As time passes it becomes harder and harder to remember a time when the term “gluten free” wasn’t embedded into my brain. I loved drinking tasty microbrews stuffed full of hops, malty scotch ales and German lagers. I brewed a grand total of one barley beer ever in my life which was a 21st birthday gift from my mom brewed at the long defunct U-brew in Seattle. Other than that one barley beer, I never even thought about brewing beer until it became something I could no longer drink. If you’d have offered me a gluten free beer 5 years ago I would’ve probably turned my nose up at you. It’s amazing how fast things change as I was about to get news from my doctor that I could never drink “regular” beer again due to a celiac disease diagnosis.
Gluten free beer typically gives barley brewers visions of tasteless, twangy, syrup infused abominations. However, gluten free brewing today is dramatically different than it was even 5 or 10 years ago. In the earlier days of gluten free brewing there were limited options in terms of sugar sources and no commercial malted grains. Unless you malted your own gluten free grains the choices were sorghum syrup or rice syrup for major sugar sources. Today we have dedicated malt houses such as Grouse Malt House and Eckert Malting that produce malted gluten free grains. The commercial side of gluten free brewing has seen exponentially growth over the past 5-10 years. There are now over 25 dedicated gluten free breweries across North America and Australia with many having just opened within the last couple of years. These new developments have led to a golden age of knowledge transfer between gluten free home brewers and commercial gluten free craft brewers.
Gluten & Beer
Gluten is a protein found in traditional brewing grains - barley, wheat and rye. These proteins do not cause health issues in the majority of the population and have been used and domesticated for centuries. A subset of people have issues with gluten in their diet typically due to either celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity(NCGS). Recent studies have shown that nearly 1% of the U.S population is affected by celiac disease and 85 percent are undiagnosed(Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic; Peter Green & Rory Jones). In people with celiac disease gluten produces an auto immune response where your body attacks these invader proteins and in the course of this attack flattens the villi or lining of the small intestine. As you could image this ends up being a huge bummer if you like beer and also enjoy a functioning small intestine. There are many different symptoms that one can experience due to gluten exposure and anyone who thinks that gluten is causing health issues is recommended to see their doctor. Suffice to say gluten is bad news for A LOT of people across the globe.
Malted barley is the main staple for brewers because of a few features. First, it has a gelatinization point that easily allows starches to convert to sugars. Second, it has endogenous enzymatic activity to allows conversion to take place without requiring exogenous enzymes to be added into the mash. Third, it has been bred over thousands of years to yield a plump grain with maximum sugar content. The gluten containing proteins in barley - hordeins - allow for increased head retention and are essential to creating great traditional beers. Replacing these traditional grains with gluten free grains creates new flavor profiles and new challenges. Many gluten free brewers attempt to clone barley beers that they used to enjoy pre-diagnosis. Others are now realizing that grains such as millet, rice and buckwheat can provide alternative flavor profiles that end up becoming their own style. In the future I hope to see an American Millet Beer or American Rice Beer BJCP category that allows dedicated gluten free brewers to compete amongst their colleagues. These grains are typically used in a dedicated gluten free environment but that doesn’t mean a barley brewer couldn’t use millet for instance in as an adjunct grain in a barley beer.
Gluten Reduced vs. Gluten Free
For beer to be considered gluten free on a commercial level in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand it can only be made with ingredients that are inherently gluten free per each countries labelling laws and regulations(https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2013/08/05/2013-18813/food-labeling-gluten-free-labeling-of-foods). In other parts of the world, most commonly the UK and Europe, gluten free beer can be made with ingredients such as barley and then treated with an enzyme such as clarity ferm which in theory will break down gluten containing proteins into smaller fragments that “removes” the gluten. The science around the efficacy of this method indicates that in many celiac and NCGS people there are still reactions to these kinds of beers. Additionally the common testing methodology for gluten proteins is not suited to testing within a fermented beverage and lacks accuracy(https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0056452). The bottom line is that I highly recommend avoiding the topic of clarity ferm treated “gluten reduced” beers when it comes to brewers who have celiac disease or even NCGS. Proceed with caution!
Gluten Free Extract Brewing & Gluten Free All Grain Brewing
As with brewing in general, brewing gluten free beer is as complicated as you want to make it. You can make extract only gluten free beer, all grain gluten free beer, partial mash gluten free beer just as you would with traditional beers. The equipment used in gluten free brewing is virtually identical to barley brewing with the exception of items such as filters and custom false bottoms which may need adjustment due to the small grain size of gluten free grains.
Building A Custom False Bottom:
Extract brewing in the gluten free world most commonly revolves around sorghum syrup which is produced by Briess and can usually be found in your LHBS or through Morebeer. This extract syrup is used to create some amazing beers in both the home brew and commercial settings. It also has a reputation of providing finished beers with a “sorghum twang” that can be hard to stomach if you don’t understand the styles that suit it. Sorghum syrup extract beers can follow the standard extract brewing process and you simply need to add enough syrup to hit your intended original gravity and proceed as normal with hops and yeast. For most gluten free brewers sorghum syrup is the gateway to moving towards gluten free all grain brewing. For additional details on getting started brewing gluten free we have additional details on our club wiki in the GF Brewing 101 section - https://zerotolerance.mywikis.net/wiki/GF_Brewing_101.
All grain gluten free brewing is full of trade-offs, high costs and quickly changing technical landscape. The most prevalent malted gluten free grains used today are millet, rice and buckwheat. The common struggle that gluten free brewers encounter is conversion of starches to sugars. Malted gluten free grains pose a difficult dilemma where the gelatinization temperatures of these grains exceeds the temperature in which endogenous enzymes are denatured. Basically these grains don’t want to become beer like barley does they want to give you a hard time before you can create beer. Gluten free all grain brewers have devised various creative ways to convert starch to sugar using malted millet, rice and buckwheat. The most common way that is done today is by adding exogenous enzymes to the mash to replace those lost reaching grain gelatinization temperatures. These enzymes may not have been specifically created for gluten free brewing and in fact many were created to increase efficiency in barley brewing. Gluten free brewers have co-opted these tools as we’ve found that using these enzymes is more time efficient than alternative mashing techniques. Currently the most common enzymes used in gluten free home brewing are Ondea Pro and Ceremix Flex produced by Novozymes.
I’m not going to sugar coat all grain gluten free brewing. If you come from a barley brewing background it will seem crazy the amount of time and effort required to convert starches to sugars. To get higher efficiency you will need to multi-step mash and have a lot of patience. Another item to consider with all grain brewing is cost of ingredients. For barley, wheat and rye malts the economies of scale drive the price very low as compared to typical gluten free malts sold on a home brewing scale. Brewers that move from barley brewing to gluten free brewing will most likely experience sticker shock when purchasing malts. Over time as more grain is produced and other maltsters enter the market the overall prices of gluten free malts will come down. Until then it’s definitely something to consider within the hobby.
Dry yeast is the most common choice in gluten free brewing as in most instances its labelled as gluten free and safe to use. Liquid yeast on the other hand is usually propagated on a barley based medium and is unsuitable for use in gluten free brewing. There are some liquid yeast suppliers that will provide yeast strains in a liquid form that have been propagated on sorghum syrup base on a limited basis. I always recommend verifying with the supplier if their product is gluten free when you have something questionable. The dry yeast variety available today is not much of a limiting factor with the exceptions being very specific ale or lager strains.
Equipment & Cross Contamination
When a brewer decides to brew a gluten free batch it’s usually because of a personal medical diagnosis to eliminate gluten from their diet or if they want to brew a beer for family and/or friends that cannot consume gluten. If you’ve previously brewed barley beer on your equipment then it’s important to consider cross contamination. Items that are essential to be replaced are anything plastic, rubber or wood such as wooden mash paddles, tubing and plastic fermenters. Metal items should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized to eliminate as much cross contamination as possible. If possible it’s recommended that separate dedicated gear be used if brewing and serving to someone who cannot consume gluten. Most gluten free all grain brewers mill their own malts and mills are hard to get cleaned of existing milled grain so please consider this factor if your mill has been used for barley, wheat or rye grains.
How to Brew a Gluten Free Beer
Ok enough with me blabbering on and on. Let’s get to the fun stuff - brewing actual gluten free beer. I have two different recipes here based on brewing knowledge and equipment. For the beginning gluten free brewer go ahead and give the basic extract recipe a try. For the more experience brewer that has access to all grain brewing equipment, skip the extract recipe and give the advanced all grain recipe a shot. If you get lost or need help please look in the resources section for additional video tutorials as well as a link to the Zero Tolerance Homebrew Club Facebook group page which has an active membership always willing to provide guidance. Hoppy Brewing!
Bring 6 gallons of water to a boil. Cut heat and add sorghum syrup making sure to mix thoroughly so that the syrup does not scorch on the bottom of the boil kettle. Once mixed, bring back to a boil and start timer for 60 minutes and add your first hop addition using the hop bags that come with the home brew kit. Follow the hop schedule and then add yeast nutrient and whirlfloc with 15 minutes remaining. Add immersion chiller to the boil kettle. Once the wort has boiled for an hour cool with the immersion chiller to yeast pitching temperature. If you’re lazy like me skip rehydrating the yeast and pitch directly into the fermenter after you’ve transferred the wort. Ferment until done, typically 7-10 days but use your hydrometer to confirm the beer has reached a stable gravity reading. Keg or bottle and enjoy once carbonated.
(Carmel 240L Malted Millet, Dark Rice Malt)
Advanced Gluten Free All Grain Recipe & Steps
Recipe - Gluten Free Vienna Lager
Here’s an advanced recipe based off of one of my favorite gluten free lagers. This recipe requires gluten free malted grains along with the typical all grain systems such as 3 vessel, BIAB, all in one electric systems. Gluten free malted grains are typically procured from Grouse Malt House or Eckert Malting in North America or via reseller. Essentially we need to get all of our fermentable sugars from our gluten free malts. Also not required but beneficial is mash temperature control as well as fermentation temperature control. I augmented the Morebeer premium home brewing kit with the addition of a round cooler HLT and a rectangular cooler that I converted into a mash tun. There are many options available for HLT and mash tun from cheap to super expensive.
Mash in at 145F with mash water treated with calcium chloride. Add all enzymes to mash and let rest for 45 minutes. Ramp up mash temperature to 175F. Temperature ramp can be done via RIMS, HERMS or decoction. Hold at 175F for 60 minutes. Test for conversion via an iodine test. Drain to kettle and batch sparge. 60 minute boil with Mt Hood additions at 60 and 15. Cool wort to pitching temperature and aerate. Pitch S-23 two packets. Ferment at 54F for 14 days with optional 67F diacetyl rest near the end of primary fermentation. Lager at 34F for 30 days. Bottle or keg and serve once carbonated.
Zero Tolerance Homebrew Club Facebook Group - https://www.facebook.com/groups/ZeroToleranceGF - By far the best resource and community for gluten free home and commercial brewers. If you use one resource only this is the best one. Please join our group to learn more about dedicated gluten free brewing.
GlutenFreeHomeBrewing.com - Gluten free malts, recipe kits and ingredients.
About the Author - Cale Baldwin is an admin and member of the Zero Tolerance Gluten Free Homebrew Club, an online Facebook based group focused on dedicated gluten free brewing. After being diagnosed with celiac disease in 2016 he wanted to find a way to brew his own. Join the Zero Tolerance Facebook group for more details - https://www.facebook.com/groups/ZeroToleranceGF.
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