Barley-based beer NOT for celiacs

By Mark Johnson, CCA Ottawa Chapter

mark-johnsonWhen people are diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, one of the most frequent concerns is no longer being able to drink beer. Myself, I’m more of a rum and coke kind of guy but I suspect I’m in the minority. The good news is that, with gluten-free being so popular and well known nowadays, there are a number of beers that those with celiac disease can enjoy, ranging from lighter beers to the strong ones that many people swear by.

One of the more frequent objections I’ve heard is that gluten-free beer tastes too different. Particularly for those who like “heartier” beers, some of the gluten-free alternatives are too light-tasting. In exploiting this trend, some companies have been tinkering in the laboratory to develop beers that use barley and hops but are still able to be called gluten free.

You may have seen new varieties at the liquor store. In addition to the classics like La Messagère, New Grist, Bard’s, Glutenberg and Nickel Brook, we’re also seeing some barley-based “gluten-free” beers popping up, such as Omission, Estrella, Brunehaut and Mongozo. While relatively rare here, such beers are more commonly found in Europe.

Let us be clear: the CCA does not recommend that Canadians with celiac disease or gluten intolerance drink any barley-based beers. This is regardless of whatever enzymes might be used to supposedly break down gluten. Yes, the companies may wave tests around showing that samples came up at less than 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten, but what they’re usually less interested in discussing is the scientific accuracy of such tests on a liquid product.

Using currently available testing methods, some beers report a number less than 20 ppm, but there is significant evidence that suggests the tests do not detect all the gluten in the beer. Until we have a test that we are confident is detecting all of the toxic proteins in the beer, we recommend that people with celiac disease not consume it.

In the United States, beers treated to remove barley protein must carry a warning that tells consumers that: (1) the product was made from a grain that contains gluten; (2) there is currently no valid test to verify the gluten content of fermented products; and (3) the finished product may contain gluten. Health Canada has indicated that beer carrying these qualifiers could be sold in Canada, but not with a “gluten-free” claim.

Be aware, and drink responsibly!

Mark Johnson

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About David E. Fowler

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