About 2 million Americans live with celiac disease, and many more have gluten intolerance that prevents them from consuming wheat, barley, or rye. To the dismay of many, this excludes beer from their diets.
The bright side? Compared with a few years ago, craft beers catering to gluten-free and gluten-sensitive audiences are aplenty. From dedicated gluten-free operations like Holidaily Brewing and Ghostfish Brewing, to national brands like New Belgium and Stone incorporating gluten-reduced options in their lineups, this once-mysterious (and arguably sub-par) category has officially made it to the mainstream.
The category can be tricky to navigate, though. Below, we break down the differences between gluten-free beer options.
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Gluten-Free Beer, Defined
Karen W. Hertz, founder of Holidaily Brewing in Golden, Colo., says there are three different types of “gluten-free-friendly” beers: gluten-reduced, gluten-free, and dedicated gluten-free.
Put simply, gluten-free beer is beer made with gluten-free ingredients. This includes sorghum, rice, buckwheat, millet, and other sugar sources that aren’t malted barley, wheat, or rye.
Gluten-free labeling is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A beer can be labeled gluten-free if it contains fewer than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten. This is determined by lab testing at the responsibility of the brewery.
Gluten-free brands made without any gluten-containing ingredients include Dogfish Head’s Tweason’ale, Lakefront Brewing’s New Grist, and New Planet Beer Blonde Ale. But, here’s where it gets tricky: If gluten-free beer is produced at a facility that also produces beers with gluten (Dogfish Head, Lakefront, and New Planet included), it can technically be at risk of cross-contamination.
If beers are gluten-free and produced at dedicated gluten-free facilities, they are called dedicated gluten-free, and do not pose a cross-contamination risk. In addition, these beers must be made with gluten-free grains “grown in a specific region where neither barley [nor] wheat grew,” Cody Reif, New Belgium R&D brewer, tells VinePair.
The most common gluten-free-friendly (to borrow Hertz’s terminology) options are gluten-reduced beers. These are also labeled as “crafted to reduce gluten.”
Gluten-reduced beers are brewed just like regular beer, with malted barley, wheat, rye, or other gluten-containing ingredients, then exposed to an enzyme called Brewers Clarex during primary fermentation. This enzyme is a filtration agent that has little effect, if any, on beer’s flavor.
New Belgium’s Glütiny Pale Ale is gluten-reduced, as is its Mural Agua Fresca brand. Interestingly, the former is labeled as gluten-reduced while the latter is not; Reif believes this is because gluten-free and gluten-reduced beers can get “scapegoated,” and are often demoted to the dusty bottom shelf due to gluten-free beer’s less tasty past. “It’s like a gluten-reduced stigma,” he says.
Stone Brewing’s Delicious IPA is another well-known gluten-reduced beer that is not labeled as such. Other commercial examples of (openly) gluten-reduced beers include Anheuser-Busch’s Omission brands, Two Brothers Prairie Past Golden Ale, and any beer from Odd13 Brewing.
Reif believes even gluten-free beers can have a place in any beer lover’s repertoire. “You have to kind of look at [gluten-free beer] through a different lens than you would [regular] beer. It’s intrinsically different,” he says. As for gluten-reduced beers like Glütiny, “it’s just good beer,” he says.
Of course, when exploring gluten-free options, safety is most important. “When it comes to consuming gluten-free-friendly beer, those with sensitivities should be diligent about educating themselves,” Hertz says.
5 Gluten-Free/Gluten-Reduced Beers to Try
This Quebec-brewed, 100 percent gluten-free IPA is made with millet, buckwheat, corn, black rice, and corn maltodextrin.
This certified gluten-free beer is made with rice, sorghum, lime juice, lime peel, and salt.
A year-round gluten-reduced release from New Belgium, Glütiny is fermented from grains containing gluten, and crafted to remove gluten. Ekuanot hops give it a fruity, citric finish.
This low-cal, low-carb, gluten-reduced golden ale is crafted to remove gluten and brightened up with citrusy Millennium, Citra, and Galaxy hops.
This award-winning pilsner contains less than 5 ppm gluten.