Free Your Beer

The proof, as al­ways, is in the pint, and to­day’s gluten-free and gluten-re­duced beer is, re­fresh­ingly, more about what’s there than what’s not.

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Con­tents: April/may 2015 - By Dave Car­pen­ter

To­day’s gluten-free and gluten-re­duced beer is, re­fresh­ingly, more about what’s there than what’s not.

HELLO, MY NAME IS Dave, and I like gluten. There, I said it.

Gluten sup­plies struc­ture to sour­dough, de­liv­ers a sat­is­fy­ing snap to Neapolitan pizza, and lends that al­lur­ing al dente bite to pasta. I have the luxury of en­joy­ing prod­ucts made from this plant pro­tein, but ac­cord­ing to the Mayo Clinic and the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health, about 0.7 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion ex­pe­ri­ences a danger­ous im­mune re­ac­tion to gluten. For suf­fer­ers of celiac dis­ease, even trace amounts of the stuff can cause se­ri­ous health prob­lems.

Not long ago, a di­ag­no­sis of celiac dis­ease meant nav­i­gat­ing a mine­field of po­ten­tial trig­gers, from such clear cul­prits as bread and cake to less ob­vi­ous ce­real of­fend­ers such as soy sauce and even pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions. But now celiac suf­fer­ers have op­tions as gluten-free and gluten-re­duced prod­ucts in­creas­ingly find shelf space along­side their con­ven­tional coun­ter­parts.

The surest sign, how­ever, that an idea’s time has come is its in­fil­tra­tion of the liquor store. Gluten-free beer used to taste, to para­phrase Dou­glas Adams, al­most, but not quite, en­tirely un­like beer. But in­no­va­tive craft brew­ers have stepped up their gluten-free games and are de­vel­op­ing celiac-friendly ales and lagers that are any­thing but er­satz.

Gluten Ba­sics

The English word “gluten” comes di­rectly from the Latin gluten, mean­ing “glue,” and at one time re­ferred to any kind of sticky sub­stance. For this rea­son, short-grain sticky rice is mis­lead­ingly de­scribed as gluti­nous, even though rice is free of gluten. In mod­ern par­lance, gluten refers to a spe­cific pro­tein found in wheat, bar­ley, spelt, rye, and other ce­real grasses.

Bi­o­log­i­cally speak­ing, gluten is a sort of über com­pound, con­sist­ing of the two pro­teins gliadin and glutenin. The chem­i­cal de­tails aren’t ter­ri­bly im­por­tant, ex­cept to know that gliadin and glutenin are the crit­i­cal con­stituents of wheat that lend struc­ture and elas­tic­ity to bread dough. Un­for­tu­nately for those with celiac dis­ease, it’s pre­cisely th­ese pro­teins that cause gluten-as­so­ci­ated ail­ments.

Gluten con­cen­tra­tions are com­monly mea­sured on a weight-by-weight ba­sis in parts per mil­lion (ppm). Whole wheat bread is about 100,000 ppm, pasta is

closer to 110,000 ppm, and pure gluten is 1 mil­lion ppm. Gluten lev­els in beer are some­times ex­pressed in mil­ligrams per liter (mg/l), which is al­most iden­ti­cal to ppm since beer is mostly wa­ter, and a liter of wa­ter weighs a kilo­gram. When it comes to beer, the ca­sual ob­server can safely in­ter­change ppm and mg/l with no prac­ti­cal con­se­quence.

It’s com­monly stated that a food with fewer than 20 ppm gluten may be called gluten-free, which is the thresh­old en­dorsed in the Codex Ali­men­ta­r­ius, a joint ef­fort be­tween the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion and the United Na­tions. The do­mes­tic re­al­ity is, how­ever, some­what more com­plex. Three reg­u­la­tory or­ga­ni­za­tions in the United States gov­ern­ment share fed­eral over­sight for la­bel­ing what we put into our mouths, and each reg­u­lates al­co­holic bev­er­ages ac­cord­ing to its own par­tic­u­lar id­iom.

▪ The United States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA) holds the keys to the or­ganic la­bel, but that’s about it.

▪ The Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FDA), an agency within the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, reg­u­lates bev­er­ages made from sorghum, rice, and other non-bar­ley grains, whether or not said bev­er­ages con­tain hops. Im­por­tantly, the FDA makes the rules for most prod­ucts that wish to use the gluten-free la­bel.

▪ The Al­co­hol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), part of the Depart­ment of the Trea­sury, is re­spon­si­ble for the la­bels on beer made from malted bar­ley and hops, which is very nearly all of it. A bar­ley-based beer that con­tains no hops (e.g., gruit) falls to the FDA in the­ory, but brew­ers ac­cus­tomed to TTB reg­u­la­tions of­ten in­clude a small dose of hops in an oth­er­wise non-hopped prod­uct to avoid hav­ing to deal with the FDA.

The eas­i­est way to know who reg­u­lates your beer is to check for the pres­ence of a Nu­tri­tion Facts la­bel: The FDA re­quires it, but the TTB doesn’t. Why is this im­por­tant? Be­cause the FDA and TTB have dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to gluten la­bel­ing for beer. Here’s the FDA’S po­si­tion:

The fi­nal rule de­fines “gluten-free” as mean­ing that the food ei­ther is in­her­ently gluten-free; or does not con­tain an in­gre­di­ent that is: (1) a gluten-con­tain­ing grain (e.g., spelt, wheat);

(2) de­rived from a gluten-con­tain­ing grain that has not been pro­cessed to re­move gluten (e.g., wheat flour); or

(3) de­rived from a gluten-con­tain­ing grain that has been pro­cessed to re­move gluten (e.g., wheat starch), if the use of that in­gre­di­ent re­sults in the pres­ence of 20 parts per mil­lion (ppm) or more gluten in the food.

Also, any un­avoid­able pres­ence of gluten in the food must be less than 20 ppm. So, by the FDA’S def­i­ni­tion, prod­ucts that have been pro­cessed to re­move gluten and test at 20 ppm or lower can carry the “gluten-free” la­bel.

The TTB takes a much stricter po­si­tion and with­holds gluten-free en­dorse­ment un­less the orig­i­nal in­gre­di­ents were them­selves all free of gluten. No ex­cep­tions. So, wine and vodka can proudly carry the la­bel, but a bar­ley-based, gluten-re­duced beer can’t, even if its gluten lev­els mea­sure be­low 20 ppm. In­stead, the TTB per­mits use of a state­ment to in­di­cate that the prod­uct was pro­cessed to re­duce gluten

One rea­son that [pro­tease en­zyme] is so ef­fec­tive is that malt­ing and mash­ing help de­grade gluten pro­teins. Pro­teins in well-mod­i­fied malts will have been de­graded dur­ing the malt­ing process … serv­ing the same func­tion as the mold­derived pro­tease en­zymes.

lev­els. Here’s how the TTB puts it:

TTB will al­low use of the state­ment “Pro­cessed/treated/crafted to re­move gluten,” to­gether with a qual­i­fy­ing state­ment to in­form con­sumers that:

(1) the prod­uct was made from a grain that con­tains gluten;

(2) there is cur­rently no valid test to ver­ify the gluten con­tent of fer­mented prod­ucts; and

(3) the fin­ished prod­uct may con­tain gluten.

Be­cause the cur­rent tests used to mea­sure the gluten con­tent of fer­mented prod­ucts have not been sci­en­tif­i­cally val­i­dated, such state­ments may not in­clude any ref­er­ence to the level of gluten in the prod­uct. TTB be­lieves that the qual­i­fy­ing state­ment is nec­es­sary to avoid mis­lead­ing con­sumers about the gluten con­tent of th­ese prod­ucts be­cause of the se­ri­ous health con­se­quences as­so­ci­ated with the con­sump­tion of gluten by in­di­vid­u­als with celiac dis­ease.

Beer Made from Gluten­free In­gre­di­ents

In­di­vid­u­als who need to stay away from any and all gluten will no doubt pre­fer to stick to beer that is as­suredly gluten-free, which brings us to what I like to call the tran­si­tive prop­erty of gluten: From gluten-free in­gre­di­ents comes gluten-free beer. Mash­ing sorghum, rice, maize, proso mil­let, buck­wheat, or other nat­u­rally gluten-free grains lets brew­ers cre­ate gluten-free wort. The Colorado Malt­ing Com­pany even sells malted sun­flower seeds, which con­trib­ute com­plex pro­teins that pro­mote head re­ten­tion and foam sta­bil­ity. In ad­di­tion to gluten-free grains and seeds, var­i­ous brew­ing sug­ars also fre­quently find their way into the brew.

Just as with bar­ley-based beer, the sug­ary wort is then boiled with hops, cooled, in­oc­u­lated with yeast, fer­mented, con­di­tioned, and pack­aged. The re­sult is a bev­er­age that has never con­tained any gluten what­so­ever. New Planet Pale Ale, for ex­am­ple, lists its in­gre­di­ents as wa­ter, sorghum and brown rice ex­tracts, mo­lasses, tapi­oca mal­todex­trin, caramel color, hops, and yeast.

Brands such as New Planet, Bard’s, and Red­bridge, as well as prod­ucts such as Dog­fish Head Twea­son’ale and Lake­front Brew­ing New Grist fall un­der this cat­e­gory. Th­ese all carry the FDA’S of­fi­cial gluten-free seal of ap­proval.

Gluten-re­duced Pro­cesses

A more re­cent devel­op­ment in de­liv­er­ing celiac-friendly beer comes to us cour­tesy of Aspergillus niger, or black mold. If you’ve ever thrown out an onion that’s cov­ered in dark splotches, then you’ve wit­nessed this ubiq­ui­tous fun­gus first­hand. A. niger cre­ates an en­zyme called pro­tease that de­grades pro­teins, in­clud­ing gluten. This en­zyme is avail­able com­mer­cially as White Labs WLN400 Clar­ity Ferm.

Orig­i­nally de­vel­oped to re­duce chill haze, Clar­ity Ferm also dramatically re­duces gluten lev­els, of­ten to well be­low the 20 ppm thresh­old. It is in this class of gluten-re­duced beers that we find Stone Brew­ing Com­pany’s De­li­cious IPA. For Mitch Steele, Stone’s brew­mas­ter, de­vel­op­ing a gluten-re­duced prod­uct isn’t just busi­ness; it’s per­sonal.

“I was talk­ing with Chris White from White Labs a cou­ple of years ago be­cause we were hav­ing some chill haze is­sues at Stone,” says Mitch. “Chris told me about this new en­zyme that could re­duce chill haze and … also re­duce gluten con­tent at the same time. Shortly af­ter­wards, my fa­ther-in-law was di­ag­nosed with a gluten in­tol­er­ance.”

Mitch’s fa­ther-in-law also hap­pened to en­joy a good beer, so Mitch had the idea

to try Clar­ity Ferm at Stone. Us­ing the com­pany’s flag­ship IPA, a trained sen­sory panel found no dis­cern­able taste dif­fer­ence be­tween the IPA brewed with Clar­ity Ferm and with­out. But the sam­ple made with the en­zyme tested at fewer than 10 ppm of gluten.

The tim­ing just hap­pened to work out with a chal­lenge that Stone CEO Greg Koch had pre­sented to Stone’s brew­ers. “Greg had charged us with cre­at­ing an IPA that would be called De­li­cious,” notes Steele. “Af­ter brew­ing a num­ber of test batches that were good but didn’t quite live up to the name, I had Chris Ketchum try out a sin­gle hops brew with El Do­rado. That’s when I knew we were on to some­thing.”

Com­bin­ing El Do­rado with Le­mon­drop hops, De­li­cious IPA de­liv­ers on the prom­ise its name makes. Ini­tial im­pres­sions are of lemon candy with herbal over­tones, but as the beer warms, grassy, even hay­like notes begin to emerge. It’s an IPA drinker’s IPA, and sam­ples con­sis­tently come back with less than 10 ppm gluten.

Per­haps most im­por­tantly, Mitch’s fa­ther-in-law can en­joy De­li­cious IPA with no ad­verse health ef­fects.

Omis­sion Beer, brewed by Port­land’s Wid­mer Broth­ers, fol­lows a sim­i­lar en­zy­matic process to cre­ate very low gluten lagers, pale ales, and IPAS that taste like their full-gluten coun­ter­parts.

“We have been vig­i­lant about brew­ery seg­re­ga­tion and ac­cu­rate testing,” notes Joe Casey, brew­mas­ter and co­founder of Omis­sion Beer. “The other chal­lenge we have tack­led is con­sumer ed­u­ca­tion and work­ing with var­i­ous gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors to pro­vide as much in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble … to re­main con­sis­tently trans­par­ent about our brew­ing process. We were def­i­nitely pre­pared to have a strong fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion … to make Omis­sion suc­cess­ful, and the brand has lived up to that ex­pec­ta­tion.”

One rea­son that Clar­ity Ferm is so ef­fec­tive is that malt­ing and mash­ing ac­tu­ally help de­grade gluten pro­teins. Pro­teins in well-mod­i­fied malts will have been de­graded dur­ing the malt­ing process, while less mod­i­fied malts are of­ten taken through a pro­tein rest. Th­ese pro­cesses en­cour­age the ac­tion of pro­te­olytic en­zymes, which serve the same func­tion as the mold-de­rived pro­teases.

But even with Clar­ity Ferm, Casey rec­om­mends stay­ing away from wheat and un­malted grains. “Wheat malt and raw wheat are not some­thing that we are will­ing to in­clude in Omis­sion prod­ucts,” he says. “It sim­ply has too much gluten and is too much of a red flag for con­sumers. Our process has proven it­self suc­cess­ful us­ing 100 per­cent bar­ley malt as our base grain be­cause a huge re­duc­tion of gluten oc­curs dur­ing the malt­ing process. Us­ing highly un­der­mod­i­fied malt, such as dex­trin malts, could also be a prob­lem.”

Home­brew­ing Gluten - Re­duced and Gluten-free Beer

Of the many rea­sons to home­brew, not hav­ing to deal with the FDA and TTB must cer­tainly rank near the top. You’re free to do what you like, as long as you’re will­ing to ac­cept the con­se­quences of any risks you take. The first step, there­fore, in cre­at­ing your own gluten-re­duced or gluten-free beer at home is this: De­cide how crit­i­cal gluten lev­els are to your health and life­style.

If you choose to brew with tra­di­tional malts and want to re­duce the amount of gluten in your beer, all you need to do is dose cooled wort with 10 ml (one vial) of White Labs Clar­ity Ferm when you pitch your yeast. The en­zyme will di­gest gluten pro­teins while the yeast fer­ments the malt sug­ars.

“To get your prod­uct tested for gluten con­tent will cost about $75–100 per test,” Casey notes. “If one is truly look­ing to have his/her home­brew be gluten-free, the only way to know is to sub­mit sam­ples to a lab for testing, and the best pro­gram would be to test each batch.”

It’s prob­a­bly im­prac­ti­cal for home­brew­ers to test ev­ery batch for gluten, but if you’re cu­ri­ous how Clar­ity Ferm af­fects a spe­cific recipe, it might be worth send­ing off sam­ples from dif­fer­ent batches brewed us­ing the same method. The ag­gre­gate re­sults can of­fer clues as to the av­er­age gluten con­tent of your recipe.

If, how­ever, you suf­fer from celiac dis­ease and must ex­clude gluten at all costs, then your safest bet is to stick with gluten-free in­gre­di­ents al­to­gether. Sorghum ex­tract has long been the fa­vored fer­mentable for gluten-free brew­ers be­cause of its ready avail­abil­ity. It weighs in at around 35 to 37 grav­ity points per pound per gal­lon (ppg), so each pound

Stone Brew­ing’s De­li­cious IPA ben­e­fit­ted from in­ter­nal blind sen­sory testing that found no dif­fer­ence be­tween their flag­ship IPA brewed with Clar­ity Ferm and with­out.

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