As a ruggedly handsome 43-year-old man with a lustrous ginger beard, an open-minded palate, near-perfect digestion and guts of iron, I have never had an issue with gluten. If I could make love to it or shower in the stuff, I probably would. Instead I just drink lots of it — most often in the form of beer.
However, for those sad sacks who are allergic or have decided to embrace the gluten-free lifestyle and all of its chakra-aligning charms, beer can be a pain in the ass, literally and figuratively. For years, gluten-free beer has been a sorry excuse for the real thing, tasting more like weak urine. Or so I’ve been told. Wink wink.
But thankfully that has begun to change, as demand increases and brewers experiment with a host of gluten-free ingredients such as buckwheat, rice, millet, chestnuts and lentils or employ brewing techniques that extract gluten from beer.
Still, the results can be hit or miss. So who better to drink his way through an assortment of gluten-free brews and report the unscientific results than someone blessed with having a healthy relationship with gluten and no dietary allegiances when it comes to imbibing?
But I also had some questions. Namely, how does it taste? Can I still get drunk off it? And if so, will it be a different kind of drunk than if I drank regular old beer the way the gluten gods intended?
Seeking knowledge, understanding and to feel no pain, I visited two specialty beer and wine shops to stock up, and headed to my friend Paul’s house. Not only does he like beer but he has a solid collection of classic rock records to offset the delicate nature of my pursuit. Plus he’s a registered nurse, so if I found myself going into gluten-withdrawal, he’d have my back and be able to administer a shot of gluten-filled beer lurking in his fridge, stat.
The evening began like many journeys of self-discovery, with the Allman Brothers on the stereo and something from Belgium in the glass.
Mongozo Premium Pilsner
Boldly claiming to be organic and fair trade, this intriguingly named brew (apparently it means “cheers” in the language of the Chokwe people of Africa) contains water, barley, malt, rice, yeast and hops — though it’ s been “crafted to remove gluten.” Fair enough, but the label also reads “see back for explanation” and then “the gluten content of this product cannot be verified and may contain gluten.” Well, at least it tastes gluten-free, meaning there isn’t much taste at all, although the more forgiving, happy-go-lucky man in me who just rocked out to “Rambling Man” would probably describe it as “light and refreshing.”
Level of drunkenness: Minimal.
Omission Pale Ale
Courtesy of Portland, Ore.’s Widmer Bros., Omission is more confident in its claims. “Gluten levels are well below the codex gluten-free standard of 20ppm or less,” brags the label, which also mentions you can go online to see the bottle’s test results. Even though I’ve never heard of a codex gluten-free standard before, the vague scientific speak puts me at ease. That said, it’s darker, maltier in flavour and at 5.8 per cent packs more of a punch than Mongozo’s 5 per cent, which is kind of odd since Mongozo sounds like the name of a freaky professional wrestler.
Level of drunkenness: Recently divorced dad, eating alone on a Tuesday night.
Green’s Dry-Hopped Lager
Another Belgian import, this baby won’t knock anyone over at 4.1 per cent, but at least it smells crisp and refreshing. Unfortunately, it tastes more like watered down cider with an absence of any distinguishable flavour. “The Kenny G of Beers” would not be a bad tagline.
Level of drunkenness: Talky guy at the bar who thinks all the female wait staff is flirting with him.
Groundbreaker Pale Ale
Now we’re getting somewhere. First of all I never knew ZZ Top’s Tejas was such a fantastic album. And the wicked gatefold really opened up my mind’s eye. As for Groundbreaker’s Pale Ale, it actually tastes good. The Portland beer maker, formerly known as Harvester, claims to be the first dedicated gluten-free brewery in the U.S. and uses solely gluten-free ingredients for its tasty suds. Their pale ale is dry hopped with Cascade and Meridian hops and includes sorghum, chestnuts, Belgian style candi syrup, organic lentils, cane sugar and tapioca. Like Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill’s beards, this one is a little sweet and hoppy. And are those hints of citrus and pine I’m detecting? Who let the dogs out? Do I dare eat a peach?
Level of drunkenness: Air guitar time.
Scarborough Fair IPA
Billed as “a melodic brew full of coastal harmony,” this British beer from Wold Top Yorkshire Brewery is made with water, barley, maize, yeast and hops and has had the gluten removed so it clocks in at under 20ppm. So it’s all good, right? Not exactly. Managing to taste both malty and hoppy, it’s definitely beer-like. But there’s something not quite right about it. Kind of like making out with your cousin. Or so I’ve been told. Wink wink.
Level of drunkenness: Healthy, in control-ish, wondering out loud if I should dust off my high school saxophone and start taking lessons because how awesome would that be.
I think it’s ballsy to name your gluten-free beer after the very thing your customers’ are trying to avoid. Kinda like if a vegan restaurant named itself Blood Splattered Slaughterhouse. And at 6 per cent, this is a ballsy beer that – wait for it – tastes like actual beer. Or maybe that’s just Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell talking. What a great, great album for drinking gluten-free beer to, said no one in the history of the world until now. I’m an effin’ pioneer. Made with millet, buckwheat, corn, black rice and candi, it’s hoppy like a good IPA should, and I’m digging the tall can delivery system. But you know what I’m not digging? The nearly 20 bucks it cost me for a four-pack. I guess it’s just like Meat Loaf said, “Two out of three ain’t bad.” Truth. Peace out.
Level of drunkenness: what?