Fortunately, Mother Nature is generous in supplying alternative fermentables. Sorghum is the most common, but brewers of gluten-free beers also use millet, buckwheat, rice, tapioca and honey. The Goose Island brewpub in Chicago’s Clybourn neighborhood has crafted a beer from quinoa, while Harvester Brewing in Portland, Ore., uses crushed chestnuts as a raw ingredient.
Neither of those is available in the Washington area, but New Planet Beer in Boulder, Colo., markets three sorghum-based brews in the District and Maryland and plans to start shipping to Virginia this month.
“It was one of the most bittersweet days of my life,” says founder Pedro Gonzalez of his celiac disease diagnosis in 2003. A special diet restored his health but left him with a craving for simple pleasures like a frosty mug. Unhappy with the gluten-free beers on the market, Gonzalez hired several professional brew masters to formulate his beers. His lineup consists of Tread Lightly Ale, a golden ale flavored with orange peel; the aggressively hopped Off Grid Pale Ale; and 3R Raspberry Ale, which won a bronze medal in 2010 at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.
Gonzalez contract-brews his beers but plans to open a half-barrel “demo” brewery where he can test new recipes. What other styles would he like to brew? “How many categories are there at the GABF?” he asks. “Over 100? I’d like to have over 100 categories of gluten-free beer!”
Sam Calagione, president of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del., isn’t gluten intolerant, but he crafted Tweason’ale after reading the plaintive e-mails of drinkers who wanted a “gluten-free beer with gusto.” Made with sorghum, strawberries and buckwheat honey, the effervescent brew comes off as a cross between a mead and a pink champagne. Calagione plans to release the beer four times a year, in between seasonal brews. Look for four-packs to reappear in late May.
Many gluten-free beers finish with a cidery twang, a taste that some drinkers refer to as Belgian. The Green’s line, brewed at the DeProef Brewery in Lochristi, Belgium, is actually fermented with a Belgian yeast strain and undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. Of the three brands imported by Merchant du Vin of Tukwila, Wash., the best is Endeavor Dubbel Dark Ale, with sweet, roasty, molasses-like notes. At 7 percent alcohol by volume, it’s stronger than most gluten-free offerings. More potent still (8.5 percent) is another attempt at a Belgian abbey beer, Green’s Tripel Blonde Ale, with its spicy flavor and hints of apple and pear in the finish.