Recently, a couple of new “gluten-free” beers have come to market in Philadelphia. Both Omission Beer and Two Brothers Prairie Path Golden Ale are being billed as “crafted to remove gluten.” These beers are brewed with barley but the addition of an enzyme during the brewing process, breaks down the gluten molecule. The enzyme added is a product called Brewers’ Clarex. The additive is used to prevent chill haze, making the beer less cloudy at cold temperatures. But recently the connection between Brewers’ Clarex and breaking down gluten has been discovered. Tests of Omission and Prairie Path have found less than ten parts per million of gluten, below recommended levels for being declared gluten-free.
So is this the magic bullet to bring IPAs back to celiac sufferers? Well that’s where it gets hairy, very hairy. The primary question is about the testing of fermented beverages for gluten. A recent webinar from celiac disease expert Tricia Thompson, MS, RD, about gluten labeling of alcoholic beverages points out some of the complexities in labeling and testing for gluten in alcohol. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently has no policy for gluten-free labeling and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has only just issued an interim policy on labeling alcoholic beverages. That policy allows for labeling to state “processed to remove gluten” if a detailed description of the process used to remove gluten is provided and testing results are supplied. These policies are also considered controversial and somewhat lacking. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) points out that the tests currently used for measuring gluten content in foods have not been scientifically validated for use in measuring the gluten content of alcoholic beverages. The NFCA stresses that more research is needed to identify a scientifically validated method for testing gluten content of barley-based, ‘gluten-reduced’ beers.
Anecdotally, we know celiac sufferers who have no problems after drinking Omission beers, Two Brothers Prairie Path Golden Ale or the grandfather of the gluten-removed beers, Estrella Damm DAURA (tested at less than 3 parts of gluten per million) but others have not tolerated the beers. For those who have enjoyed these beers crafted to remove gluten, there may also be a local option. Yards Brewing’s signature beers (Philadelphia Pale Ale, Brawler, ESA and IPA) all have Brewers’ Clarex added during the brewing process. And as such, have greatly reduced amounts of gluten. In fact, these Yards beers have, like Omission and Two Brothers, been tested to have less than 20 parts per million of gluten. The threshold for the “crafted to remove gluten” label. At this time though, Yards Brewing president, Tom Kehoe tells us that Yards makes no claims that its products are “crafted to remove gluten.” But the process is similar to what Omission and Two Brothers use, though with more consistent testing.
For beer drinkers with celiac disease, these beers “crafted to remove gluten” might be the equivalent to finding the Holy Grail. But to others, who can’t tolerate even this scant amount of gluten, the fear is that these beers might mean less choice at the bar. If a bar only offers one gluten-free option and it’s Omission, then a sensitive celiac sufferer would be out of luck. And another thing to give pause, we’ve seen Two Brothers Prairie Path listed as gluten-free while being served on draft. We wonder what steps have been taken to ensure the beer line hasn’t been contaminated by what was on tap before it.
And as labeling battles drag on, organizations like NFCA will continue to educate gluten-free consumers about the issues related to gluten-free labeling, so they can make informed decisions based on their individual health needs. Even with no obvious symptoms, it is not clear if these low-gluten beers are safe for celiac sufferers. But we’re also bound to see more of these “crafted to remove gluten” beers, maybe even a local one. But these beers aren’t safe for all celiac sufferers and only beers that are brewed without any glycoproteins (gluten) can be considered 100% celiac friendly.