Unlike most gluten-free beers, which are made from sorghum, rice, buckwheat or other alternative fermentables, the Omission brews are crafted from barley that’s been deglutenized through a proprietary process involving an enzyme called Brewer’s Clarex. The aim is to make a product indistinguishable in flavor from a normal beer.
“They have their own value in the marketplace,” comments Terry Michaelson of sorghum-based beers, “but this [Omission] is something that matches my expectations of what a craft beer is.”
Michaelson, CEO of the Craft Brew Alliance, has more than an academic interest in the product: He was diagnosed with celiac disease 12 years ago. Joe Casey, the brewmaster who formulated the Omission beers, has a wife with the same condition.
The Omission beers, brewed by Widmer Brothers Brewing Co. in Portland, Ore., were scheduled to move into California and Washington State this week. The East Coast release is set for June 11. Look for them in six-packs of 12-ounce bottles.
The catch is, to market the beers across state lines, Widmer had to alter the original labels to eliminate the phrase “gluten-free.” Indeed, the label cannot make any statement about gluten at all. “We’ll be relying heavily on the social media to get the word out,” admitted Michaelson.
Although the Craft Brew Alliance claims every batch is laboratory-tested to guarantee it contains 6 ppm or less of gluten, the federal Tax and Trade Bureau — the agency that regulates barley-based beer — doesn’t officially recognize any test for determining the gluten content of a fermented beverage.
Michaelson said the brewery was talking with the TTB, and he was “very optimistic” that a deal will be worked out to permit some sort of statement about the beers’ gluten content (or lack thereof).
The brewers of Omission have some friends in high places. Speaking at the Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), co-chair of the House Small Brewers Caucus, blasted the federal bureaucracy for delaying the marketing of an innovative product.
To promote the efforts of Oregon brewers to make beers safe for celiacs, Portland mayor Sam Adams (yes, that’s his name) declared May 16 to be “Gluten-Free Beer Day.”
If the two Omission beers are successful, the Craft Brew Alliance might follow up with brand extensions, says Michaelson. “Our brewers are already looking at interesting things they can do.”