Gluten Free vs Gluten Reduced Beer: What You Need to Know
If you have celiac disease, you probably feel like you’ve become a pro at reading a food label or scanning a restaurant menu for hidden signs of gluten. The words “gluten free” on a package brings light to your eyes, but you always double-check just to be sure. When you can’t read the label yourself, you don’t know for sure what you’re putting into your body.
So, what’s the deal with gluten free beer? Is it actually free from gluten? And what about gluten reduced beer? These are some of the questions you’ll find yourself asking if you live the gluten free life and we’re here to give you the answers.
What’s the Difference Between Gluten Free and Gluten Reduced?
When it comes to FDA regulations, foods are allowed to carry the “gluten free” designation if they contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. Aside from this rule, the food can be labeled gluten free if it doesn’t contain any ingredients derived from wheat, barley, or rye – it also applies if the food contains a gluten-containing ingredient but it has been processed to remove gluten.
These are the two most important things you need to know to understand the difference between gluten free beer and beer labeled “gluten reduced”.
Gluten free beer can only be labeled as such if the original recipe doesn’t contain any wheat, barley, or rye ingredients. They must also be tested at 20ppm gluten or less. Gluten reduced beer, on the other hand, is beer made with wheat, barley, or rye ingredients that has an enzyme added which breaks the gluten molecule down into smaller pieces. These pieces are too small to be detected by laboratory tests and, the assumption is, too small for your body to detect.
Gluten reduced beer still needs to test below 20 ppm of gluten, but FDA labeling requirements prevents it from being labeled as gluten free. Gluten reduced or “crafted to reduce gluten” is the closest option.
Is Gluten Reduced Beer Safe for Celiacs?
If you had a peanut allergy and walked into a restaurant to order fried food, you’d naturally ask the chef if he used peanut oil. Imagine the chef tells you he uses an oil blend, but it should be safe because it only contains a tiny amount of peanut oil. He might even call it peanut-reduced.
Something like that would never fly with someone who has a peanut allergy and it won’t fly for someone with celiac disease if gluten were the allergen in question. The point of this example is that when it comes to beer, there’s no in-between; beer is either gluten free or it isn’t. Remember, that’s why beer that has been treated with an enzyme to reduce the gluten content still can’t be called gluten free.
If you aren’t absolutely sure a product doesn’t contain gluten, the safest option is usually to avoid it. People with gluten sensitivities sometimes have a little more wiggle room here, but celiac disease leaves no room for error.
Depending how sensitive you are, you may be fine with beer labeled gluten free but if you want to be extra safe, stick with beer brewed in dedicated gluten free facilities.
Top Brands of Gluten Free and Gluten Reduced Beer
As awareness and understanding of celiac disease continues to spread, more food and beverage manufacturers are stepping into the gluten free niche. When it comes to the commercial brewing industry, there are two ways a brewer can claim their products are 100% gluten free.
- Operate a dedicated gluten free facility completely free from barley, wheat, and rye ingredients.
- Following strict cleaning practices and taking precautions to prevent cross contamination when producing gluten free beer.
If you suffer from celiac disease, your safest bet is to go with a brewery that operates dedicated gluten free facilities. As of early 2020, there are nearly twenty in the United States and several in Canada.
Here are the top dedicated gluten free breweries to try:
- Alt Brew
- Aurochs Brewing Company
- Bierly Brewing
- Burning Brothers Brewing
- Cold Crash Brewing Co.
- Dark Hills Brewery
- Dos Luces Brewery
- Eckert Malting & Brewing
- Evasion Brewing
- Ghostfish Brewing Co.
- Ground Breaker Brewing
- Holidaily Brewing Co.
- Moonshrimp Brewing
- New Era Fine Fermentations (NEFF)
- Red Leaf Gluten-Free Brewing
- Rolling Mill Brewing Co.
- Glutenberg (Montreal, Quebec)
- Heathen’s Brewing (Calgary, Alberta)
- Two Bays Brewing Co. (Dromana, Victoria)
With so many options out there, you don’t have to go without or settle for a mixed drink you don’t particularly care for. Another option you might want to explore is making your own gluten free beer.
Can You Make Gluten Free Beer at Home?
As someone who has celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you’re used to making your own versions of food staples like bread. You may have even experimented with baked goods, snacks, and more. You may be interested to know that there’s another avenue for you to explore: gluten free beer.
Though you’ll need to avoid the traditional staples used to brew beer (wheat, barley, and rye), there are plenty of other options. Here are some of the top gluten free grains to brew with:
- Gluten free oats
If you’re already changing the recipe to use alternative grains, you might even think about experimenting with different types of sugar. You can even add other ingredients like sweet potatoes, chestnuts, or lentils to create a unique texture and depth of flavor. Most gluten-free grains can be found in malted form for home brewing. If you’re not highly sensitive to gluten, you can even use enzymes to reduce the gluten content of barley and wheat recipes.