Brewing Gluten Free and Gluten Reduced Beer

by Brad Smith on November 18, 2015 · 0 comments

beer_barley_webThis week I provide a quick tip on brewing gluten-free (technically gluten reduced) beer by using enzymes to break down the gluten in the finished beer. Many people are gluten sensitive, but new enzymes offer an opportunity to still brew beer with traditional barley grains while substantially reducing the gluten content of the finished beer.

Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease

An estimated 18 million Americans are gluten sensitive. The cause can be from Celiac disease which is an immune reaction to gluten or it can be in the form of a variety of non-Celiac disorders that also result in gluten sensitivity. The symptoms and level of sensitivity vary, but the net effect is that many people can tolerate only very low levels of gluten in their food and drink.

All grains contain forms of gluten, but the vast majority of people are only sensitive to the type of gluten that naturally occurs in wheat, rye, and our preferred beer brewing grain: barley. Since barley and wheat are the base grains for most beers, this means that conventionally brewed beers are frequently off limits to those with gluten sensitivity.

Brewing Gluten Free and Gluten Reduced Beer

One alternative for making gluten free beer is to brew beer with ingredients other than barley, wheat and rye. Low gluten alternatives include: corn, sorgum, soy, quinoa, rice, potato starch, amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat and chickpea (garbanzo). While you can brew beer successfully with these ingredients, unfortunately it is not the same beer flavor you would get from using malted barley. However some good beers are being made – even by some craft brewers in this category. I won’t cover this technique in detail today – but leave that for a future article.

Another option is to brew beer using barley as a base and then use enzymes to break down the gluten in the finished beer to create “gluten reduced” beer. With the correct combination of enzymes you can produce barley beer that contains a level of gluten that is below the sensitivity level for most “gluten free” drinkers. Even better, these enzymes do not significantly affect the flavor of the finished beer.

Gluten Reducing Enzymes

Commercial brewers may have access to a wider variety of ingredients, but as of the writing of this article, White Labs has the most widely available gluten-reducing additive available. The product is called “Clarity Ferm” for home brewers and available commercially under the brand name “Brewers Clarex”.

Clarity Ferm is sold as a clarity aid, and will reduce the polyphenols and proteins associated with chill haze. However it also reduces the gluten level in the finished beer below 20 parts per million, which is the international (and US) standard for “gluten free” foods. However due to some bureaucratic machinations ongoing by the TTB and FDA, commercial brewers are not yet able to label their beers “gluten free” and instead have to use a bunch of legalistic labeling (see the white labs site for details) for the time being.

Despite the ongoing legalistic labeling issues, it is sufficient to say that the finished beer has gluten levels well below the level most people are sensitive to. Also the addition of Clarity Ferm does not significantly alter the taste of the finished beer. In fact, in a detailed study in the “Beer and Wine Journal” by Chris Hamilton summarized here, he tested a variety of beers treated with Clarity Ferm and found that none of the finished beers had higher than 5 ppm of gluten (well below the 20 ppm recognized threshold for “Gluten Free”). He also found in blind taste tests that the beers treated with Clarity Ferm were difficult to distinguish from the untreated beers and also that those treated often ranked higher than those left untreated.

So Clarity Ferm offers a simple method to reduce the gluten content in your beer to an acceptable level without compromising on the taste of your favorite barley or wheat based beers. Thanks for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. You can grab a trial version of BeerSmith from BeerSmith.com. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast (also on itunes…and youtube…and streaming radio station) for more great tips on homebrewing.

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