Popping open a tall, cold one on a hot day might be your idea of pure bliss, but if you have celiac disease or are gluten-intolerant, a regular bottle of brew spells trouble for you. Essential beer-making ingredients (like barley and wheat) contain gluten, causing many gluten-avoiders to hop off the bar stool. Then gluten-free beer came along to save the day. Gluten-free beer is commonly made from sorghum, but also millet and other nontraditional grains, making it safe for people who don’t eat gluten. If you haven’t tried G-Free beer in in a while, you will likely be pleasantly surprised—most folks find that its quality is no longer as, ahem, lacking as it used to be. That’s refreshing news! But what’s this latest lager you’ve heard about, called “Low-G” beer? Let’s take a look a closer look….
Some breweries have been labeling certain types of their barley-brewed beers as ‘low gluten,” arguing that the brewing process eliminates or reduces the gluten content to levels low enough to be safe for people with celiac disease or gluten-intolerance. To examine this issue, Australian researcher Michelle Colgrave and her team recently published a study in the Journal of Proteome Research in which they discussed their findings after examining the gluten content of 60 different beers. Because existing tests for detecting gluten in malted products are not very accurate, the team developed a highly accurate new test (using mass spectrometry, if you’re interested in the science-y aspects) to detect hordein protein, the gluten component in barley.
What they found is both reassuring and disheartening to those who avoid gluten. “Significantly both barley based low-gluten beers tested, in which the hordein concentration is reduced by pro-prietary processing steps during brewing to reduce the concentration in the final beer product, had substantial levels of one or more hordein proteins,” concluded the researchers. The good news? The researchers’ tests of 8 beers labeled “gluten-free” found all of them to indeed be free of gluten—whew!
So, “Low-G” beer isn’t really low-g after all. Not completely surprising, actually. And really, did the world need “Low-G” beer? I think not. If you need to avoid gluten for health reasons, then even small amounts of gluten are not ok.
While the researchers did not reveal the results with brand names attached (that’s just not done in the hard science world, but it would have been handy for consumers!), if you’re seeking gluten-free American lager, you’ll be happy to notice that it’s no longer as difficult to find as it used to be. Mainstream American beer producers have increased their G-Free offerings, and you can now find a few brands on the shelves at larger supermarkets and health food stores like Whole Foods. What’s more, gluten-free craft beers are gaining popularity nationwide, and they have the additional selling points of being small batch or local, too. If money is no object, there are a variety of imported gluten-free beers (predominantly from the UK, Spain and Australia) at specialty beer outlets and well-stocked liquor stores.