Today, people are growing increasingly aware of what they consume. And one of the foods that many are turning from is gluten-containing foods. Unfortunately, beer is one of these foods since it is brewed from gluten-containing grains.
Does it mean that beer is not fit for consumption by the gluten-intolerant? Not necessarily. The good news is that we can tweak the brewing process to make gluten-free beers. We call this style of making beer gluten-free brewing.
This article discusses gluten-free brewing and how it’s different from traditional brewing processes. But before we get into all that, what is gluten?
Gluten is a protein naturally occurring in grains like barley, wheat, and rye. It acts like glue, binding food together. Gluten is the reason why wheat flour forms a dough and corn flour doesn’t. It adds that stretchy characteristic you see in a ball of pizza dough. Without gluten, the dough would crumble and fall apart.
Apart from barley, wheat, and rye, other cereals that contain gluten include:
- Wheat berries
- Khorasan wheat
Oats are naturally gluten-free. However, they can be contaminated with the protein when grown adjacent to or processed in the same mills as the abovementioned grains.
Why Avoid Gluten in Brewing
Of late, there has been negative press around gluten and gluten-containing foods. And since beer is brewed from malted barley, there is a reason for concern among beer enthusiasts. Some beer recipes include wheat and rye malts, which are also rich in gluten.
Even though there isn’t much scientific data to support it, many people believe that gluten increases the risk of developing heart disease. But different people have different tolerance levels for gluten.
In some people, gluten intake results in an immune response. The body identifies gluten as a toxin and launches an attack against it. In some people, gluten is helpful. It feeds the “good” bacteria that help our bodies function.
The side effects of gluten range from mild to severe. Symptoms of mild gluten intolerance include:
- Alternating constipation
Severe symptoms of gluten intolerance include:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Intestinal damage
So what alternatives are available for gluten-intolerant beer lovers?
There are gluten-free beers for gluten-intolerant consumers. These are beers brewed from gains that don’t contain gluten.
Gluten-free Grain Alternatives for Brewing Beer
Gluten-free grains are those that don’t contain gluten proteins. Those viable for beer brewing include:
Gluten-free brewers use malt these grains and use them to make gluten-free beers. Popular US breweries that produce gluten-free beers include Anheuser-Busch and Bard’s Tale.
Homebrewing gluten-free beer is possible, and you can find gluten-free extracts at your local homebrew store. All-grain brewing is more challenging because gluten-free malts are hard to come by.
We’ll explore the different processes involved in gluten-free brewing. We’ll also study how different processes contrast in extract and all-grain brewing techniques. But first, what do you need?
Gluten-Free Brewing: Ingredients
Traditionally, beer is brewed from barley, wheat, and rye. But these grains are full of gluten. In gluten-free brewing, the challenge is to create a sugar-rich wort without these critical malts.
In most cases, the grain bill is the only area of concern when brewing gluten-free beer. Hops, water, and most yeasts are gluten-free.
Let’s look at some gluten-free alternatives that yield a beer with the same look and mouthfeel as regular beers.
Spoiler Alert: Some of these grains may be available in your kitchen cabinet.
- Base Malts
Sorghum is the most common base grain for gluten-free brewing. It is light in color and flavor. Sorghum can also add a tart kick to the brew. Since sorghum is so bland, it combines well with other gluten-free grains.
Sorghum malt is readily available in malt extract form. Sorghum malt extracts are easy to find and simple to use. You can purchase some at your local homebrew store or order some online.
Millet is also a popular base malt. In terms of character, it is the closest gluten-free alternative to barley. Commercial gluten-free breweries prefer millet over sorghum due to its lack of tartness.
Millet can also be roasted in various styles, including Vienna, Munich, and chocolate-type roasts. With such a variety, you can use millet as a base for many beer styles.
However, malted millet is harder to find. You’re unlikely to find it at your local homebrew store. There are only a few dealers that sell malted millet online. You can buy raw millet and malt it yourself, but this process is tedious and complicated.
- Specialty Grains and Adjuncts
Despite its name, buckwheat doesn’t contain any wheat it. You can use it raw to add a nutty flavor to your gluten-free beer. Roasting buckwheat intensifies its nuttiness.
Buckwheat is high in protein. It can help with body and head retention, which is lacking in gluten-free beers. Buckwheat is available in most grocery stores.
Quinoa is an excellent substitute for oats. It is rich in proteins and slightly more expensive than oats. It adds a quinoa flavor to beer; go figure. You can roast quinoa to impart a toasty biscuit flavor to beer.
Rice is a staple of many kitchens and can add creaminess to beer. While flavorless, rice is used in regular beers to lighten the body. Like millet, rice can be roasted to various levels. This treatment adds more color and flavor complexity to gluten-free beers. But also, like millet, malted rice is hard to come by.
Corn is usually added to regular beers to lighten the flavor profile. But because corn is gluten-free, it’s acceptable to use in gluten-free brewing for similar purposes.
Oats can be used in the brewing process as long as they are specified as gluten-free. Due to their high protein content, oats are great at adding body and head retention. Oats are perfect for stouts and hazy IPAs.
Amaranth, chestnuts, and lentils are all used to add protein to gluten-free beers. They help even out the thinness of sorghum and millet bases. These grains make gluten-free beers taste and feel like regular beers.
You can roast lentils, amaranth, and chestnuts to various levels and add complex toast and nutty characteristics to your beer.
Naturally, yeast is gluten-free. However, some processors add wheat starch or flour to dried yeast. Wheat is full of gluten. Before buying yeast, check the packaging to ensure it is gluten-free.
Barley is the perfect grain for brewing, and for a good reason. The grains are packed full of starch and enzymes. Barley also takes well to malting because it has a thin husk and an abundance of starch.
Gluten-free grains don’t have any of these advantages. In commercial brewing, they are milled almost to powder form. The aggressive crushing helps the brewer gain access to the starch.
Gluten-free grains have a lower concentration of enzymes than barley malt. Gluten-free mashing yields low gravity worts due to enzyme deficiency. Some homebrewers make up for this situation by adding sugar to their worts.
In commercial brewing, the brewmaster supplements the mash by adding external enzymes. Popular brewing enzymes include Ondea Pro and Ceremix Flex liquid enzymes. These enzymes boost starch breakdown and increase sugar yield.
Gluten-free grains are mashed at 145-160°F. The brewmaster adds the enzymes and lets the mash rest for 20-25 minutes. For mashout, the brewmaster raises temperatures to 170-175°F. While the high temperatures denature the enzymes, they help accelerate Saccharification.
Gluten-free grains make a tightly packed bed. As a consequence, lautering takes more time and patience.
The boiling process is similar to that in regular brewing. Hops are gluten-free, and you can use any variety you like.
During fermentation, yeast converts sugar to alcohol, carbon dioxide, and energy. This carbon dioxide dissolves in the beer, providing carbonation for the brew. The carbonation helps preserve the beer and improves the taste of the brew.
Gluten-free grains are thin in sugar, so they don’t yield much carbon dioxide. For carbonation, the brewer has to get creative.
There are three ways to infuse carbon dioxide in gluten-free brewing:
- Yeast action
- CO2 injection
- Adding fruits or fruit juice
Yeast action is the most natural mode of carbon dioxide infusion. Yeast converts fermentable sugar in wort to alcohol, carbon dioxide gas, and energy. In gluten-free brewing, you introduce yeast during fermentation. Yeast action continues even after racking.
Yeast can yield carbon dioxide only when there’s enough sugar to ferment. The brewer may boost sugar levels by adding fruits or fruit juice. Fruits are rich in sugar, giving the yeast more material to work with.
You can add fruits at different stages of gluten-free brewing, including:
- During primary fermentation
- At the onset of secondary fermentation
- During bottling or kegging
Carbon dioxide injection involves bubbling CO2 gas into the beer. It can also be accomplished by adding carbonation tablets.
Common Gluten-Free Beer Styles
Gluten-free brewing is more suited for low-alcohol beer styles. They are not as sugar-rich as barley, wheat, and rye. Gluten-free grains produce low-gravity wort, which yields low-alcohol beers. You can supplement your fermentables by adding sugar, but you won’t get enough gravity to brew a barley wine.
Common gluten-free beer styles include lagers, pilsners, and pale ales.
You can also flip the script and brew beers that traditionally don’t need grains. In this category, we have meads and ciders. Meads substitute grains for honey. This honey is fermented to make a low-alcohol beer. Common types of mead include Metheglin, Bochet, Capsicumel, and Braggot.
Check out this article to learn about Metheglin and how to brew it.
Ciders substitute barley for apples. Since apples are naturally gluten-free, the resulting beer has no traces of gluten.
Dietary restrictions should not get in the way of your love for beer. With gluten-free brewing, the gluten-intolerant can enjoy beer without compromising their health. And you can join in the fun by brewing your own gluten-free beer. All you need to do is adjust your grain bill, mash, and mill size.
What gluten-free beer style will you brew first?
As a homebrewer, Michael would get frustrated about the lack of brewing information on the internet. After hundreds of gallons of spoilt batches, Micheal had enough. And he founded Unknown Brewing as a resource for homebrewers.