There are many so emotions people go through the first time they find out they can’t consume gluten. I was not told by a doctor that I am allergic to gluten - I found out through trial and error that gluten had been the culprit behind many of my physical ailments. While I was happy to finally know what was causing the problems, it was a little overwhelming to know that I wouldn’t be able to eat many of my favorite foods anymore. No more pasta, no more pizza, no more Subway – it seemed like everything I loved had gluten! And let’s not forget about the beer. For a (then) 24 year old guy who likes to throw back a few beers with his friends, learning you can’t enjoy good ol’ brewski’s anytime you wish is not a good feeling. Since it’s been over a year since I first became gluten-free, I figured I needed to branch out from the one or two gluten-free beers I always drink and try as many of them as I can. I will take you with me on my 2 month long journey through Chicago to find the best gluten-free beers on the market today.
Redbridge, made by Anheuser-Busch, is probably the most well-known and widely available gluten-free beer. I have found that more times than not when a restaurant or sporting venue offers gluten-free beer, it is Redbridge that they are offering. I didn’t need to chase down Redbridge during my “gluten free beer journey” because I have been drinking it consistently since November 2010 when I first became gluten-free. I am more familiar with it than I am all the other gluten-free beers combined. I would describe Redbridge as the gluten-free beer that people who drink Bud Light, Budweiser, and the like will enjoy. Lager beer fans will probably not like it. I have heard it described as “watery” and “mediocre” by dark beer fans before. With that said, I really enjoy drinking Redbridge beer. Not only is it available all over the place, but I actually enjoy the taste. Many of my friends (who are not gluten-free) have tried it and they have all said it is a pretty solid gluten-free offering. Kudos to Anheuser for producing a gluten-free beer that tastes good and can be found pretty much everywhere.
Estrella Damm Daura
I came across Damm Daura for the first time on a Monday night at Tavernita in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. I had heard good things about it, yet this was the first time I had ever come across it before. I gotta say, this beer really blew my socks off. Most of the time I am just looking for pass-able gluten-free beer, but Damm Daura was actually really good. I went through four of them without a hitch, and the taste remained smooth and consistent the whole time.
It has been about a month since I first had Damm Daura, and I have been seeing it around more and more. If you live in Chicago, you are sure to come across it quite frequently if you dine out often. I heard that it is actually made with barley malt, which is often a huge no-no for gluten-free people, but that it is completely removed during the brewing. Damm Daura supposedly has under 6 PPM of gluten, which is well under the 20 PPM required to be labeled gluten-free.
Lakefront New Grist
New Grist is a gluten-free beer made from sorghum and rice extract by Lakefront Brewery, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. According to the labeling on the beer, the only ingredients are sorghum, rice extract, yeast, water, and hops. New Grist is quite readily available here in Illinois, although it’s not as easy to find as Redbridge. New Grist is a pretty unique beer – it is light, but not too light. It is sweet with a touch of apple taste to it, similar to a hard cider. If you are a fan of lighter beers, New Grist will fill a nice void in your beer arsenal. New Grist will not “wow” you in any way, but it is a nice, refreshing beer to drink every so often as a change of pace.
Fox Tail Gluten-Free Ale
Touted as the first gluten-free beer in a can, Fox Tail is an ale I just recently came across at the local liquor store. According to the store employee, this is a relatively new beer on the market. Since I had never heard of Fox Tail before drinking it, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. The beer itself actually wasn’t bad – it goes down relatively smooth and easy. Fox Tail just tastes a little….different. I am not even sure how to explain it. There is nothing I have ever drank during my lifetime that compares to the taste of this beer. I am not meaning any of this as positive or negative, just trying to provide all the thoughts that went on in my head as I drank it. I will say this though: I only drank two of them before I found myself yearning for something else, so that is definitely a minus for Fox Tail. Although the things I have said haven’t sounded overly positive, the beer itself is alright and I would give it another try if my favorites weren’t on hand.
New Planet Off Grid Pale Ale
For fans of ales, New Planet offers their Off Grid Pale Ale to us gluten-free folks. The packaging and bottles are colorful and fun, putting you in a positive mood before even taking a drink. Off Grid uses sorghum, hops, yeast, and brown rice as the main ingredients. Before getting into what I think about the beer, I have to give a note of warning: I have never been a huge fan of ales. I grew up drinking what everyone would consider the bottom of the barrel on the beer spectrum – the Natty Lights and Busch Lights. However, I found Off Grid Pale Ale to be a pleasant surprise. If you gave me a blind taste test of all the gluten-free beers on this list, I would say that this one tasted the most like a regular beer.
St. Peter’s is the darkest beer on the list, and definitely takes some getting used to. It is made by a company in the United Kingdom. I only drank one of them, and I was pretty underwhelmed. I liked the smell of citrus and hops, but the taste left me yearning for more. It has quite the bitter finish. If European lagers are your thing, give St. Peter’s Sorgham beer a try – but don’t expect big things. I did have a friend who tried it and liked it, so your mileage may vary.
I still remember going into the liquor store for the first time after realizing gluten was the culprit behind my health problems. I didn’t even know what I was looking for, but I eventually came across Redbridge and Bard’s. I decided to try them both. Bard’s is supposedly America’s first gluten-free sorghum beer and the only beer that is brewed with 100% malted sorghum. This beer is just really underwhelming in both smell and taste. I would definitely describe Bard’s as a pretty boring beer, really lacking in much of anything. Two of my friends who aren’t gluten-free tasted it and thought it was pretty nasty. If there are no other gluten-free beers around, I would settle for this – barely.
Tweason’ale is a relatively new gluten-free beer offering from Dogfish Head. It is made with fresh strawberries, sorghum, and honey. After naming those ingredients, I don’t think it is going to shock anyone when I say that this beer is truly unique: fruity, refreshing, and tart. I immediately loved the taste of Tweason’ale as soon as it hit my lips. Since gluten-free beer is still in its infancy, it is always a pleasant surprise when you discover something as awesome as this beer. Unfortunately, since I have hyped this beer up so much already, there is a bit of bad news – it’s pretty expensive. It was about $10 for a 4 pack at my local store. However, I do think Tweason’ale is 100% worth the money, since it is quite the unique offering in the gluten-free beer world.
Prairie Path Golden Ale
(UPDATE IN 2013: THE PACKAGING NOW SAYS “GLUTEN REMOVED”, SO IF YOU ARE A CELIAC, I WOULD PROBABLY AVOID THIS BEER) Many people aren’t even aware this is a gluten-free beer, because it is not made from sorghum or rice and it does not say “gluten-free” on the packaging. I recently came across it at the local Whole Foods, where the employee informed me that it was gluten-free. Not that I didn’t believe him, but just to make sure I Google’d it and sure enough, Two Brothers confirms it on their website here. I went back and bought two 6 packs.
First of all, and they answer more questions on that page I link to above, supposedly Two Brothers uses an enzyme in the brewing process that gets rid of the barley/gluten. Now I am not familiar with brewing one bit, so I can’t really go into this more. I will just take their (website’s) word that it is gluten-free. As for the taste of the Prairie Path Golden Ale, I was pleasantly surprised. I mentioned some of the beers above would be hard to have more than a few without getting sick of them; not to sound like I drink a lot, but I was able to finish off a 6 pack of this and still feel like I could have more. It is very crisp and light.
As of this writing on 5/30/12, here are my top three gluten-free beers:
Prairie Path Golden Ale
and the winner is……
Estrella Damm Daura
Well, I hope everyone found this enjoyable and informative. With some summer barbecuing coming up, I can’t wait to quench my thirst with a few of these brews on a warm night with friends!
Check back soon for more additions to this list, and possibly even new beers in the top three. I am always going to consider this list a work in progress, since there are going to be more and more gluten-free beers hitting the scene in the coming months and years!