FAQ

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Are beverages made with gluten-free grains (without barley) technically beer?

YES. Most technical definitions of beer refer to fermented beverage made from malted or unmalted grains (frequently but not always barley). A superior and more elegant definition of beer is that it is an fermented beverage made from the starches of plant material[1].

The Reinheitsgebot (a Bavarian regulation from 1516) is a little more specific about what ingredients are allowed in beer. The Reinheitsgebot was a medieval era framework meant to provide some degree of consumer protection (preventing unscrupulous brewers from using harmful, non-food ingredients), to regulate price competition between brewers and bakers, and as a trade protectionist tactic between southern and northern Germany. In North America in the early 20th century, immigrant brewers from Germany successfully fought to keep similar regulations -- proposed by a barley-growing lobby -- from taking hold in the US and stifling brewing innovation. The Reinheitsgebot is interesting but anachronistic. Not worth arguing about.

How different is gluten free brewing from conventional brewing?

The key differences are: 1) the source of fermentables used to generate sugar for fermentation, 2) the mashing techniques used to convert starches and extract sugar from those gluten free grains, and 3) ensuring that no gluten-containing ingredients come into contact with the beer. Once wort is made, the brewing process is essentially identical to conventional brewing practice.

Why bother going to this effort?

  • Freedom to make whatever type of beer your heart desires.
  • The joy of creating something good from scratch and sharing with others.
  • The security and satisfaction of knowing exactly what is in the beer you're drinking.

Isn't GF beer a sad imitation of the real thing? The GF beers I've tasted are bland, have no head and taste funny. Has something changed?

Yes, times have changed. Just like the conventional (barley) beer market, some gluten-free beers are better than others. Source ingredients (i.e. malted grains) for GF beers are rapidly improving and craft GF brewers are making excellent beers. If you haven't found a favourite GF beer, keep looking or consider brewing it yourself!

Commercial craft and hobby gluten-free brewers -- much like craft (conventional barley) brewers in the 1980s and 1990s did -- are beginning to challenge the status quo and radically extend the perception of what gluten free beer is and are pioneering new methods and ingredients. This is an exciting time to be involved in gluten-free brewing.

Is gluten-free beer healthier than other alcoholic beverages?

A strict gluten-free diet is the only treatment for those with Celiac Disease (and for those with gluten sensitivity). This makes GF beer the only healthy beer choice for people with CD. While some gluten-free grains have unique nutrient profiles such as ... Template:Citation needed there are no claims that GF beer provides health benefits. Alcohol and calories are still very much present and homebrewers should continue to exercise appropriate caution in how much and how often they consume their products.

Where can I buy malted gluten-free grains?

Check out the Resources page to find information on maltsters and suppliers in your region.

Can I make a gluten-free beer from barley, wheat or rye?

No. While the legal labeling guidelines vary from country to country, the Zero Tolerance stance on gluten-free beer (aligned with labeling laws in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US) are that there are no gluten containing ingredients. Read about Gluten Reduced vs Gluten Free for a better understanding of how gluten-free and "gluten-reduced" differ.

I'm interested in making a gluten-reduced beer. Where can I find information on this?

Using enzymes to hydrolize (break down) gluten proteins is not a topic covered by the Zero Tolerance Home Brew club for a few reasons:

  • For brewers with Celiac Disease, handling of gluten-containing raw materials (e.g. barley grain and dust) is an unsafe practice and can lead to the same symptoms encountered when gluten is ingested.
  • There is still significant scientific debate about whether current testing methodology is accurately measuring residual gluten peptides in gluten-reduced beers. There is evidence that these peptide fragments are still large enough to trigger antibody reactions in individuals with Celiac Disease. Anecdotally, many drinkers with CD report getting sick from drinking gluten-reduced beers and even "silent celiacs" may be causing themselves harm from these supposedly gluten reduced beers.
  • Many associations representing Celiacs specifically warn against gluten-reduced beers.
  • Spending time debating gluten-reduced brewing takes away from more interesting discussion that advances knowledge and techniques using gluten-free grains.

If enzymatic gluten reduction is still you're focus, we suggest looking through other popular homebrewing sites such as Homebrewtalk.

Do gluten-free grains have enough diastatic power to convert starches to sugar?

Gluten free grains have less diastatic power (endogenous enzymes that convert starches to sugar) than conventional brewing grains like barley. Furthermore, the naturally occurring enzymes are denatured at the gelatinization temperatures that gluten free grains require to make their starches fully accessible. Many gluten free brewers supplement the endogenous enzymes with commercial, exogenous ones. The Lavery mash method involves decanting some of the wort in the mash before these endogenous enzymes are denatured, and then adding them back after a higher temperature gelatinization phase.

I'm not ready for GF all-grain brewing. Can I buy GF dried or liquid malt extract?

A good place to start for beginner GF brewers is with Extracts and Syrups -- typically sorghum and brown rice syrup. There are currently no gluten free dried or liquid malt extracts (i.e. from malted millet or rice).

What makes a beer gluten free?

Gluten-free beer (as regulated by law in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand), is one made only from ingredients that are originally and naturally free of gluten. Beers made with barley, wheat or rye can never be labeled gluten free.

Is it true that Corona / Budweiser / Heineken / etc are so low in gluten that they are basically gluten free?

Nope. These beers are definitely not gluten free. In spite of their light colour -- and possible use of adjuncts like rice and corn -- they are made with barley and are not Celiac-safe.

A beer website says it tests for gluten in a barley-based beer and it is below 20 ppm. Is it safe to drink?

Not if you have celiac disease or you are gluten intolerant. The current ELISA test for gluten is not accurate in beer, and actual residual gluten proteins can be much higher than indicated.

If it says "gluten-removed" shouldn't it be safe for people with celiac disease?

No. The protein hydrolysis process is effective for it's original intention to reduce chill haze but continued scientific study indicates it is not effective at removing the myriad of different gluten proteins that trigger antibody reactions which may be experienced with or without symptoms. There are an increasing number of good gluten-free beers. Why choose something that can cause you harm?

A bottle of beer from the UK / Europe says it's gluten-free but is made from barley. How does that work?

If it's being sold in Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the US then it is probably violating beer labeling regulations. Advertising and social media for UK/European beers may include gluten-free claims because regulations in those countries are currently different (there are celiac groups advocating for change there).

Does yeast have gluten in it?

Yeast itself is gluten-free, however the media in which brewing yeast is grown (for sale or re-use by breweries) may not be. The slurry that liquid yeast is packaged in is typically barley-based. If a non-dedicated brewery is re-using yeast from a barley-based batch of beer that yeast will contain gluten. Most dried brewing yeast is gluten-free and there are a number of commercial yeast labs now supplying liquid yeast in gluten-free media.

What is malt and is it safe?

Malting is the process of germinating and kilning grain to make it more suitable for brewing and to provide a wide variety of flavour profiles. The word "malt" on its own on other food labeling usually indicates barley-based malt, but gluten-free grains can also be malted and are generally specified in beer labeling.

How important is the distinction between dedicated and non-dedicated gluten-free brewery?

Dedicated gluten-free breweries provide a level of certainty that many people with celiac disease look for when buying other food products (i.e. avoiding foods processed in facilities that also handle wheat). There are however non-dedicated breweries who understand the risk of cross-contact and take steps to mitigate that risk.

What questions should I ask the non-dedicated brewery making gluten-free beer?

  • What ingredients are in your beer? (If that includes barley it is not gluten-free no matter what "special process" they use)
  • Is the yeast propagated on gluten-free media (vs barley wort)?
  • Do you have dedicated equipment (i.e. milling, mashing, fermenting, brite tanks and packaging) for gluten free brewing?
  • If the equipment is not dedicated, what cleaning and testing protocols do you have in place to avoid cross contact?

Why is gluten-free beer so expensive?

The key culprit is the cost of gluten-free grains. With only two gluten-free malt producers in North America (both in the US), there isn't sufficient economy of scale to provide these ingredients on par with the cost of barley (typically 4 times less expensive than gluten-free brewing grains).

Why aren't there more gluten-free breweries in my ___ (state, province, country)?

It is a niche market with high ingredient costs and slim profit margins for would-be brewers. State/provincial/national alcohol production regulations which guide the pricing and taxation structure for different alcohol manufacturers may also create some barriers to entry. But as consumer demand increase for truly gluten-free beer, the number of GF breweries will hopefully continue to grow.

Why is there no foam on my gluten-free beer?

The first thing to check is your beer glass. Make sure your glass is clean, free from grease or residual detergent (wash your glasses by hand and let them air dry for better results). Still no foam? Good head formation and retention is a result of the right ingredients and the brewing process. Certain grains -- those higher in protein -- are better for making and keeping foam. Beers made only from extract syrups (e.g. sorghum and rice syrup) are less likely to give you a frothy head of foam.

I want to try making my own gluten-free beer. Where can I buy ingredients?

For beginner homebrewers, some local homebrew shops sell gluten-free extracts (sorghum and rice syrups). A fine place to start. Make sure the yeast you buy is gluten free. When you're ready to step up your homebrewing game with high quality ingredients, check the Resources page to find a retailer/distributor for malted gluten-free grains in your area.

References

  1. Randy Mosher, Radical Brewing