“Celiac’s Disease” is one disorder that rips havoc on people’s digestive systems when they consume gluten. Even for those that haven’t been diagnosed officially there are many more people that are considered to be “gluten-sensitive.” Both of these groups of sufferers have increased the demand for gluten-free (GF) and gluten-reduced (GR) beers.
Those people who are sensitive to gluten have a small intestine that suffers from inflammation or damage to the villi (small “hairs” on the inner lining responsible for absorbing nutrients). Villi are responsible for carrying the nutrients from the digestive system and into the blood stream. In some cases, nearly all the villi on the inner lining can be damaged or truncated. It doesn’t take a doctor to figure out that if the healthy villi are scarce then the person becomes seriously malnourished. Sufferers learn that it’s best to avoid gluten at all costs, which means no beer. Consuming cider, wine, mead and most hard liquor is fine, however.
Before explaining how GF beer is made, it makes sense to understand where gluten is found. Gluten (or glycoprotein) is found in several grains in many different forms with fancy Latin names, which are all classed and categorized. [Yawn] Let’s just simplify that wheat contains a glycoprotein called “gliadin,” barley contains “hordein” and rye contains “secalin.” These are all different, but when it comes to Celiac’s Disease they are equally dilapidating. Oats do not contain gluten but are usually grown in proximity to wheat and are processed together so are usually avoided unless certified as pure and GF. As for grains that are considered safe: rice, corn, amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff (buckwheat is okay if certified that it hasn’t been cross-contaminated).
Q: How to make GF beer? A: Don’t use grains that contain gluten. As an example, the GF Apple Ale at the Yak & Yeti Brewpub was a GF beer, but sadly has been put on hiatus until more brewing capacity is found. All the beers at Holidaily Brewing in Golden and the contracted brewer New Planet in Boulder are true gluten-free as well.
Alternatively, there is an enzyme available to brewers called Brewers Clarex (White Labs rebrands and sells it in the US as Clarity Ferm). When used in the proper dosing levels, this enzyme can break chemical bonds of hordein, gliadin and secalin into very short protein chains essentially making them benign. Officially in Europe and the USA, most food could be tested and if they contain less than 20ppm gluten, they can legally be labeled GF. Unfortunately, that isn’t so in the beer world. There are sufferers of Celiac’s Disease that are hypersensitive and will react to anything above 5ppm. Therefore, brewers that use this enzyme should really label their beers “Gluten-Reduced” or “Crafted to Reduce Gluten” instead of GF as they were originally made with ingredients containing gluten. The government allows for either one of these descriptors when labeling a beer that was treated this way.