Choosing a Gluten-Free Beer - dummies

By Marty Nachel, Steve Ettlinger

Many different grains have been used to brew beer over the millennia. Of course, barley is best, followed by wheat and then rye. The problem with these grains — at least for people who suffer from celiac disease — is that they all contain gluten. Gluten is responsible for triggering an autoimmune reaction in the small intestines of those people with this particular affliction. That reaction can be debilitating, causing great discomfort and possibly long-term disruption to the function of the small intestine. This means that people with celiac disease don’t get the nutrients they need out of their food and may experience a range of other health issues.

In response to the growing demand for gluten-free beers in the commercial market, several breweries around the world are introducing new products each year.

Grains and starches used in gluten-free beer

Here’s a list of the prohibited grains and their derivatives that people with celiac disease should avoid:

  • Barley and barley malt

  • Malt, malt extract, malt flavoring, and malt vinegar

  • Rye

  • Wheat — including durum, semolina, kamut, and spelt

Beer made from gluten-free grains isn’t likely to match regular beer for taste and quality, but to someone facing a lifetime restriction from drinking beer, gluten-free beer is like manna from heaven — made without gluten, of course!

Sorghum, millet, and buckwheat are the three most common substitutions for glutenous grains used to brew beer, but here’s a more complete list of the grains and starches that are safe to consume:

  • Beans

  • Buckwheat

    Buckwheat is an herb of the Buckwheat family Polygonaceae, and it has origins in central and western China. Its small beechnuts are milled, which separates the edible groats from their hulls. These groats are then roasted and used as a grain product.

  • Corn

  • Millet

    Millet is a family of grasses and represents some of the oldest cultivated crops known to man. Millet seeds are harvested and used for food or feed; in this case, that food is beer! Millet has regularly been used for making beer in Africa, and it’s now one of the most widely used grains for brewing commercially made gluten-free beer.

  • Potato

  • Quinoa

  • Rice

  • Sorghum

    Sorghum is a vigorous grass that tolerates dry weather and is commonly used as one of the ingredients in African beer.

  • Soybean

  • Tapioca

A list of gluten-free beers

Most brewers of gluten-free beer have formulated their products with 100 percent gluten-free ingredients and processes that ensure purity of product. But some filtering processes used by brewing companies render gluten undetectable in low-gluten beer; so unless a beer is totally gluten-free, people with celiac disease have no assurance that it’s completely safe. And because gluten-free is a health claim, current U.S. beer label regulations don’t allow the term gluten-free to appear on any beer sold in the United States. Buyer and imbiber beware!

Commercially Produced Gluten-Free Beers
Beer Brewery Country
Australia Pale Ale Billabong Australia
O’Brien Premium Lager O’Brien Australia
Green’s Discovery Amber Ale De Proef Belgium
Green’s Endeavor Dubbel De Proef Belgium
Green’s Quest Tripel De Proef Belgium
La Messagère New France Canada
Kukko Pils Laitilan Finland
Beer Up Glutenfrei Pale Ale Brauerei Grieskirchen Germany
Birra 76 Bi-Aglut (food products) Italy
Mongozo Palmnut Mongozo Beers The Netherlands
Mongozo Quinua Mongozo Beers The Netherlands
Celia Saison The Alchemist U.S.
Dragon’s Gold Bard’s Tale U.S.
New Grist Lakefront U.S.
Mbege Sprecher U.S.
Passover Honey Beer Ramapo Valley U.S.
Redbridge Anheuser-Busch U.S.
Shakparo Ale Sprecher U.S.
Tread Lightly Ale New Planet U.S.