Updated and republished from original 2009 atombash.com story.
Increasingly Americans suffering from gluten intolerance are giving up their enjoyment of beer, but there’s a homebrewed all malt-real beer option that may offer some who suffer from Celiac disease a tolerable option.
Intolerance to gluten protein is the most common genetic disorder in humans effecting 1 to 2% of the American population. These estimates are even higher worldwide and many suspect American estimates are low. The disorder is called Celiacs (or Coeliacs) disease.
It’s a disorder which, when certain types of gluten protein are ingested, creates an autoimmune response in the body. That response compromises the tiny absorbing and digestive villae (hair like protrusions) within the small intestines resulting in serious digestion problems leading to several forms of ill health.
The flavor and character of beer most enjoyed by the world’s beer drinkers, is made with barley which along with, wheat, rye, oats and other similar cereals contains the offending protein called prolamin/polypeptide/gluten.
One of the most common inquiries I receive from homebrewers is “Can homebrewers make gluten-free beer?” The answer may be yes. Certainly homebrewers can dramatically reduce the gluten in their beer.
In the United States the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently defines gluten free food and beverages
as either made with or containing the offending prolamin/polypeptide/gluten protein. Here is where one really needs to consider whether this official assessment is realistic advice for beer drinkers.
Theoretically one could brew beer with ingredients containing gluten, then eliminate them and still not be able to call the beer gluten free because of current regulations.
Professor Michael Lewis, University of California at Davis, Extension Program convincingly argues in his paper Celiac Disease, Beer and Brewing that the natural malting, mashing, boiling, fermenting, aging, filtering process can remove enough prolamin/polypeptide/gluten and may render it safe for many inflicted with Celiac disease.
If you don’t trust that the natural processing of malted barley into beer doesn’t reduce offending proteins enough, then there is another option that now promises to eliminate all offending prolamin/polypeptide/glutens from beverages. Brewers Clarex™ (Brewers Clarex™ citation 1; Brewers Clarex™ citation 2) and is an enzyme developed by DSM Food Specialties specifically eliminating all traces of prolamin/polypeptide/gluten in beer, wine, alcohol and fruit juices when used appropriately.
Some brewers may have a concern about Brewers Clarex™ because it is an “Enzyme preparation for food use containing proline-specific endo-protease derived from a selected self-cloned strain of Aspergillus niger.” For those who are opposed (for whatever reasons) to cloned or genetically modified organisms, this may be of concern. Professional brewers usually shy away from using genetically modified organisms (GMO) because of the associated bad press it often receives.
I homebrewed a batch of all malt beer called Slithy Tove Pale Ale (which included 10% malted wheat) to which I added 3 ml (about 3 drops) to a five gallon batch at the beginning of fermentation.
The homebrewed beer was tested by a professional laboratory. The results came back indicating that the gluten content in my batch of Slithy Tove Pale Ale was “less than 5 ppm.” In other words less than 5 milligrams per liter of beer In terms of percent, 5 ppm equals 0.0005 percent. This level of gluten may be tolerated by Celiac patients. Every other aspect of beer character, flavor, appearance (the enzyme did reduce chill haze), aroma, etc. was outstanding and identical to a beer brewed without the enzyme.
Is Slithy Tove Pale Ale gluten free and safe for those with Celiac disease? By this time you can imagine my answer. My experimental batch of homebrew measured less than 5 ppm, but I can’t say that it is safe for all or even some Celiacs because dependable, consistent and public standards are lacking in the U.SA and the medical community. For liability reasons I am not giving any advice here. If you have Celiac disease and wish to explore this option, you are free to do so. Please be aware that with any process, techniques and quality controls must be adhered to. I also emphasize that any deviation from the use of traditional ingredients and process could compromise the effectiveness of Brewers Clarex™.
For some Celiacs, “gluten reduced” beer in moderation may soon be a safe option. I think the future looks promising. The conversation has begun. As Lewis Caroll said in Wonderland, “Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe…”
If additional and more comprehensive version of this article and a complete recipe is sought, please refer to the American Homebrewers Association’s November-December 2009 issue of Zymurgy magazine, Gluten-Reduced Beer?