Results are in From the Great Gluten-Free Beer Experiment!

It can be hard to find good gluten-free beer. Brands that are 100% gluten-free use grains like sorghum, rice, buckwheat, quinoa, and millet. Unfortunately, it can be hard to mimic the taste of “real” beer without the flavour of barley. (Montréal-based Glutenberg is our favourite, and pretty easy to find in Nova Scotia. Other parts of the country and the U.S. have far more options, such as Mongozo, Green’s, and New Planet.)

Another, more controversial, method of making gluten-free beer is to make beer in the traditional way (with barley) and then treat it to remove the gluten. U.S.-based brewery Omission does this, as well as the Spanish brewery Estrella Damm Daura. Both take great lengths to assure consumers of the safety of their products: Estrella Damm Daura is marketed as “suitable for Celiacs” and Omission tests each batch and puts the results on each bottle, with a QR code that takes you to a more detailed report.

Some Celiacs feel that it’s dangerous to consume anything that originally contained gluten, but there are other products (like wheat glucose and blue cheese) that are manufactured to remove gluten. What sold me on Omission is their Celiac CEO, who has been testing their products for years.

Michael recently started making homemade beer and decided to look into how Omission makes their beer gluten-free. It turns out that it’s a fairly simple process: they add Brewer’s Clarex to the beer during the initial stages. This product (originally designed to clarify beer) somehow binds to gluten enzymes and breaks them down. We decided to give the process a try at home. We purchased a West Coast IPA Festa Brew kit from Noble Grape ($45), 10 mL of Clarity Ferm from Ontario Beer Kegs ($4.50 + shipping), and a GlutenTox test ($29.95 for two, plus shipping), which is designed to measure the gluten content in parts per million.

We added 10 mL to the 23 litre kit right when we added our yeast. (It’s recommended to add 5 mL for a 19 litre, or 5 gallon, kit. Since our kit was slightly larger, we decided to add the full 10 mL to ensure good results. You may also need more than this amount if you are brewing a darker beer, like a stout or porter.) Other than that, we followed all the regular kit steps.

After two weeks of fermentation, we took a sample and performed the GlutenTox test. Our first test was for 20 parts per million or less, to meet the Health Canada standard.

Negative (for gluten) test result

Negative (for gluten) test result

The test was negative, meaning our beer was low enough in gluten to meet the Canadian and U.S. standard! We decided to perform a second test for five parts per million. This one was negative too, meeting the world’s strictest gluten-free standard.

I decided to perform one final test: human trials. I find that I am extremely sensitive to barley in particular, so if there was any trace of gluten left I knew my stomach would start burning within five minutes of consuming the sample.

Testing the homemade gluten free beer

Human trials!

I am extremely happy to report that I had no ill effects from the beer. The only unfortunate thing is that I have to wait a week or two for carbonation to be complete… but after that, I can’t wait to enjoy a delicious homemade gluten-free beer.

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  1. #1 by Dave on March 16, 2014 - 4:29 pm

    Best post yet on this awesome blog! 🙂 And glad to hear that there were no adverse results from the “human field trials”….hahaha. Very inspiring, and makes me want to go out and learn how to brew beer 😉 Also…I would say the “gluten removal” stuff has implications for the McDonalds french fries controversy (so many people have an issue with the fact that they start out with gluten but the gluten is removed via process).

    • #2 by glutenfree4hfx on March 16, 2014 - 4:35 pm

      Thanks for the kind words! It is actually super easy to make beer, definitely recommend that you give it a shot. 🙂

      Also your comment about McD’s in the US is interesting – I did not realize that the beef flavouring has no gluten left in it. Great to know!

  2. #3 by Dave on March 16, 2014 - 6:19 pm

    Yep I’ll have to try the beermaking (my wife makes wine, so maybe beer can be my “thing”).

    Yeah, actually as far as I’m aware, the McD fries in both the USA *and* Canada are gluten free, but both have an original ingredient that *contained* gluten, but winds up being undetectable in the final product due to the “fry manufacturing process”. Of course cross-contamination is a whole other issue, but….

    • #4 by glutenfree4hfx on March 16, 2014 - 8:01 pm

      Beer making actually uses a lot of the same equipment as wine, so sounds like you have a head start! Also, McD’s in Canada stopped using the beef flavouring in their fries a few years ago due to vegetarian outcry… I think the US franchises are among the last of the holdouts. 🙂

      • #5 by Dave on March 16, 2014 - 10:38 pm

        ahhh, good to know. Thanks for the correction! Now all we need is for them to switch to GF hamburger buns… 😉

      • #6 by glutenfree4hfx on March 16, 2014 - 10:46 pm

        Hey, it happens in Europe! We can hope 🙂

  3. #7 by Sonya on March 23, 2014 - 5:08 pm

    The Omission folks use an Elisa test that checks for gluten; not byproducts that remain after their enzyme process that may still have some reactivity on the GI endothelin receptors. I purchased their beer at a Whole Foods whilst living in San Francisco by accident (I was told it was GF). Their CEO may not have reacted, but I certainly did. I don’t believe anecdotal evidence from their heavily invested CEO is sufficient to tell celiacs this is a safe product. As a physician researcher and fellow celiac, until a statistically sound placebo-controlled clinical trial with biopsy data is performed, I highly recommend Celiacs not take the risk. This is not like a distillation process that physically removes all gluten – they are just attempting to break down the gluten proteins and hoping the byproducts, which are still present, are not problematic to celiacs.

  4. #9 by Malfous on October 30, 2014 - 9:41 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I am a newbie to GF but have about three years experience brewing. I recently brewed a Porter and pitched my first vial of Clarity Ferm. If your experience is any indication…it will not be my last vial. Like you , I am not just waiting until the first bottle is ready to drink. BTW, I would also never promote the beer as GF but as a viable alternative to those who suffer effects of GI…as always please consult with your doctor.

    • #10 by glutenfree4hfx on October 30, 2014 - 9:43 am

      Thanks for sharing! It’s definitely a personal choice whether to consume gluten-reduced beer. For me the fact that it’s been done with other products (e.g. wheat glucose) and that this method has been used in Europe (where standards are stricter) for a very long time is enough. Enjoy your beer!

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