fl I can not find it.
note I asked total wine 561 731 5411 he looked it up and could find no venders that have carry it
Great interview. It is impossible to find gluten free beer in any Omaha establishments. They all sell Omission, so I have been very vocal about the damage in serving this to unknowing customers who shouldn’t drink it. Burns my butt that I can’t go have a beer with family and friends.
I’m lucky because I’m in Canada and I have access to all the Glutenberg beers easily. I was just diagnosed this year and unfortunately, I loved beer before I went gluten free. I’m a big fan of red ales and I’m picky too. I just tried the Glutenberg red ale and it made my day, it is a very good beer that taste like a beer to me!! Cheers!