Ah, gluten. The humble protein found in most varieties of common domesticated grains has somehow found its way into the gastronomical limelight as the medically-debatable purveyor of all manner of health problems. As much as the “gluten-free” trend has been ridiculed by the likes of South Park and “Ultra-Spiritual Guy” on Youtube, it’s undeniable that industries, consumers, and brewers are taking notice. After all, we’ve managed to take fundamental grain proteins out of bread, dish soap, and online dating, why not beer?
Gluten-free beer actually has a bit of history within the brewing world. After all, beers made from cereal grains like corn, rice, millet, or sorghum naturally have no gluten and are therefore gluten free. However, most beers are not made with just one grain, and the addition of enough gluten-filled grain can affect the “gluten-free-ness” of the beer. The famous Mexican mega-beer Corona, for example, is technically gluten free because the amount of rice and corn added to the mix is enough to dilute the gluten in the barley malt. This leaves the final product with below 20 ppm of gluten, which meets the FDA’s standard of gluten free. Additionally, some brewers have argued that the nature of certain ways of brewing can break down some of the gluten in grains like rye and barley, but there’s no general scientific conclusion on this point. As such, these beers are often labeled as “gluten-reduced” or “gluten-friendly” as they don’t meet the technical definition of gluten-free and can’t be advertised as such.
The idea of making specifically “gluten-free” beer gained traction – along with the general “gluten-free trend” – in the early to mid 2000’s, and the first international gluten-free beer festival was held in England in 2006, though this was notably designed for people with a bonafide gluten allergy – known as celiac disease – not people who have some degree of gluten intolerance. In 2008, the FDA opened up gluten-free (meaning grains without gluten) beers into the technical definition of “beer”, and in 2013 the FDA laid out a formal definition for “gluten-free” that applies to all food and beverage products.
In the last decade, we’ve seen gluten-free beer and breweries open up across the country, and Colorado is no exception. The first dedicated gluten-free brewery in Colorado, Holidaily Brewing, opened up in Golden in 2016. New Belgium released its “Glutiny” series of beers that use enzymes to lower the gluten content to below the 20 ppm threshold. Brewery Rickoli of Wheat Ridge has been specializing in gluten-free beer since opening in 2013, and has the honor of having its gluten free “Oats McGoats” oatmeal stout featured in 12-packs across the country in a partnership with Sam Adams.
So wherever your tolerance for gluten and your tolerance for gluten intolerance stands right now, it’s clear that craft brewers are taking the trend seriously and injecting that famous creativity and culinary skill into a new range of beers that cater to everyone. Today gluten free beer, tomorrow gluten free gluten?