New brewing techniques have led to the development of new gluten-free beers in the European market, but Britain still leads the way with its range of bitters and lagers.
Sue Cane, deprived beer-lover (and coeliac) investigates the range.
For some of us on a gluten-free diet the discovery that we can no longer drink beer is the final straw. A small bottle of cold lager in the evening is one of life’s pleasures and it’s taken me a lot of hunting to fill the gap left by this dietary restriction in what used to be a daily ritual. Gluten-free beer has often been a poor substitute for the real thing; so poor that despite my love of a cold, dry lager I gave it up altogether. But at last, due to a steadily growing market and some excellent brewers, gluten-free beer has really got its act together and there are now plenty of products to choose from; whether you like beer or lager or both, some of them are just as good as the real thing.
Finding one you like
Although there is quite a range of gluten-free beer available in the UK, to my great disappointment I’ve never found it in a pub or restaurant; supermarkets, if they stock it at all, only have a limited choice. Often retailers sell it by the case but it’s quite expensive and buying a large quantity without tasting it first is a bit of a gamble.
There’s no doubt that some taste different from ordinary beer and it’s simply a question of trying different brands until you find one you like. Traditional-beer lovers are possibly better served than lager drinkers but there’s quite a big crossover and if you’re a lager drinker you may well find yourself liking a beer and vice versa. So don’t be put off by the labels, try the beer anyway. Some of it is really excellent.
Earlier this year a group of six lager and beer drinkers, comprising three men and three women (including one coeliac) came together to put a range of nine beers through their paces. Personally I’m delighted with some of the ones we’ve tried here. The others, all beer-lovers as well, found products that they too would be very happy to drink.
Each of these beers has its own merits and we liked a lot of
them as drinks in their own right. But St Peter’s and both the Hambleton’s scored particularly highly with all the testers, some of whom thought them indistinguishable from ordinary beers.
Whether your preference is a traditional beer or a lager there is no longer a gaping hole in the market if you’re gluten free. And now summer is here what could be nicer than a cold glass of beer? So, even if you live gluten free, beer is back on the agenda.
NB All the beers were served very cold.
Schnitzer Bråu Premium Pils Schnitzerbräu, Germany
5.0%, 330ml. Water, millet malt, sugar, hops.
‘Light colour, fizzy.’ ‘Nail-varnish remover smell.’ ‘Pear drop, sweet aroma.’ ‘Hint of Hoegaarden/Weiss beer and a little citrus.’ ‘Almond sweetness.’ ‘Not sophisticated enough.’ ‘One glass is nice ice cold.’ ‘As it warms up synthetic sticky aftertaste.’ ‘Like a Belgian lager.’
As they say, a Pils-style lager.
Available from www.mynaturesmaid.com – 24 bottles/£49.95 inc delivery
Premium Pils with lemon 2.6%, 330ml. Water, millet malt, sugar, hops, lemonade.
‘Nose of lemonade.’ ‘Looks pretty.’ ‘Smells of pop.’ ‘Nice head.’ ‘Lemon and lime. Sweet and quite refreshing.’ ‘Very sweet and fizzy.’ ‘Synthetic aftertaste.’ ‘Smells like lemon washing-up liquid.’ ‘Taste
of lager and lime.’ ‘Easy to drink. More lemonade than beer.’
A typical lager-shandy drink.
Available from www.mynaturesmaid.com – 24 bottles/£49.95 inc delivery
4%, 500ml. Green’s will not disclose ingredients but say ‘gluten-free raw materials such as rice, buckwheat, sorghum and millet’. Also water, hops, natural sugars and yeast.
‘Copper colour.’ ‘Slightly sour hop aroma.’ ‘Beery.’ ‘Fruity taste with a mild bitterness.’ ‘Very tasty.’ ‘Good, wet, fizzy.’ ‘Really tasty.’ ‘Slight mint taste – very refreshing.’ ‘More like an ale than a lager.’
The testers thought this was a bitter.
£2.79 from all major supermarkets or 8 bottles/£19.60 plus delivery from Green’s – www.glutenfreebeers.co.uk
5%, 330ml. Green’s will not disclose actual ingredients but say ‘gluten-free raw materials including rice, buckwheat, sorghum and millet’. Also water, hops, sugars and yeast.
‘Smells of lemon, elderflowery and yeasty.’ ‘Lemon balm.’ ‘White wine and soda.’ ‘Thin and fizzy.’ ‘Light and appley, not like beer.’ ‘Dry finish.’ ‘Like Weiss beer.’ ‘Champagne.’ ‘Refreshing.’ ‘Nice summer drink.’
The testers described this as a lager.
£2.48 from all major supermarkets or 12 bottles/£24.50 plus delivery from Green’s along with their other g-f beers – www.glutenfreebeers.co.uk
GFA Gluten and wheat-free ale
4.8%, 500ml. Water, sorghum, malted barley, sugar, hops.
'Good amber colour.' 'Looks and tastes like a traditional beer.' 'Slightly sour aroma, toffeeish, like a pub bitter. Mmm.' 'Nice and lively, citrus, apricot, sweetish.' 'A bit hoppy.' 'A good medium ale.' Definitely an ale.
From Asda and Tesco and some other independent stockists for about £2.30 per bottle or direct from Hambleton's – 16 bottles/£37.60 inc delivery or collect from the brewery in Melmerby, near Ripon, North Yorkshire @ £1.60 per bottle – www.hambletonales.co.uk
GFL Gluten and wheat-free lager
5.2%, 500ml. Water, sorghum, malted barley, sugar, hops.
'Looks like a lager.' 'Floral aroma.' 'Fizzy and frothy.' 'Caramel, sweetish, fruity at first.' 'Good strong after taste: caramel, tobacco, dry, almost metallic.' 'Dry, citrus finish.' 'Nice light beer/lager.' 'This is just like a pub lager.'
Again, from Asda and Tesco and some other independent stockists for about £2.30 per bottle or direct from Hambleton's – 16 bottles/£37.60 inc delivery or collect from the brewery in Melmerby, near Ripon, North Yorkshire @ £1.60 per bottle – www.hambletonales.co.uk
Against the Grain
Gluten Free Bitter, The Fine Ale Club, UK.
4.5%, 500ml, (gluten 5.1ppm).
Water, maize, modified malt, hops, yeast.
‘Golden colour.’ ‘Looks like a lager, tastes like a pale ale.’ ‘No head.’ ‘Elderflower, grassy nose.’ ‘Light and pleasant.’ ‘Disappointingly flat after a while.’ ‘Floral and quite light.’ ‘Dry finish, quite thin.’ ‘Malty, hoppy taste but goes flat quickly.’ The testers all thought that this is quite a light bitter and it might appeal to lager drinkers as well.
Available by the case – 12 bottles/£24 plus delivery – from www.ale4home.co.uk
St Peters’ G-Free Ale
Ale with a pilsner lager style finish, St Peter’s Brewery, UK.
4.2%, 500ml. Sorghum, hops, water, yeast, finings, yeast food, carbon dioxide.
‘Light amber colour.’ ‘White toast on the nose.’ ‘Toasted roasted coffee smell.’ ‘Smells of summer and dry hay. Like French lager.’ ‘Tastes just like ordinary ale.’ ‘Very dry finish. Quite thirst quenching.’ ‘Tobacco hint on taste, dry, hoppy.’ ‘The best.’ The testers all thought that this would appeal to both lager and bitter drinkers.
Ocado will deliver this in some areas of the country or you can buy direct – 12 bottles/£29.50 plus delivery – www.stpetersbrewery.co.uk
Glutaner Pilsener style Belgium
5.2%, 330ml. Water, sorghum malt, teff, rice, yeast, hops.
‘Smells of Calamine lotion.’ ‘Lavender.’ ‘Fruity, floral aroma but very metallic taste.’ ‘Light, refreshing, like Hoegaarden.’
‘Not as fizzy as others and strong dry taste.’ ‘Acquired taste.’ ‘Sour
aftertaste.’ This beer was the least popular of all because of the
very strong aftertaste.
The UK retailer is www.beermerchants.com 24 bottles/£41 plus delivery. They also have a distributor in Truro (The Granary).
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