Gluten-free beers — those brewed without barley, wheat or rye — make up a narrow sliver of the market, but their number is growing. In a recent blog item, I mentioned Nikki’s Gluten Free Ale from the Rock Bottom Brewery in Arlington. Now Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del., has come out with Tweason’ale, another beer that can be safely downed by drinkers with celiac disease.
“It’s being trucked to market as we speak,” said Dogfish president Sam Calagione of the new beer, which will be available in kegs and four-packs of 12-ounce bottles.
Tweason’ale is fermented from sorghum syrup and a dark buckwheat honey, and flavored with strawberries that the brewery mashes in a wood press. It’s got a brisk, champagnelike carbonation and a subtle, sweet-tart fruitiness. The honey, added to the brew kettle near the end of the boil, adds a floral aroma but not much in the way of sweetness or body. Tweason’ale is light on the palate, and at 6 percent alcohol by volume, moderate by Dogfish standards.
In one respect Tweason’ale is atypical for Dogfish Head beers — it’s lightly hopped, “a couple handfuls into the 100-barrel kettle.” Calagione believes the sorghum, which he describes as having a slightly bitter, earthy flavor, dries out the beer sufficiently.
Calagione doesn’t do focus groups but does read his e-mail, and he says his latest release came about because his most frequent request has been for “a gluten-free beer with gusto” — that is, a beer with its own unique style instead of a pastiche of an amber lager or pale ale. He intends to release Tweason’ale four times a year, in the intervals between Dogfish’s regularly scheduled seasonal beers. The four-pack holder, designed by Marq Spusta, shows the courtship of an anthropomorphic strawberry and a bee during the four seasons of the year. It’s designed so retailers can rotate the package so the correct season faces outward.
Calagione isn’t marketing Tweason’ale solely to celiacs; he believes it will appeal to craft beer drinkers in general and to wine drinkers as well. His next offering, due out in early February, should likewise attract the attention of the wine crowd. Noble Rot, says Calagione, is an ale fermented from barley and wheat (51 percent) and from viognier and pinot gris grapes infected with botrytis (49 percent). This fungus dries out the grape and concentrates the sugars. Infected grapes can produce a rich, sweet wine, and Calagione expects they will make a fruity and complex beer in the saison style.
As if he didn’t have enough heaped on his plate, Calagione is planning a major expansion. He recently got 40 acres adjacent to his brewery rezoned for industrial use; he plans to build a new warehouse and bottling facility on the land. That will allow him to install a second brewhouse in his current warehouse. Potentially, he could boost his production to 600,00 barrels a year, a lofty peak attained only by New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Boston Beer Co. among craft breweries.
Dogfish Head isn’t the only brewery reaching for the stars. Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma, Calif., has taken possession of a new German-made 250-barrel brewhouse that could eventually ramp up output to that same 600,000-barrel-a-year level.
Lagunitas’s plans, however, hit a bump when the ship carrying the equipment encountered a storm en route to California. As one brewery employee described it, a crane came loose from its moorings and rammed the lauter tun, one of the brewing vessels, reducing it to scrap metal.
A replacement is on its way. But the incident put a crimp in the brewery’s production schedule, and Lagunitas was unable to brew its normal winter seasonal, Brown Shugga’. Not wanting to disappoint its fans, the brewery put together a kitchen-sink beer with a quicker fermentation time: a multigrain double IPA, full of citrusy hops and brewed with barley, wheat, rye and oats.
The beer was named Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale, and the packaging contained a lengthy mea culpa that read in part:
“It’s a mess that we can not brew our Brown Shugga’ this year. . . There is nothing cool about screwing up this badly and we know it. Maybe we can sue our sorry selves. . .”
The beer was such a hit that Lagunitas is rereleasing it with the name Lagunitas Sucks Holidays Leftovers Ale.
You lead a charmed life whenever your mistakes turn out to be successes.