Making gluten-free beer that tastes good is anything but straightforward. Beer is typically brewed barley, and boiled into what amounts to gluten soup. When established American breweries have tried their hands at gluten-free brewing, they've replaced these ingredients — the backbone of the beer — with sorghum (a grass), rice, or raw sugar. The resulting flavor wasn't quite right for the vast majority of these brews.
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"They don't taste like the beers that most people know," says Charles Bamforth, a professor of Brewing Science at the University of California, Davis. "People are pining for products that have a more mainstream flavor." These beers, however, have cracked the code. Some use new ingredients, like dark-roasted millet and chestnuts, while others are "gluten-reduced" beers that follow traditional brewing techniques and then add an enzyme to break down the gluten.
Brewer: Widmer Brothers Brewing
Style: American IPA
The first traditionally brewed gluten-free IPA, Omission’s brew uses aggressive Western hops like Cascade and Summit but is not too bitter, thanks in part to its muscular 6.7 percent alcohol content. It’s a prime example of how versatile the Omission process is, letting the original flavor of this West Coast IPA shine (a sorghum-based beer we tried with these same hops was so bitter it was unpalatable). Omission's Lager is a more traditional, crisp, easy-drinking European-style beer that also uses the process, while the Pale Ale has plenty of hoppy bite (but not quite as much as the IPA). Brewed traditionally with full-gluten malt, the protein is then broken down with the Brewer’s Clarex enzyme.
Credit: Photograph by Michael Pirrocco