Despite my firm declaration in my last column that I will continue to drink beer in the face of my recent wheat allergy diagnosis, I decided I would be remiss not to look into the world of gluten-free beer.
Certainly there is not nearly the variety among gluten-free beers that exists among their wheat and barley cousins, but, as I headed off to Whole Foods to see what I could find, I can't say I wasn't a little excited to delve into this new world of possibilities.
Although I suppose I had some prior conception of gluten-free beer before learning about my allergy, I can definitively say I couldn't have told you a single brand, and certainly had never tasted one.
In general, gluten-free beers have none of the allergenic glycoprotein that exists in cereal grains such as barley and wheat. These particular grains are found in almost all beers as a principal ingredient—sometimes even added in beers where they are not the malted grain—making almost all "regular" beers an unviable option for those with wheat or gluten allergies.
In order to make a gluten-free product, then, brewers use other cereals that do not contain gluten—commonly buckwheat and sorghum—as a replacement in the process.
Some suggest that certain beers such as Budweiser (rye malt) and Sapporo (rice) contain low enough concentrations of gluten that those who suffer from Celiac disease and other allergies will be unaffected by these brews, but this claim is dubious at best.
There is not an unambiguous level by which all beers can be judged safe for consumption, and thus it is generally better to either test your own level of comfort or stick to the gluten-free offerings that currently exist. I decided to try the latter this week.
As I searched through the multitude of wonderful beers Whole Foods has to offer, it was clear that the wound was still fairly fresh, but I remained resolute to come away with a respectable gluten-free choice.
After walking by literally hundreds of brews I would love to try, I was pleased to find a cache of gluten-free options tucked away at the end of the fridge. Having no real frame of reference, I tried my best to size them up and select the most promising.
Following the requisite amount of waffling involved in picking a beer, I decided upon the established-looking brand Bard's. Sporting the motto, "The Original Sorghum Malt Beer," it seemed like a semi-logical choice, so I took home a six-pack and prepared for my first exploration into the realm of gluten-free beer.
While I am now aware of multiple styles of beer being made gluten-free, Bard's makes only one brew—an American lager made of sorghum alleged to have a medium body with low bitterness and a floral aroma.
Bard's claims to be the first craft-brewed, gluten-free beer and the first 100 percent malted gluten-free sorghum beer, meaning the grains were allowed to partially germinate before brewing. So how did it stack up?
Upon first pour, it was clear something a bit different was going on here. The beer did have a nice amber color, but the head was almost nonexistent, and despite other opinions, I found it to have little carbonation. I didn't know what to expect really when I took my first drag. Would it be anything like beer at all?
The answer is a definite yes. The mouthfeel was a bit thicker, but not strange, and the initial taste was fairly innocuous. There was a sweetness that accompanied the smell, perhaps caramel-like with some fruit notes, but nothing too powerful.
The aftertaste was also perhaps a little different than other malts, but there was at least a little bit of the familiar bitterness from the hops.
Overall, if anything negative can be said about this beer, it is that it's bland. Coming into the tasting, I thought the alternative grains utilized would produce foreign, offensive flavors, but clearly I was mistaken. Instead of being overpowered by some exotic taste, I found myself sipping on one of the more average beers I've tasted—and I mean that as a genuine compliment to Bard's. I easily downed my first gluten-free beer, and I don't think it will by any means be my last.