Gluten-Free Beer Review

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m on vacation in Portland, ME. I made sure to line up some guest reviews while I am away and today Sean joins us for his first ever beer review. Sean is a marketeer, professor, soccer coach, EMT, Subaru nut, and dad, who lives in Connecticut with his family. He can be found at @seanb_us on Twitter. He likes to think he knows a good beer when he drinks one. Today he reviews gluten-free beers, which I can totally relate with as I was misdiagnosed with celiac disease a number of years ago and spent 6 months on a gluten-free diet. Enough about me. Tell’s us what’s up Sean….

I’ve been meaning to get into blogging and reviewing beer for a while. So, when Josh offered up a chance for me to do my first-ever review of beer, I selected beer few of you would choose yourselves: I chose gluten-free beer.

For those who don’t know, in very broad terms, cœliac (celiac) disease includes an allergy to gluten, which is a protein found in such grains as wheat, barley, malt, and rye. About 1 in 133 people in the USA have this ailment, though many go undiagnosed. The downside, for LIBA readers, is that those with cœliac disease really should not (many cannot) have traditional beer.

However, there is a solution: gluten-free beer (GF beer). Gluten-free beer (GF beer). Typically, GF beers are made from sorghum, a grain used instead of traditional malt, hops, water, and gluten-free yeast. This review considers three GF beers:

For my review, I enlisted the help of two regular-beer drinking helpers. For perspective, consider that I enjoy bitter beer, porters (I enjoy Otter Creek Stovepipe Porter), and a typical larger for me is Sam Adams. If I drink a Pilsner, after a hard day in the yard, for example, it is likely Pilsner Urquell.

Lakefront Brewery’s “New Grist” was universally the least favorite beer in the review. It had the distinction of being brewed with rice, in addition to sorghum, and had the highest percentage alcohol, at 5.7, but it also had what can only be described as a wickedly nasty aftertaste, sort of like sour fruit, only worse. The beer itself was thin, with a thin, liquid-soapy head, and a light, Budweiser-Lightish color. There was a weak, “ultra beer” odor to New Grist, and its pre-aftertaste was light and unremarkable, like a low-carbohydrate, low-calorie beer.

The fact that Anheuser-Busch brews a gluten-free beer is testament to the prevalence of this disease. “Redbridge” was the favorite beer of my two, non- cœliac helpers, but since this is my review, it comes in second place. In truth, as you would expect, Redbridge is a commercial quality beer. For example, I’ve had all these beers before, and the taste of the other two can change slightly from time to time, perhaps a result of being from small breweries, but Redbridge always tastes exactly the same. Redbridge features 4.8% alcohol, a thin head, a nice golden color, and no noticeable aroma. It tastes like a light pilsner, with no noticeable character and certainly no aftertaste. It is entirely pleasant … and entirely bland.

My reviewers and I argued over “Bard’s Tale”. This is my favorite of the three, and what I buy if I’m out shopping for GF beer. It is brewed by a small outfit, though, and I have found the taste of the beer to be more inconsistent than the other two. Bard’s Tale has 4.6% alcohol by volume. It has the thickest head of the three, the darkest color, and the strongest aroma – although we all found the smell unpleasant. Bard’s Tale tasted richer and smoother than the other two, and it had real flavor. There were flavors of maple syrup and a sharp, sweet aftertaste that my other two reviewers did not really like.

In the end, if you do not have cœliac disease, you would not choose any of these beers. On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being best and Sam Adams Lager being a solid 3, none of these beers would rate much above a 1. Note, craft and homebrewers should take this as an opportunity – with these beers lacking, and with 1 out of 133 people suffering from cœliac disease, think of the market opportunities!

That being said, with the possible exception of New Grist, all of these GF beers are all palatable. So, for a cœliac who wants a beer, rather than wine or liquor, and who does not want to cheat on his very restrictive diet, each of these provides a chance for a beer that will not cause harm.

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5 thoughts on “Gluten-Free Beer Review”

  1. Good review. I've been meaning to try sorghum-based beers (to get an idea for a homebrew recipe, coincidentally for Sean) but I have not as of yet tried any. It seems as though they are very much different in overall flavor and aroma.

    I'm not surprised to see AB's being a favorite, as I'm sure they have plenty of chemists on hand to make their GF beer as consistent-tasting as their other beers.

  2. My wife has celiac disease and agrees with Sean's assessment of the beers on the market- Bard's is the best of what's widely available. The only other brewery that hasn't been mentioned that many celiacs like is called Green's, from Belgium. They offer an amber, a dubbel and a tripel with ABV's ranging from 6-8.5%. Green's Discovery (the amber) is her favorite, but all three are flavorful and in stark contrast to the standard GF beers on the market today.

  3. Enjoyed it.

    I've had Green's and it's definitely good GF stuff. It's difficult to get here, and I didn't have any for my taste test — and it's likely others won't be able to get it easily, either. Plus, around here, it runs about $50 a case by special order, which decreases its appeal. However, if you can find Green's, I do recommend you give it a try.

    Cheers,

    Sean

  4. First thing, I have celiac. Before I found out I was a stout man, give me a Guiness or a Tadcasters Oatmeal Stout and I was happy. That was 4 years ago. I have competely given up on GF beers because, quite frankly they were crap. If you don’t have to drink GF don’t. I was in BevMo and I was helping my girlfriend pick out gift beers for her father and I saw Greens Endeavour Dubbel dark Ale, so I bought it. Last night I opened it and took my first drink……..I won’t lie, tears actually came to my eyes…….It was the first time in 4 years that I had tasted and actual beer. I was floored. No cookies, no cakes, no pasta, no pizza……..but I have beer back….I love the Belgiums.

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