Over the weekend, my favorite fella and I hosted a gluten-free beer tasting. Ten friends gathered on a chilly evening in our little house to try out nine varieties of beer and one hard cider, all naturally gluten-free. Want to see what we sampled?
Disclosure: I was provided with samples of Coors Peak Copper Lager (no longer available) and an extensive variety of Ground Breaker Brewing beer. All other beer, food and supplies were purchased by me. The opinions in this post include mine, as well as those of friends who were not aware of what I purchased and what had been provided at no charge. I was not asked by any of the participating companies to write about this, but by golly, I’m going to. Because you need to know about gluten-free beer…
I am not a beer drinker. I much prefer hard cider (or so I thought before this beer tasting). I married a beer drinker, but he would rather have bourbon or a hard cider most days, occasionally having a beer away from home. Because neither of us are really savvy about beer, we invited friends over who are.
Speaking of those friends, they were the impetus for hosting a gluten-free beer tasting. In the group of friends we invited over were two friends who have been quite beer savvy in their gluten-full past. Now that gluten has been kicked to the curb, they’ve repeatedly mentioned missing beer. So I decided we needed to fix this, we had to find good gluten-free beer. Also in attendance last night were friends who do not need to be gluten-free and are craft beer fans, hardcore enthusiasts with apps on their phone to track what they’ve sampled, extensive collections of beer bottle labels representing years of collecting and sampling. So we were split right down the middle, about half of us living life gluten-free and half not gluten-free but interested in tasting gluten-free beer and sharing thoughts.
How does one host a gluten-free beer tasting? Well, first you round up the beer. See this shelf pictured above, labeled gluten-free? Skip this beer. It’s not really gluten-free. It’s gluten-removed, which means it was brewed with gluten grains and then treated with an enzyme they think might remove some of the gluten. You see, there is no test that accurately determines how much gluten is in a fermented liquid. We don’t really know what the gluten content is and plenty of folks who can’t have gluten get sick from these beers. Best to avoid them.
Instead, go with beer that is made with only naturally gluten-free ingredients, like these:
Second, buy lots and lots of glasses. Not plastic, my beer savvy friends said, buy glass. These 5-ounce juice glasses did the trick.
Third, give your guests a way to jot down any thoughts about the beer we sampled.
Fourth, have a selection of snacks available. Bowls of my Sweet Ginger Sriracha Cashews, pretzels, salt and pepper pistachios and popcorn lined the sampling table. I also set out a cheese tray with both dairy and non-dairy options, crackers, chips, veggies and three varieties of hummus, plus these cookies made into little bite size nuggets. The favorite snack of the night was definitely Pizza Bombs made with this recipe from Shirley of Gluten-Free Easily.
Those beer comments I mentioned above? Let’s take a look at what we sampled, a tidbit of info from the brewery for each one and then brutally honest comments from our guests…
Ground Breaker Pale Ale: 30 IBU 5.8% ABV “Pale Ale is brewed to be bright and crisp. We dry hop with Cascade and Meridian hops to provide a floral armoa with elements of citrus and pine.”
- Fruity, Light Summer Beer
- Very nice, fruity
- Citrus taste, good smell
- Similar to Summer Shandy, light, fruity
- Fruity, light, hops, very good
- Long aftertaste
- Super fruity. Is this really a pale ale?
- Fruity smell, beer after taste, really tastes like beer
- Nice flavor, floral
Coors Peak Copper Lager 4.7% ABV (no longer available, discontinued by Coors after being tested in a very narrow test market) “There’s no need to remove gluten from Coors Peak, because it’s simply never there. The barley used in traditional beers is replaced with American brown rice, brown rice malt and pure pea protein, so our beer is naturally free of gluten. The result is a smooth an full flavored copper lager with a balanced, malty, slight caramel profile that is offset by subtle hops. The finish is crisp, clean and perfectly balanced.”
This one is tricky to properly review. Please keep in mind my guests included craft beer enthusiasts, folks who wouldn’t normally drink a mass market beer like Coors. That said, this beer fits a niche in the gluten-free beer market and we will hopefully see it on the shelves across the country. Those who have enjoyed beer like Coors in the past but want a gluten-free alternative will enjoy this. Beer like this would have been on my shopping list in college and for summer concert tailgating. You with me on this?
- Thin, adjuncts
- watery, college beer
- weird color, metallic aftertaste
- low taste
- light, not much flavor, tastes canned
- tastes like a frat party
- not much flavor, little beer after taste
- not a whole lot of flavor, kind of metallic
- caramel flavor
Ground Breaker St. Denny, 25 IBU, 6.5% ABV “St. Denny is brewed with roasted chestnuts, roasted lentils, and dark Belgian candi syrup. It’s lightly hopped with Oregon-grown Sterling hops, and fermented with a blend of two gluten-free Belgian yeast strains.”
- Sour! (That’s a good thing–lots of gluten-free friends are on the hunt for a sour beer–Johnna)
- Good Flavor
- Not much nose, smoky finish, little sour beer, little sweet after a couple sips
- carbonated and cloudy
- sour, good, light hop
- not bad, a lot of sour taste but good
- papaya? very drinkable
- pop rock sensation, sour, cloudy, fun to drink
- rated 3 out of 5
New Grist Ginger, 4.7% ABV “We took our refreshing gluten-free beer, New Grist Pilsner, and brewed it with fresh ginger for a zesty, thirst-quenching flavor: introducing New Grist Ginger. This beer pours light gold with a rocky white head kicking out aromas of ginger and malted sorghum. The spicy-sweet ginger greets the palate first, before moving into the familiar flavor of New Grist: tangy green apple, light body, and crisp, refreshing finish. Overall, New Grist Ginger is a flavorful, easy-drinking, session beer with a snappy ginger punch.”
*Before I share the comments from our guests, I have to tell you I cannot be objective about this beer. Last Summer I visited Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, the makers of New Grist gluten-free beer. I had a gluten-free beer while my friends had “regular” beer in the beer hall. I had food that was safe for me to eat, my friends had food they enjoyed. It was a fun afternoon. But what really impresses me about New Grist? They were the FIRST gluten-free beer to be allowed to use the word “beer” on their label. They took the initiative to petition the ATF for the right to use the word beer on a product made without the previously required 25% malted barley. Folks, this was way back in 2006. Early on the folks at Lakefront/New Grist were looking out for the gluten-free community and I’m really grateful for that. The ginger variety of their gluten-free beer isn’t available near me, but I made a lengthy drive to obtain it for this tasting. *
- Looks like wine, smells of ginger, I like the flavor, my favorite so far
- Nice, light, summery, not a lot of complexity
- Good ginger taste
- Strong ginger taste–LOVE IT!, Light and refreshing
- Nice ginger smell, good ginger beer taste
- Nice, summery, mild ginger taste
- Light, good summer beer
- Not much depth
Angry Orchard Apple Ginger Hard Cider, 5% ABV “Angry Orchard Apple Ginger features a unique blend of ginger, spice and apple notes. This smooth and refreshing cider has a juicy apple taste with a slight floral background and warming finish.”
In the middle of tasting all of the beer, I slipped a hard cider into the tasting. I chose Angry Orchard’s Apple Ginger because several friends have commented on a slight beer flavor in this hard cider. I’m in agreement with them; this is one variety of Angry Orchard I don’t usually buy because it reminds me of beer. Well, guess what? It tastes nothing like beer when intermingled with beer. Foiled!
- No ginger
- Nice apple flavor
- Very apple-y, flat but could drink, love it
- Smells like apple cider, tastes like apple cider with ginger, no fizz but good taste
- Hard ciders are my favorite but this one has a bit of an artificial sugar after taste, no ginger
- Cider like, a little more beer taste than cider
- A bit of an after taste, not my favorite
Ground Breaker IPA No. 5, 60 IBU, 5.6% ABV “IPA No. 5 is brewed with roasted chestnuts, roasted lentils, and Belgian-style candi sugar. Crystal and Santiam hops are used during the boil and for dry-hopping. Crystal hops bring the classic Northwest IPA pine and citrus notes while Santiam adds hints of tropical and stone fruits.”
- Nice light IPA, not overly hoppy
- Lightly hopped, good summer beer
- Hoppy, but not bitter
- grassy, herbal sell, hoppy, citrus, little spice, tastes like IPA
- tastes like a strong IPA, very good taste, tastes like beer
- Nice! Love the floral hops. I would drink a lot of this!
- Strong smell, strong beer taste/flavor
- After tasting all of the beers, I came back to this one to add this is my favorite
Ground Breaker Squash Ale, 30 IBU, 5.7% ABV “During production, pumpkin seeds are toasted, crushed, and added to the mash. Squash Ale is then ‘triple squashed’ with added squash in the mash tun, kettle, and fermenter. The fermenter addition consists of squash that has been slow roasted for several days into a squash butter. A gentle addition of cinnamon, nutmeg, and toasted coriander has been added to complement the squash flavors and aromas.”
This beer was blind-tested, meaning it wasn’t revealed what it was until after the first few sips. I wanted everyone to have an open mind, because squash, in beer?!? If you are reading this, you won’t have the benefit of blind tasting but I wish you could. For my Kansas City/Midwest friends, I have to tell you there were many comments made comparing this to Boulevard’s Chocolate Ale, which is a gluten-full beer. Several said Ground Breaker’s Squash Ale is a better alternative. It was around this point in the tasting when a few of us started planning a trip to Portland to visit Ground Breaker. Plane tickets may have been purchased…
- Effervescent. Chocolate/cinnamon smell. This is nice, but only need one.
- Strong smell, chocolate taste.
- Earthy, chocolate-y, but not overpowering
- Tastes like chocolate, a bit sour
- A little like hops and earth and chocolate
- Smells like dirt, bad smell but good taste, chocolate-y
- First taste of chocolate, surprisingly not too bad
- Slightly sweet, chocolate
- Rich flavor, chocolate but not overpowering, better than Blvd.
We took a little break to refresh snacks at this point, stretch our legs, wash glasses. It wasn’t long though before we were back at it, closely inspecting the next two beers in the tasting: Green’s Dubble Dark and Ground Breaker Dark Ale. For those who have followed along on my baking adventures, you know I’m a fan of Green’s in my Chocolate Ale Cupcakes. Turns out it is great in a glass, too.
Ground Breaker Dark Ale, 35 IBU, 5.5% ABV “Dark Ale uses very dark, near espresso-like, roasted chestnuts and lentils along with dark Belgian-style candi for a roasty flavor and aroma with notes of chocolate and dark fruits.”
- Bitter after taste
- Coffee smell and taste
- After taste lingers for too long
- Dirt smell, malty taste, chocolate finish
- Tastes a bit mildewy
- Coffee on the nose, more like a brown beer
- Bitter after taste
- Coffee smell, too rough, strong after taste
- Not really a dark, lots of coffee flavors
(Ground Breaker Dark Ale on the left, Green’s Dubble Dark on the right)
Green’s Dubble Dark Ale, 7.0% ABV “Green’s was founded in 2004 to brew full-flavored beers without barley or wheat, so beer lovers with gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease, could enjoy them. The beers are brewed at Andelot DeProef Browerij, in Lochristi, Belgium. Made from millet, sorghum, rice, and buckwheat, as well as classic hop varieties, they are fermented with a traditional Belgian yeast strain and bottle-conditioned.” (This was the only imported beer we sampled.)
- Not complex but drinkable
- Smells good, tastes good like beer, but dark flavor throws me off. Best so far.
- Good Brown Ale
- Nice head, well balanced, little fruity finish
- Great head, tastes malty, close to root beer
- More of a brown ale, smooth and rich
- Coffee sell and taste, after taste lingers for entirely too long
- Bitter aftertaste
And one last beer for the evening…
Ground Breaker Olallie, 30 IBU, 4.5% ABV “Olallie is brewed with blackberries and rose hips and then finished with copious amounts of Crystal hops for a classic Northwest aroma. At the same time Olallie has been kept light and dry with only a hint of bitterness.”
Here’s my full disclosure on this. I’ve refrained from much commenting on the other beers because I’m not a beer drinker. That said, I really like this one. When the FedEx man came by with the box of beer from Ground Breaker, it was so cold out, maybe around 20 degrees. He delivered a box of pre-chilled beer to me right around noon on a weekday. No shame in telling you that I popped open a can of Olallie right away. And then I had a hard time not opening the others, saving them for the beer tasting. I like this a lot. But I’m not usually a beer drinker. Oh, Ground Breaker, what are you doing to me?!? While not completely alone in how much I like this, we were in the minority. This wasn’t the favorite for most of our guests. Which is fine by me, I’ll take what they don’t want. 😉
- Lovely color! Drinkable.
- Raspberry KoolAid smell, grapefruit taste, would drink
- Didn’t like, usually love blackberry but couldn’t taste any
- Tastes like a locker room
- Hoppy, floral smell
- Love the color, bad after taste
- No, but my wife likes it
- Mild blackberry flavor, floral smell, reminiscent of a shandy
You’ve gathered by now there were some clear winners and some that were not well-received. The important thing to note is that those who were really missing beer since going gluten-free found options that will meet their desire to have a beer without the risk of ingesting gluten. That was the goal for the evening: finding gluten-free beer that is every bit as good as the gluten-full counterpart.
We wrapped up the night late, snacks well picked over, the good stuff devoured. A couple extra bottles of beer were opened and shared by the stragglers. Life’s great dilemmas were discussed, but for a change we had an answer to one of them: YES, there is good gluten-free beer.
Another BIG thanks for Coors and Groundbreaker Brewing for sending beer for us to sample. I’m grateful to both of them for creating a product that fits a need in the gluten-free community, as well as the other brewers committed to making beer that can be safely enjoyed by those with Celiac disease, non-Celiac gluten sensitivity and other conditions which require the absence of gluten. Cheers, Santé, Prost, Salud for gluten-free (not gluten-removed) beer!
PLEASE drink responsibly. Don’t drink and drive. Make a plan to get your tipsy self home, Uber, walk, stay over. I’m rarely stern on my site, but this is one cause that I’ll be stern about. Don’t get behind the wheel or put yourself in a risky situation if you’ve been over-served. Ok? Thanks.
Sheryll Ziemer says
Thanks for this article! I’ve tried a few of these and enjoy your comments on all of them.
I’ll be trying a few new ones soon.
If you do head to Portland to tour the brewery, let me know and I’ll drive South and go with you. It’s only 3 hours from Seattle!
You are lucky in your area, Sheryll! You can get Coors Peak, Ground Breaker and I’m guessing several others I haven’t even tried yet. I will definitely be in touch when we get to come your way. That would be so much fun to meet!
Sheryll Ziemer says
I’m always in for beer tasting! Thanks!
This sounds like fun! My dude (the person who actually needs to be gluten-free) doesn’t like beer — bad experiences in college before he figured out he had Celiac disease. But I’m going to keep my eye out for the Olallie and the St. Denny. They sound right up my alley.
I hope we get Ground Breaker in the Midwest soon! I’m obsessed with the Olallie and the squash ale. (And now I’m wondering if my college experiences with beer were related to undiagnosed Celiac disease. Kinda makes sense now that you mention it!)
Shirley @ gluten free easily (gfe) says
Such a great post, Johnna! Like you, I don’t even like beer much, but I still wish I’d been at your party. 🙂 The squash beer really intrigues me. Last, I’m so happy that my Pizza Bombs were a hit. I need to make those soon!
Ground Breaker’s squash beer is the deal! If we could buy it locally, I would be all over it. And as always, your pizza bombs were well-received. We had a dairy-free version so it worked for all of our guests. I doubt anyone knew that didn’t need to know!
Debi Smith says
Tickets to Portland need to be purchased! I love that they sent you stiff I didn’t get at their place.
We should go soon! I keep seeing new releases from them, plus food that sounds amazing.
Debi Smith says
The food is TO DIE FOR!
I can’t wait to go there!
“Tastes like a frat party” is possibly the best tasting note of all time. I know exactly what that means. I’ve been running into gluten-removed beers in the UK lately and have been trying to find out if celiacs are actually willing to drink them – so far, it seems like a pretty resounding no. Great article!
I’m glad that tasting note made sense to you! 🙂
I was in Israel recently and saw several beers labeled gluten-free, made in Europe. Upon closer inspection, they were made with barley so technically gluten-removed. Sigh. Too many people get sick from those. BUT…I did find truly gluten-free beer that was brewed in Israel with dates, chickpeas and buckwheat. I’m so glad there are good options that have never had gluten in them. It’s interesting to hear of your experience in the UK.
Does Coors still make the GF beer? I haven’t seen it in the Seattle area
Coors does not meak the Peak beer any longer. They tested in a very narrow test market and didn’t stick with it for long. Such a shame, as it made the absolute best beer batter!