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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Gluten Free Beers: A Forced Perspective

By Doug Dorda

“How does this one taste?” It's a question I hear far too often coming from the painfully hopeful visage of those of our customers who are unlucky enough to have developed an allergy to gluten. The customers will point to a gluten-free offering that has arrived on the shelf and, with eyes a-shimmer, ask me or one of my co-workers to offer them solace by way of nodding a simple yes and perhaps confirming that the beer in question tastes like, well, beer. 

Being that none of us on staff at Siciliano’s has an allergy to gluten, our response to the question is often to confirm that other gluten-intolerant customers seem to enjoy it. The reason for this is not that we have anything against the gluten free options available in store; it is that we simply do not have to try them, and therefore, often will not. However, in an effort to connect with those of you who must live without gluten, and to pique the interest of everyone else, I have decided to try the gluten free (GF) offerings again and perhaps relate them to other commercially available beers.

The big three—meaning, those GF beers that are available at most locations—are New Grist, Redbridge, and Bards. Each of the beers is based off the gluten-free fermentable sorghum rather than the barley or wheat that traditional beer is made from. As I sipped each beer in kind I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed them. In my head I had convinced myself that a fundamental change to one of the ingredients of beer would almost definitely equal something awful. I had often heard of other non-afflicted imbibers complain that the sorghum was responsible for a flavor that was ultimately disagreeable to the ale drinking populace. I personally found that each of the beers reminded me more of a “entry” level belgian styles of beer. Think abbey ale with a heightened presence of bubble-gum fruit that adds a layer of appreciated intricacy to a somewhat sweeter flavor profile. I found that the addition of rice syrup to the New Grist dried out the finish a touch more than the others. But it is important to note the lasting effect of the sorghum sweetness in the profile of the beer.

My new answer to the old question—"How does this one taste?"—will first be answered with a return question, "What sort of beer did you prefer?" Being that the big three GF beers are more akin to the sweet, fruity, floral and spicy notes of a Belgian ale I would not suggest them to someone who loved, say American IPAs or pale ales; yet their flavor, I'm sure, can be appreciated by those who enjoy the complex bouquet of flavors found in the realm of Belgian ales.

It is not my intention to detail the possible health benefits of a gluten free diet, or to argue the legitimacy of lifestyle changes as pertains to a personal GF prescription. I merely intend to try all classes of the beers offered to those who seek to try them so that they may be better educated as far as their closest gluten-laden kin. In the coming weeks, I will detail my experience with the other families of GF beer and do my best to offer their possible comparisons. Please feel free to offer your own experiences with GF beers, or suggest some you would like me to try. Next week I will offer my notes and comparisons on the kombucha based beers of Unity Vibrations.


  1. This is a really great post. I personally love coffee stouts and the only great gluten free taste a like I've found was a homebrew.

  2. New Grist is an excellent beer. I gave it a whirl a few months back (I don't suffer from gluten allergies, but I love sorghum!). You have a couple other gluten free beers in stock there that are tasty as well (in addition to those mentioned). For the homebrewers out there, give sorghum a chance. It has a wonderful rich character that is somewhere along the spectrum between honey and maple syrup... and it is important to note that sorghum molasses is really altogether a different thing from blackstrap molasses. If you're a local foods purist, you can get homegrown/boiled sorghum molasses from Tillers International in the Climax/Scotts area.

    1. Thank you for doing this. I have been gluten free for almost 8 years and I miss a good German beer. But the GF beers do fill the gap. The sorghum beers remind me of a halb weissen with a twist of lemon or orange. But Greens makes a dubble dark that can stand up to any German alt. You should try Greens and St Peter's next and then work on the ciders.

    2. Sorghum whole grain is a staple food item in India. You can purchase it locally in any Indian specialty store. Sorghum syrup can be purchased in health food stores.

  3. Great post. Thanks for doing this!