Traditional beers (hello, Budweiser, Coors, Corona, Heineken, and the list goes on) are most often made with malted barley and sometimes wheat. Both of these grains contain gluten, so they're a hard no for anyone on a gluten-free (GF) diet.
Fortunately, the world of so-called gluten-free beer has exploded. These days, if you're following a gluten-free diet—whether you have celiac disease, a gluten sensitivity or intolerance, or a wheat allergy—beer doesn't have to be off the drink menu altogether.
There’s now a spectrum of beers that are low in gluten or are gluten-free, and it’s important to know the difference between the terms you’ll see on labels. “Beers labeled gluten-free cannot be made from wheat, rye, or barley,” Rachel Begun, RD, culinary nutritionist and gluten-free lifestyle expert in Los Angeles, tells Health.
“Beers labeled ‘crafted to remove gluten’ means the starting ingredients may contain wheat,” explains Begun. Breweries reportedly use an enzyme to break down the gluten protein in beer, and these brews are not allowed to be called “gluten-free.” According to Begun, they’re also not safe for anyone with a wheat allergy, celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity.
To make matters even murkier, there are low- or reduced-gluten beers, too. These are only suitable for people avoiding gluten for non-medical reasons, say, to cut calories. They’re not for people with a diagnosed gluten condition, allergy, or sensitivity.
That said, we took the guesswork out of reading labels and rounded up our recommendations for truly gluten-free beers. Enjoy!
This Boulder, Colorado-based brewery began simply as the founder’s personal quest to make gluten-free craft beer. Today these beers are distributed in 12 states (with more to come). The brand makes four award-winning varieties: the blonde ale and pale ale are gluten-free, and the session ale and IPA are crafted to remove gluten. The gluten-free pale ale, which is bold, hoppy, and citrusy, has won the most awards.
Steadfast Beer Co.
This brewery is 100% dedicated to producing truly gluten-free craft beer (aka, not gluten-removed or gluten-reduced). Their Oatmeal Cream Stout is touted as the first bottled gluten-free stout in America. Steadfast also offers a pale ale, IPA, and blonde ale. The company's distribution appears to be limited to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, but they also connect you with online retailers who will ship straight to your door.
Although this dedicated gluten-free brewery is based in Canada, their product is distributed in most states here in the US. They sell eight brews—one of which is non-alcoholic. (Extra points for satisfying gluten-free non-drinkers!) Their IPA stands out from the pack thanks to all of its awards, but unlike most other GF brewers, Glutenberg make a Gose. Its lime- and lemon-sour profile with a pinch of sea salt won over judges at this year’s Canadian Brewing Awards.
Ground Breaker Brewing
This all-gluten-free brewery offers four beers all the time—the Olallie Ale, IPA No. 5, Dark Ale, and Pale Ale—and rolls out seasonal brews too. The Olallie Ale is the highest ranked of the brand's year-round beers on BeerAdvocate.com. Brewed with blackberries and rose hips, it’s light and dry with just a hint of bitterness. Based in Portland, Oregon, this brewer’s products are available in nine US states as well as Canada and Japan.
This rich, full-bodied lager is made from sorghum (no wheat or barley whatsoever). It’s perhaps the most widely available of the beers on this list, and that’s likely because the company is owned by industry giant Anheuser-Busch.
Aurochs Brewing Co.
The founders of this Pennsylvania-based brewery are both medically required to follow a gluten-free diet. One of them went gluten-free in his mid-20s after he'd already developed a taste for craft beer. So he and a friend teamed up to create a great tasting gluten-free version. The brand's regular lineup includes ales, sours, and porters, but they only distribute in Pennsylvania, unfortunately, and they don’t ship. Last year their hop-forward, citrus-, pine-, and grapefruit-flavored Session IPA took the bronze medal at the US Open Beer Championship in the gluten-free category.
Ipswich Ale Brewery
This Massachusetts-based brewery produces a wide array of tasty (and some award-winning) brews. But only one—the Celia Saison—is legitimately gluten-free. Brewed from sorghum, this rustic farmhouse ale has notes of orange peel and peppery yeast.
Brewing since 1987, Lakefront offers mostly gluten-containing brews. But their New Grist—a naturally gluten-free pilsner style—was the first beer the US government allowed to sport a gluten-free label. Look for it the next time you’re in Milwaukee.
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