Over the past few years the food and beverage industry has become more aware of people who have an intolerance to gluten. An intolerance to gluten is called Celiac disease. The Celiac Disease foundation defines “gluten” as “a general name for the proteins found in wheat”. Outside of allergies though, many people have decided to remove gluten from their diets for other health benefits. Setting a personal rule of “not eating gluten” removes carbohydrates, most fried foods, and most desserts from a person’s diet. However, this also removes several alcoholic beverage options.
In order for a beverage to be considered “gluten free” by USA legal standards, the drink must not have been made with any gluten-containing ingredients and in official testing cannot contain more than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten proteins. This threshold is the maximum amount considered to not create an allergic reaction.
Sometimes beverages are made with gluten-containing ingredients and then an enzyme is added during fermentation. This added enzyme will destroy the gluten proteins and the goal is that the finished product contains less than 20 ppm of the gluten proteins. In the United States, these beers must be labeled as “gluten-removed” or “gluten-reduced” beer, because there were actual gluten-containing ingredients present at one point.
For whatever reason you remove gluten from your diet, we think it’s important for you to still be able to enjoy the pleasures of a well-crafted drink. Be sure to watch your labels for “gluten-free” vs. “gluten-reduced” wording, and pick the option that’s right for you!
The only thing needed to create mead is honey, yeast, and water. This beverage has only recently grown in popularity among the craft beverage world, but it was very likely the first alcohol ever made. This is an excellent drink, and don’t be fooled, it doesn’t always taste like honey.
If you have an intense allergy, check the label on your meads for who produces them. They might have been considerate enough to have testing done and add a “gluten-free” label on their packaging. Some meads though may have been made in the same fermentation vessels as beer, like if the mead was made by a brewery. If the mead was made in purely a Meadery though, chances are their equipment has never seen any grain.
Cider is made by fermenting the juices of fruit, traditionally apples. This means that all you really need to make one are yeast and apple juice. Many people think of cider as a wine, though it is traditionally served like a beer in pint classes and with lots of carbonation. Ciders tend to be on the sweeter side. The sugar from the fruits is excessive for the yeast, and they’ll sometimes leave a lot of it behind in residual sweetness.
Like the meads, keep an eye on your labels. Some ciders are made by breweries and in the same equipment used by beer.
There is no need to describe the recent surge in hard seltzers across the United States beverage market. You have likely witnessed it yourself by observing the growing seltzer section of your grocery store beer aisle.
The reason seltzers are usually gluten-free is because the sugars used to feed the yeast are pure, raw cane sugars. The sugars are not extracted from malted grains. This is not always the case though, some seltzers do use fermented malted barley, and most all of these brands are made by breweries. If you’re going to consume this one with an allergy, then it’s important to do your research and look for the appropriate label.
Beer is made by first “malting” grains like barley or wheat and then extracting sugars from those grains during the brewing process. Gluten free beer is made by using grains that are considered “gluten-free” such as rice, buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, etc. These grains do not contain the same allergy-causing gluten proteins that occur in other grains. The sugars needed are extracted from these grains, and that is what is fed to the yeast. The use of these grains also gives the beer unique flavors that cannot be replicated with the usual grains.
A more common option is “gluten-reduced” or “gluten-removed” beer. This method, as discussed previously, uses ingredients that contain gluten and then attempts to add an enzyme to remove the allergy causing proteins. In the United States, beers using this method cannot be labeled “gluten-free”, but they can be labeled this way in other countries.