In honor of Celiac Awareness Month, the folks at Widmer Brothers Brewery, based in Portland, Oregon, have created “Omission.” Omission is a gluten-free beer brand that is mainly for people who, due to the Celiac Disease, can’t drink normal beer.
In case you’re not familiar with Celiac Disease, it’s an autoimmune disease that causes problems for people that eat or digest or drink any gluten. Unfortunately, gluten is the major ingredient in beer, since it’s prevalent in barley, wheat and most other grains.
One of the jobs I had when I was in the brewery was to actually create a gluten-free beer. Believe me, it’s not that easy. No matter what, they always have some kind of a funky flavor, almost… I don’t know how to say it. A winey, cidery… It didn’t really taste that great. There was really no choice, because most of the beers were made with sorghum or some other non-glutinous grain, which there aren’t very many of. Sorghum actually is a grass that grows. You can buy sorghum syrup. We’ve tried a million different recipes, two different kinds of sorghum malt, adding things to make the spice – all kinds of things. They couldn’t make it taste very well.
It’s interesting to read about Widmer Brothers doing this and what they found was a new process. There are two breweries at present that are using this new process: the Lamsbrau Gluten-Free in Germany, and Spain’s Estrella Damm Daura. They've actually found a way to denature the proteins in the beer. Widmer Brothers created these beers because, the brew master’s wife was a Celiac, and the CEO’s also been diagnosed. They decided that they're going to deal with this and create something that actually tastes good.
They actually take the Omission Beer and put it through tests at the brewery. They send each batch out to be tested by a third party. If there’s one thing you don't want to mess around with, it having something go wrong. The gluten-free beer actually has gluten in it. It meets the standards of less than 20 parts per million of gluten peptides. You can look on the bottle’s date code to see what the independent lab testing for that particular batch is.
They say that they've actually got two different types of beer to start with. One is a lager and the other is a pale ale. The reason they did that was higher alcohol beers have a lot more malt. They haven't really tested the process with high-alcohol beers. More malt means more protein. They also said a lot of these people haven't really had beer in a long time, so they don't want to start out with some super bitter IPA or a big old stout or anything like that. A lot of people can just start off with a lager; they get used to that they can probably go to the pale ale and slowly get back into drinking beer.
They do have plans to make an India pale ale an IPA, but that’s only going to be available in Oregon right now and all the testing that’s being done on people… the Guinea pigs said that the beer is really great.
Hopefully I'll taste some down here is Las Vegas and let you know what it’s like, even though I don't have the problem with Celiac’s Disease. My curiosity is getting the better of me to see if they can actually make a gluten-free beer that tastes like beer. That’s their goal. They say they want to make a gluten-free beer that’s indistinguishable from a barley beer. To me, that’s the same problem with non-alcohol beer. Even though it’s the same beer, once you take the alcohol out, it loses a big component. No matter what, a non-alcoholic beer will never taste like the regular beer.
Hopefully, they've really got this process down and it will open up the beer market to a lot of people.