Gluten Free Homebrewing
Gluten comes from one the main ingredients in beer, it is a protein that resides in the malt we use. If someone has an allergy to gluten it used to mean no more homebrewing. Today however there are several options available to brewers with full gluten allergies and gluten sensitivities. Brewers are nothing if not innovative. They are always coming up with solutions to new problems, and that is no different in gluten free brewing.
Extracts and Syrups
One of the older options available to gluten free brewers is a variety of syrups and extracts. The first is sorghum extract. It has been available to gluten free brewers for quite some time, but is quickly falling out of preference due to some of the undesirable flavors it imparts. It tends to leave a fruity aftertaste in the finished beer. The other very common liquid extract or syrup is brown rice syrup. It still gives a mild sweetness to beers, but less intense than the sorghum extract. However it has fewer enzymes than sorghum extract. To boost gravity a little more, gluten free brewers also rely on the likes of plain corn sugar, corn syrup, table sugar, and candi-syrup. The latter of those will add the most character to your beer. Belgian candi-syrup and sugar are derived from beet sugar, which is thankfully gluten free, as it is so tasty. Light molasses and blackstrap molasses are two more options. Light molasses is highly fermentable (greater than 90%), while blackstrap is only marginally so (around 50%). These syrups and extracts make great recipe starters but they don’t have very many beer-like grain qualities. Because of this, many brewers are moving towards using gluten free grains to create beer.
Common Gluten Free Grains
There are several gluten free grains that can be mashed to create a wort for beer making. Some of them are more convertable in a mash than others, so it can be a good idea to have some Alpha-amylase on hand to boost the conversion. Buckwheat can impart a mild wheat flavor depending on how it is roasted. Buckwheat is typically used for SRM modification as it has no enzymes to convert itself. Millet and rice malt are gaining a lot of popularity as a base malt in gluten free beer making. Minute rice is also used as it can convert itself. Lastly a sort of yes or no ingredient would be oats. However oats are often grown in fields that are either mixed with wheat or recently had wheat/ barley grown on them. Oats are naturally gluten free, but it needs to be in a field exclusive to oats, which is harder to find than you might think.
Not all brewer’s yeast is gluten free. However, many brands are marketed as gluten free. Remember that the FDA standard for gluten free is under 10 ppm. All Danstar, Red Star, Safale, and Saflager yeasts are gluten free. They are also all dry yeast options. For liquid yeast White Labs are gluten free after fermentation (2 ppm), but not in the vial (12 ppm). Unfortunately Wyeast does not meet the requirements for gluten free.
If you have a gluten sensitivity, and not a full allergy, you can actually brew using standard malts. However you do need to add a product that breaks apart the gluten proteins to your beer. This product is known as Clarity-Ferm or Brewer’s Clarex. While it doesn’t completely remove gluten from the equation, it does drop the levels of gluten ppm below the FDA mandated 10 ppm to label something free of gluten. As everyone’s tolerance (or intolerance) for gluten is different, you should consult your physician prior to trying a beer made with these products. The world of gluten free brewing is only going to expand as the light continues to shine on the emergence of gluten intolerance in the medical field. And with that, more and more options will become more readily available to brewers.