Gluten-free beers have come a long way in the last year or so with many different options popping up from craft breweries and the big beer mainstays alike. Some taste good, others don't at all.
So you don't waste your hard-earned cash on sub-par GF beers, we rounded up a panel of regular beer drinkers as well as those with gluten intolerances, who haven't had a sip of "real" beer in several years, to taste test a slew of gluten-free beers. We wanted to factor in the opinion of a variety of palates. For the purpose of this experiment, we did not include ciders, which are naturally gluten free, and focused on craft varieties for the more discerning beer drinker, if you will. The two craft gluten-free beers that were chosen as the "winners" ranked as the favorites for all testers.
So What Makes It a GF Beer?
Good to know and Celiacs beware: GF beers may still contain trace amounts of gluten. There is currently no scientifically valid testing method available to accurately measure the gluten content of fermented products, such as craft beer. The FDA allows a beer brand to call its products gluten free if they have below a 20 parts per million (ppm) level of gluten or if they are made from a non-gluten containing grain. You'll notice that several breweries use verbiage on the packaging that says "crafted to remove gluten" or "gluten reduced" instead of "gluten free." Interestingly, this is because malt beverages or beers made with malted barley and hops are regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), not the FDA, and it has different labeling rules.
So Why Not Just Make It Without Barley or Wheat?
The main ingredients in regular beer usually include: hops, yeast, water and a grain (typically barley or wheat, which have gluten in them). To produce gluten-free beer, you could use alternative grains like millet, buckwheat, rice, corn and sorghum. And some do. Unfortunately, those don't have a proven track record for tasting any good.
The Sucky GF Beers We Tried
Ummm, there were several that tasted downright ick, had bad aftertastes or just lacked flavor, but we're not going to go into all of those losers. Let's focus on the top two candidates...
The Best Craft Gluten-Free Beers
Made in: Barcelona, Spain
Type of beer: Lager
Key ingredients: Water, barley malt, rice and hops
Alcohol content: 5.4%
GF process: Daura was created in 2006 from the hands of master brewers at Damm and the Gluten Unit at the National Centre for Biotechnology, which is part of the Spanish National Research Council. Daura uses a process of hydrolysation to break down the gluten with a gluten-filtration system that it claims removes gluten to below the level of 3 ppm.
Tasting notes: This light, golden, medium-bodied lager offers the taste buds a good mix of hops, with a subtle, sweet malt flavor and a slightly dry finish.
Tester comments: “Very smooth, easy drinking.” "There's fruit at the end." “Refreshing, great beer.” “The Stella of glutards.” “Better than a Bud Light.” "Tastes like a LandShark." "Daura is the most drinkable of all the gluten-free beers we've tasted."
Made in: Asheville, North Carolina and Colorado
Type of beer: Golden ale
Malts: Pale, C-80, oats
Alcohol content: 5.2%
GF process: New Belgium uses an enzyme—a protein with a specific function—to break down gluten into smaller fragments. They then add this enzyme to the brewing process and analyze the finished beer in a lab using the industry-supported R5 Competitive ELISA method.
Tasting notes: This medium-light-bodied ale combines notes of pine, citrus, grassy watermelon, green tea and cereal malt for a refreshing, clean, crisp taste. It's light all around with a subtle sweetness balanced with a slight bitterness.
Tester comments: “On a hot day, I would drink that beer.” “It’s clean, smooth, refreshing.” “There’s no 'funky funky' going on here like some other gluten-free beers.” “I usually drink hoppier beers, so this tastes like a lighter beer to me.”
Whether you are gluten free by necessity or by choice—unless you are a Celiac—crack open one of these refreshing beverages and enjoy a real beer without the usual consequences of bloating or other tummy troubles.
What's your favorite gluten-free craft beer? Make more healthy lifestyle tweaks with our easy guides at Badass Life.