Gluten Reduced vs Gluten Free
What makes a beer gluten-free? Simply put, a gluten-free beer is one made only from ingredients that are originally and naturally free of gluten. In Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States this distinction is regulated by law.
Gluten-reduced (also sold as “Crafted to remove gluten” or, erroneously, "Gluten-Removed") beers are made from gluten containing grains (generally barley) and use a prolyl endopeptidase (PEP) enzyme (Clarex or Clarity Ferm) to “hydrolyze” (break down) proteins.
Examples of "gluten reduced" beers include Omission (US), Daura Damm (Spain), Mongozo (Belgium), Celia Lager (Czech Republic), St Peter's (UK -- previously gluten-free now barley-based gluten-reduced), and Wold Top Against the Grain (UK).
The protein hydrolyzation process doesn’t actually remove protein chains but separates them into smaller, and theoretically harmless segments.
Unfortunately further scientific study indicates that this process does not actually eliminate the many types of protein chains that trigger antibody reactions in people with CD. Individuals may respond differently to residual protein chains -- which will vary from one gluten reduced beer to another.
Additionally, the traditional (ELISA) test for determining gluten content in food is not a reliable gauge for beer. More detailed liquid chromatography / mass spectrometry testing -- as well as in vitro (lab) testing of Celiac patient antibodies -- shows that beers tested <20 ppm with ELISA testing can in fact have widely varying residual gluten levels much higher than the <20 ppm threshold level.
Legislation on Labeling By Country
Labeling rules for gluten free claims on beer are regulated by the federal government under section B.24.018 of the Food and Drug Regulations and enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Per the CFIA's statement on gluten-free claims, beer made from gluten containing grains (barley, wheat, rye, triticale) cannot make a claim of being gluten free: "Although additional processing steps in the beer making process can be taken to remove gluten, results from currently available analytical testing methods for gluten, including ELISA tests, are not sufficient to substantiate a "gluten-free" claim on these products." Products that employ a PEP enzyme may label these beers as "processed or treated or crafted" to remove gluten with the caveat: "The gluten content of this product cannot be verified, and this product may contain gluten". Claims around gluten reduction must be substantiated with details of the process and evidence of lab testing.
Beers made exclusively from non-gluten containing grains conversely are allowed to be labeled "gluten free", with the following stipulation: "Health Canada and the CFIA do not object to the use of a "gluten-free" claim on a beer-like product derived from a non-gluten grain if it meets the requirements outlined for 'gluten-free' claims. This includes ensuring that all ingredients used in the manufacture of the product are gluten-free and that there is no cross-contamination with gluten containing ingredients during processing."
Questions and complaints regarding beer labeling or advertising that contravene these rules can be made via online form with the CFIA.
In 2019, amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations were introduced to remove previous exemptions on listing ingredients on beer. Going forward, beer -- whether made from gluten or non-gluten containing ingredients -- must indicate ingredients and possible gluten and allergen sources. Labeling to meet the new regulations must be in place by December 14, 2022.
- Gluten Free / Gluten Reduced infographic
- Measuring Hordein (Gluten) in Beer – A Comparison of ELISA and Mass Spectrometry
- A New Test to Make Sure Your Beer Is Gluten Free
- Celiac Patient Antibody Response to Conventional and Gluten Reduced Beer
- Video: Gluten Free vs Gluten Removed Beer: Gluten Intolerance Group. Laura Allred (PhD), James Neumeister (Ground Breaker Brewing), Jordan Middlebrook
- Beer: Why it is so hard to assess fermented and hydrolyzed products for gluten