There has been a lot of talk about gluten lately. Most of it is leaning towards the negative, but why has gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye and barley that acts as the glue that holds your bread together, been getting such bad press? For most people it's completely harmless and has many health benefits, such as being high in protein and iron as well as being low in fat and sodium. However, there are some people that suffer from gluten sensitivity or even worse, have Celiac disease. For these people, consuming gluten can cause headaches, bloating, chronic fatigue, abdominal pain, and more.
These poor souls are unable to enjoy that sweet liquid bread that we all love. Why? Because malted barley contains gluten and it's also the main ingredient in brewing, which means there is gluten floating around in your beer. Someone with Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity cannot enjoy that sweet beer without paying for the consequences later. Don't worry, there is hope for them and it comes in two forms: "Gluten-free" beer and "Crafted to remove gluten" beer.
What's the difference? In the United States gluten-free products must contain 0.0 ppm (parts per million) of gluten. This means that breweries cannot use any barley, wheat or rye in the brewing process. Instead, they can use grains like sorghum, buckwheat, millet, rice, corn, and quinoa all of which do not contain gluten. There are several breweries that have been using these ingredients with great results. Steadfast Beer Company located in Albany, NY is one of those that has been making delicious 100% gluten free beer for years.
"Crafted to reduce gluten" is a whole different animal. These beers are made using the same gluten containing ingredients as any other beer on the market (barley, wheat and rye). The difference between these beers and regular beer is the addition of a clarifying agent called Brewers Clarex (also available as Clarity Ferm from White Labs for you home brewers out there). Brewers Clarex is a liquid that contains this amazing little enzyme that not only helps to make crystal clear beer, but is also able to break up those big gluten proteins into smaller, harmless compounds. New Belgium's Glutiny line of beers use this ingredient to reduce their gluten levels. While they legally can't call it gluten free, the levels are reduced enough, under 20 ppm, that someone with gluten sensitivity or even Celiac disease can enjoy it with no ill effects.
So there is hope out there for those gluten sensitive beer lovers. Happy drinking!
Bill Ramsey is a self-proclaimed beer geek and avid home brewer. He has spent countless hours scouring the Internet for information about beer and brewing and isn't afraid to share that knowledge with friends, family and the occasional stranger. As a survivor of hundreds of beer festivals, he can talk to you for hours about beer if you let him, just ask some of the women he has dated. If you ever run into him in the wild he will probably be enjoying some new style of beer while googling everything he can find out about it and trying to formulate a clone recipe for it in his head.