Not drinking beer has been extremely difficult since removing gluten from my diet. This is especially true living in Fort Collins, a city where you can’t escape beer. Here, there are more than a handful of breweries, weekly tastings and an annual parade of 10,000 people on bicycles paying homage to the beverage.
An alternative libation was needed, so I began exploring wines, quite an enjoyable pastime. But sometimes grapes just don’t cut it. Beer is a social drink and since the emergence of the craft-brewing scene in this country, beers now vary greatly in body and flavor, making constant sampling a true pleasure.
Feeling left out of the beer culture, I went to Wilbur’s, a popular area liquor-mart, and discovered a good selection of gluten-free beers. Gluten-free beer substitutes wheat, barley, and rye, (standard gluten-containing ingredients) most often with sorghum, a gluten-free cereal grain. Several gluten-free beers contain rice or corn. The majority of these beers fell close to 5% alcohol by volume (ABV), which is comparable to a domestic such as Budweiser.
I was skeptical about whether these “beers” could truly be called such with ingredients more closely resembling my breakfast than my “Fat Tire. ” Despite my doubts, I bought them all determined to find at least one that was palatable. The only way to fairly compare would be to try them all in one sitting. So, in an effort not to waste an ounce and to remain halfway sober, I invited several friends over for a tasting. The group offered varied preferences. We attempted to sample them in order of expected body, lightest to darkest.
Here are the highlights from our tasting notes:
“Would complement rototilling”
“Great for a hot day”
“A zippier version of a domestic”
“Has a Bud Light nose and a little sweet”
“A poor beer substitute”
“Like pond water”
“Carmel and spice on tongue”
“Surprisingly light for its dark color”
“Dry, tannic finish ”
Estrella Daura pilsner lager
ABV: 5.4% Price $8 / 4 pack of 12oz bottles
Ingredients: not indicated on label. They claim to have removed the gluten to below 6 ppm
“Would be good with a grilled cheese”
“A sour nose”
“Like a German light beer”
[Flask shaped bottle] “looks like something you’d find at an apothecary”
“Smells like old socks”
“flat and sour”
Note: When left to warm the flavor improved with citrus aromas present
“Top is down and the music is up”
“Related to cider”
“Taste’s like it came from a soda fountain”
“Would be good with ice cream”
Green’s Gluten Free Triple Blonde Ale
ABV: 8.5% Price: $5.99 /500ml bottle
Ingredients: water, millet, buckwheat, rice, sorghum, hops, yeast
“Dances on tongue and has a long finish”
“Hint of cherry”
“Vibrant and fizzy”
“Didn’t taste like an alternative”
“Light in body, dark in color”
“By the name, was expecting a heavier beer”
“Sour and yeasty”
In summary, most were disappointingly light and lacked dimension, most likely losing complexity from the exclusion of barley. We thought most brands could have boosted the hops to at least add more flavor but perhaps our palettes–accustomed in a previous dietary life to more robust pale ales and IPAs–are too far removed from the subtle pilsner world. When surveying the group about their favorites, New Planet’s Tread Lightly Ale and Green’s Gluten Free Triple Blonde Ale stood above the others. Although not truly inspired by any of these beers, I am glad they exist. To sip “beer” at a BBQ provides a renewed sense of normalcy.
There are additional gluten-free beers on the market but they aren’t as available as your standard mass-produced domestic varieties.