Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bottoms up: a round-up of gluten-free beer

By Giselle Wedemire

With the massive media spotlight currently being cast on the evils of gluten, it's no wonder that the gluten-free beer market has expanded.

Free of wheat and gluten allergens, these new breeds of beer are brewed with innovative substitutions such as sourghum, millet, rice, and corn. While their status as specialty beers in most stores means they carry a heftier price tag, I fully stand behind this new development because I firmly believe that no beer lover should be denied beer by any means.

Being the curious beer lover that I am, I've found that trying new beer can sometimes be intimidating and often disappointing (I'm looking at you, Vampire Republic Czech Pilsner). However, I've gone ahead and taken one for the team by sampling six celiac-friendly brews.

1. New Grist

Made from sorghum and rice, New Grist is Lakefront Brewery Inc's gluten-free brew that promises to be "a crisp and refreshing alcoholic beverage." The brewery delivers on this lofty promise because it blew me away with its crisp, thirst-quenching tastes that were vaguely citrusy and hoppy. 
Had I been blindfolded when I first tasted this beer (come on, you know you've been there and done that), I wouldn't have been able to tell you that I had just sampled a gluten-free beer. 
I was pleasantly surprised by this beer, and it was a great and refreshing introduction to the world of gluten-free brews.

Rating: 4 stars (out of a potential 5)

2. Bard's Gold
This beer offers up an unmistakably stale aftertaste.
On second thought, every swig of Bard's Gold -- from the first sip to the last lingering bits of aftertaste -- is permeated by a flavour that is decidedly unfresh. A curious thing happened to me while drinking this beer, as well. After a few sips, it felt as though the roof of my mouth was growing numb (an effect that I often associate with drinking too much root beer). 
The label boasts that it is "the original sorghum malt beer", but being an original and being the best are not always mutually exclusive. The ingredients list is similar to New Grist's, though where New Grist uses rice, Bard's employs yeast in its recipe. I suppose this slight difference is anything but slight because I threw out this beer after a few sips. 
While I'm normally a thrifty person and would never entertain the thought of throwing out half a bottle of beer (especially after just a few sips), I just couldn't stomach the stale taste and the Too Much Root Beer mouth-numbing effects it caused.

Rating: 1 star (I've had worse beer before)

3. Estrella Damm Daura

Hailing all the way from Barcelona, this imported lager is light and surprisingly familiar in taste. If I had to put my finger on it, I'd say that its closest rival taste-wise is Corona and it's a great introduction to the world of gluten-free beers just as Coronas are a great, inoffensive introduction to the world of mainstream beers. 
While Estrella's ingredients don't stray too far from the other gluten-free brews already ranked, the formula seems to be heightened by the addition of barley malt.
Though it's a crisp and satisfying beverage, it's nothing to write home about -- but I could see it becoming a staple in a number of celiac's coolers because it's bound to have more of a mass appeal because of its inoffensive neutrality.

Rating: 3 stars

4. La Messagere

Quebec lends a hand in the quest to find premium gluten-free suds with La Messagere. Brewed and bottled by the Nouvelle France microbrewery, La Messagere is marketed as a rice and buckwheat beer. One can only assume that this is because of the added rice and buckwheat malts.
As far as flavour goes, this brew tastes as though you chucked a teaspoon or two of molasses into a bottle of New Grist and tried to pawn it off on your friends at a backyard barbeque as your latest success from your budding basement brewery. (Though it tastes good, its palette reeks of DIY endeavours and seems to be trying too hard to impress.)

Rating: 3.75 stars

5. Mongozo Premium Pilsener

Fairtrade, organic, and gluten-free. These are the lofty adjectives adorning bottles of Mongozo Premium Pilsener everywhere, and while they are intended to boost the product's reputation, they fall flat once the contents are consumed. Brewed in the Netherlands, our last gluten-free beer features a pretty standard looking ingredients list of barley malt, rice, yeast and hops, with many of these items produced organically.
Though this beer may seem to employ the average hippie's dream team (see above adjectives), there is nothing remarkable about this formula -- it's pretty much the alcoholic equivalent of white bread. Disappointingly, you're ultimately left with a pilsner so plain it could very well be mistaken for water.

Rating: 1.5 stars (at least it was better than Bard's)

The road to finding a great gluten-free beer is long and sometimes disappointing. What are some of the best (and worst) gluten-free brews you've tried? Let us know by tweeting us at @PickyBitchez.