By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The world of craft brewing is constantly evolving, which allows consumers to experiment with a vast variety of new styles — from the Cascadian dark ale to experimental ciders. However, an emerging trend that proves to be challenging to make even to the bravest of breweries is the gluten-free beer. Homebrewers should be at the forefront of making novel concoctions and, therefore, we shouldn’t shy away from gluten-free. Figuring out the best and easiest way to develop this type of beer so that it’s economical and tasty won’t be easy, but that’s why we’re here to help.
What’s in a Grain
Gluten is found in pretty much all of our favorite brewing grains. To get started, one of the simplest things you can do is avoid the usual grain you’d pick up at the local homebrew shop. However, most supplies carry two different gluten-free syrups that can serve as the basis for every gluten-free recipe you want to create. If you’d like to avoid extract, options include rice, corn, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, oats, teff, amaranth and quinoa. The two syrups available at most shops are made of rice and sorghum. They should be treated just like any other malt extract. All-grain brewers can seek out a malted whole rice that’s fairly new to the market, but it’s also expensive and not carried in every shop.
If you’re brewing for someone who’s very sensitive to gluten or has celiac disease, be sure to purchase grains, particularly oats, that say Certified Gluten Free. Unfortunately, there are no roasted or caramelized versions of these malts, so any beer you make will be very light in color. Those with an adventurous streak can always buy some whole grains from the list above and try to toast them. This may help add a different flavor profile to your finished product. For example, rice is very dry and, once fermented, doesn’t have much of its own unique characteristics to add to the brew. However, sorghum has a lot of flavor that has been described as a sour or tart-like finish. When building recipes, be sure to taste the grains while thinking about how they will impact the final product. Just because it’s gluten free doesn’t mean it tastes good.
If you’re not excited about making a 100 percent gluten-free brew, there are alternatives. An enzyme sold by White Labs called Clarity Ferm will reduce the amount of gluten in a finished batch of homebrew. A handful of commercial beers use this product to achieve gluten-free status. Be sure to read the package for dosage. You can also use a large amount of oats or spelt malt for less gluten. The two malts can provide the flavor and appearance of most other base malts, but contain less gluten.
Those with gluten sensitivities, in many cases, can still enjoy beer with these options. Just remember to divulge any information about your homebrew recipe to test samplers. It’s no fun to be a guinea pig when you might end up sick.
No Gluten for Punishment
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.