Gluten is one of the proteins that is found in wheat, rye, and barley, ingredients traditionally used in beer. This makes drinking beer inconceivable for one percent of Americans who are gluten-intolerant and can’t properly digest these proteins. Gluten-intolerance can occur at any age, so newly diagnosed beer-enthousiasts may find it hard to replace glutinous beer with something equally delicious, intriguing and expansive.
The good news is that there are more and more alternatives popping up on the market, including gluten-free beer. Contrary to the myth that these alternatives are bland, boring, or sugary, gluten-free alcoholic beverages can be a real pleasure to drink. Here’s a list of some of the top gluten-free alternatives to beer that are so good you won’t miss your former gluten-laden drink of choice. To your health!
The initial gluten-free beers on the market were pretty bad, but these days more and more options are popping up on the market. Some of which I’d even take over traditional beer! One of those newly established brands is Omission Beer out of Portland, Oregon. Unlike other gluten-free beers that are usually brewed with sorghum, Omission is made with the traditional ingredients: malted barley, hops, yeast, and water. What makes this beer gluten-free is Widmer Brothers Brewing’s proprietary process that actually removes the gluten from the barley. While most beer drinkers complain that gluten-free beers have a slick mouth feel (due to the sorghum) and don’t really have a beer flavor, this is not the case with Omission. In order to appeal to the widest beer-drinking audience possible, pale ale and lager beers are available, with more hand-crafted beers expected to become available in the next year depending on demand. Reviewers and fans emphatically state that Omission tastes exactly like the real deal – probably because it is, just without the gluten! (plus, their branding is pretty sweet)
*For those with with severe gluten sensitivity, I would recommend steering clear of Omission since there are still trace amounts of gluten. You should stick to the sorghum based beers.
A great sorghum based gluten-free beer to look for is Celia Saison from the Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury VT.
I got turned onto Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer while having dinner ata Scottish eatery in Jamaica Plain, MA called The Haven. Brewed in Leith, Scotland, Crabbie’s is brewed with a proprietary recipe, but the main ingredients are ginger, sugar, water, lemon juice and a fungal-bacteria symbiote which is also known as ginger beer plant. In other words, no grains at all are used. Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer is a great gluten-free alternative to beer that’s a little bit on the sweet side and has a nice bite of crisp ginger to it. In order to appreciate the full flavor of Crabbie’s, it’s best to serve it over ice with a wedge of lemon. It is dangerously delicious and way too drinkable!
*Apparently Crabbies has a couple different formulations of their recipe depending on the country they are selling in. One recipe they use is gluten free, while the other is not. This is horribly confusing and dangerous for the consumer. Make sure you check the label for ingredients and whether or not it explicitly states “Gluten Free!”
* IMPORTANT UPDATE: Crabbie’s is Gluten Free in the UK – It IS NOT Gluten Free in the US.
*ANOTHER IMPORTANT UPDATE: I recently got the “Ginger Libation” from Green River Ambrosia – a Massachusetts based meadery. I would highly recommend going this route. There is no question – this one is gluten free, delicious, and craft made in America. Support this small company and get out there and buy a bottle!
Vermont-made Woodchuck Cider makes a variety of regular and limited edition ciders, including Amber, Granny Smith, Dark ‘N Dry, Crisp and Raspberry. The company features a prominent gluten-free statement on its website: “We take Celiac Disease seriously, and since Woodchuck has always, and only, been made from apples (not wheat, barley or rye) none of our cider varieties have ever contained gluten. Further, we have all our ciders tested by an independent lab and we maintain a completely gluten free facility.”
For those who enjoy a more complex, heavier beverage, Archibald Orchards Spiced Winter Apple Cider has been described as the best beverage on the planet – ever! With hints of spice, warm caramel buttery texture and flavor, this cider goes down easily without being cloyingly sweet. Those in the know claim that drinking the Spiced Winter Apple Cider is actually a life experience.
Hailing from Finland, Lonkero, or “long drink” is a mixed drink made from gin and, most commonly, grapefruit soda. Invented in the 1950’s, it is now ubiquitous in Finland and other Scandinavian countries. One of the primary producers of commercially available lonkero is Hartwall’s Original Long Drink. What makes lonkero a viable alternative to beer is that it is refreshing, crisp, and dry with just a hint of sweetness. Flavored lonkero is also available; however the original version is still the most popular and is an absolute delight to drink for those who are watching their gluten intake.
Mead (of course)
Mead is making a comeback in a big way, which is giving those who are gluten-intolerant many more options. Depending on the variety you select, mead can range from dry and refreshing to complex and velvety. Just steer clear of braggot, a type of mead made with malt! Michigan’s B. Nektar has a great selection of mead that make for fine gluten-free alternatives to beer. The Zombie Killer Cyser is a smooth and very tasty cherry flavored honey infused cider that tastes great and is extremely refreshing. They also have a hoppy IPA style mead called Evil Genius.
Have you found your favorite gluten free alternative to beer? Let me know what it is…