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A Gluten Free Beer Showdown

Six years ago, when I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I admit that the thought of never enjoying a cold, refreshing beer again did not affect me nearly as much as I imagine it would affect the gluten free guys out there.  Still, there was something about being told that I could NEVER have something again that drove me absolutely nuts.  I’ve never done well with the words “no and forever” in the same sentence.  Luckily, gluten free beers are now popping up all over the place; some good and some not so much…but even those that fall into the “not so much” category are actually rather tasty when it’s either that or nothing at all.  How else is a German girl (my maiden name is Schmidt) supposed to enjoy a beer brat during Oktoberfest??

Back when I was in college (and had yet to become a wino), my favorite beers where Amstel Light and Heineken, which are fairly light beers.  My husband Mike on the other hand, was a warm Guinness guy (ufta!).  The GF beers that I have personally tried and like are Bard’s Tale, New Planet’s Tread Lightly (not corn-free) and Off Grid (corn-free), St. Peter’s Sorgham Beer and yes, I like Redbridge too.

That being said, my husband has been itching to write this post for a very long time and thanks to New Planet Gluten Free Beer sending us a few complimentary beers to have our friends sample and offer their personal opinions, we had seven gluten free beers in our “showdown.”

-Heidi

 

GF Dad here…

Over the 4th of July weekend, we had the chance to assemble an expert panel of beer aficionados at our home for our annual gluten free Independence Day blowout.  I’m sure they were not very excited about the prospect of celebrating the 4th without their traditional barley/wheat beer, but we tried to make things fun and interesting by having them sample seven varieties of gluten free beer currently on the market and available at most Whole Foods markets (or similar grocery stores).  I’m not sure exactly what was going through their heads when they were called to the kitchen island to try a condiment cup full of beer, but the antics quickly ensued.  The only instructions they received were that they were to give first impressions and be brutally honest (just remember, these are all guys who still drink gluten-filled beer).

Our panel of six experts included 1) an actual brewer, 2) my best friend with whom I used to sample and collect exotic beers, 3) a Navy veteran (think shore leave), 4) an Army veteran (think R&R), 5) a new friend who I just met but who clearly knows beer, 6) and a guy who probably drinks more beer than he does water (okay not really, but he knows his beer as well).  So we had a good diverse group, all men, from early 30’s to mid 60’s in age.

The beers in the competition were chosen because they were available locally, regardless of price.  Since most of us pretty much have to give up beer when we go gluten free, spending $8 for a 16-20 ounce bottle (in some cases) is not an outlandish treat in my opinion.  But some of the beers are available for $6-9 a six-pack (or four-pack), so not entirely unreasonable.  We poured our pre-labeled sample cups in a separate room to eliminate any bias and promptly delivered a tray that quite frankly looked like it was full of urine samples ready for lab testing (well…it did!).

So let’s launch right to the comments and I’ll sum up at the end.

Beer A – New Planet Tread Lightly Ale

“That’s a pilsner.”

“Bitter.”

“No body.”

“Tastes apricot or floral.”

“Tastes weak.”

“Cow piss.” 

No one on our panel really cared for this beer too much.  We did find the “cow-piss” comment amusing, as Heidi’s 96 year old grandma refers to beer as “horse-piss.”  Yes, she is a teetotaller and it’s really funny that one of her grandson’s is part owner of the wildly popular Fitgers Brewhouse in Duluth, MN.  (which makes for some quick chugs down by the lake when Gram is napping, LOL!).


Beer B – New Planet 3R Raspberry Ale

“Apricot/peach/watermelon?”

“Tastes like an Abbey Ale.”

“Slightly sour so it balances the fruit.”

“Not a manly beer.”

“My wife would like this.”

I did forewarn our panel that this was a “flavored” beer, so that the shock of the fruit flavor would not overwhelm their impression. Notice that no one could identify raspberry as the fruit, they could just tell there was fruit in it. They didn’t necessarily hate it, but they didn’t care for it too much either.    This could partially be driven by a comment I heard from all of them: “Fruit belongs in a wine-cooler, not beer.”

Beer C – New Planet Off Grid Ale

{Picture everyone nodding his head while commenting}

“I’d buy that beer.”

“Good lager.”

“Tastes like an American Pale Ale.”

“More hops character.”

“Best so far.”

Everyone’s face lit up when they tried this beer.  I think they were surprised that a gluten free beer could taste so good, especially after the first two tastings.  They all seemed pleasantly surprised by this beer.

Beer D – St. Peter’s Sorgham Beer

“Reminds me of Pabst.”

“Smells like beer.”

“Good aroma.”

“Lots of hops.”

“Would be great on a hot afternoon on the porch, not with dinner.”

“Not too heavy.” 

The comment about Pabst and an afternoon on the porch came from the same person, so it was meant as a positive.  I think it was unfortunate that C and D were right next to each other because they didn’t get the chance to sample this beer after one of the “bad” ones.  But the fact that they all liked it even after having their favorite is a good sign.


Beer E – Greens Quest Tripel Blonde Ale

“Subtle aroma.”

“Fruit?”

“Too fruity.”

“Honey-wheat?”

“Good body and head.”

“Cider?”

“Too froo-froo.” 

This was a beer that no one necessarily hated, but no one really liked it either.  You can tell from the range of comments that there is a lot going on with this beer from a flavor perspective, and some drinkers may appreciate that.


Beer F – Greens Endeavour Dubbel Dark Ale

“Good.”

“Looks like beer, tastes like beer.”

“Don’t know why, it’s just good.”

“Smoothe.”

“Nut-brown?”

“Not hoppy, too sweet.”

“No bite.”

“Amber ale.”

A common theme with the Greens GF beers is that they seem to be quite complex when it comes to flavor.  Again, this can be either good or bad depending on your preferences.


Beer G – Redbridge

{Picture scrunched faces writhing in revulsion}

“Not much taste.”

“Tastes skunked.”

“Would send this back.”

“Would not pay for it.”

“Awful beer.”

“Beer flavored water.” 

I’m not sure if we got our hands on some old Redbridge or if this is truly how they would feel with something right off the delivery truck.  Personally, I don’t think the beer is bad, it tastes like an India Pale Ale to me, but no one on this panel had positive things to say.

So, the hands down winner was New Planet Off Grid Ale.  Every taster agreed that this was the best beer and all said they would pay for it, given its reasonable price (basically a premium beer price, about $8-9 a four-pack).  I enjoy this particular beer as well.  It just tastes like beer.

Runners-up were:

1) St. Peter’s Sorgham Beer (which is a little pricey but still good)

2) Greens Endeavour Dubbel Dark Ale (you can even make Chocolate Cake with this beer!)

Two of the other four were judged as “so-so” and the other two were deemed almost undrinkable by the glutenators (see above).

Now I know that beer preference is completely subjective, sort of like salad dressing.  But your salad dressing complements a basic salad to begin with, and beer should have some fundamental characteristics such as aroma, body, etc. just like a salad does.  When your server asks you what dressing you want on your house salad, you are changing the flavor of the basic house salad, not the salad itself.  I hope that analogy makes sense, because it works for me so I am sticking to it!

A couple years ago when I was still drinking barley/wheat beer I enjoyed Guinness and Sam Adams, as well as other craft beers.  I have to admit, I have yet to find a gluten free beer that reminds me of either of those.  I’m not a brewer, but there must be something about the gluten that gives those beers their deep flavor, color, and body that just can’t be replicated without it.  So be it.

But if you enjoy lighter beers in the Heineken or Amstel Light category, then you will be satisfied with the better gluten free beers.  I can’t imagine the time and patience required to figure out how to make good beer without barley or wheat, but all of these companies are to be commended for their efforts and painstaking dedication…I am thankful to have a choice.

-Mike

What is your favorite gluten free beer?

 

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Comments

  1. Jules says:

    Oh Heidi, I so wish I could have been there for this! Such fun! Can we have another tasting for all the ladies to come? ;)

    This was such a great idea – thanks for giving the summary and for introducing these fellas (and all your lovely readers) to some new options during this hot summer-just-beggin-for-beer season!

    Cheers!

    ~jules

  2. LOL! This was so fun to read Mike! Good job! I love the candor. We just finalized plans for a "Beer Showdown" as you called it on Thursday, August 4 with the Northern Colorado Meet Up. Ours is Beer, Buns and Bocce! We will have a blind taste test for Beer and Buns. Thanks for leading the way!

  3. April says:

    I'm so glad you guys did this! Where can I get the New Planet Off-Grid Ale? I did my own beer taste test and this was not even included. Green's Amber Ale was my big winner, but I would love to try these other ones.

    Thanks so much for the glutenator opinions. Awesome.

  4. Rochell says:

    You must try Estrella Damm Daura, from Spain. It is hands-down the best GF beer I've ever had!

    • Rochell,

      You are the second person to mention this beer to me in the past 2 days (Shirley from GFE first told me about it yesterday). I've not seen this beer locally, but then again, I haven't been looking for it, but I will keep my eye out for sure.

      I just looked it up online and I see why it is getting such great reviews, it's actually made from barley malt (then the gluten is stripped down to 6 ppm in order to make it safe for most celiacs). Thought I would link to the website here for anyone wanting to know more: http://www.estrelladamm.com/en/daura_gluten_free_

      I can't wait to try it! :-D

  5. tonya says:

    Well I live in Iowa and can't seem to find New Planet beer. So it's either Bard's tale (which I can't stand) or Redbridge. So Redbridge it is :) I hope to find something better when they finally open a whole foods here.

    • Deb says:

      I like New Grist from the Lakefront microbrew in Milwaukee. I live in Des Moines and find it at HyVee & Drugtown stores. Mike's Hard Lemonade is also GF even though it's a malt beverage (tests @ 5 ppm) which is not the same as beer but better than Redbridge & very easy to find.

  6. Jenn says:

    cool run down on several beers!! Our favorite is a German gluten free beer we can get here in Switzerland – an organic gluten free version made by Neumarkter Lammsbräu, a pilsner that is quite nice.

  7. lyra says:

    Thank you thank you. I always say, I'd give up real bread for life (which I have anyway) if I could drink a good beer again.

    After trying an awful Belgian Ale (too much honey and just bad) I found St. Peter’s Sorgham Beer. It is definitely passable, but I am looking forward to trying your other recommendations.

  8. Melissa says:

    I’m in NC and have had a problem finding any GF beer besides Redbridge and Bard’s….of course, Redbridge is the easiest found. Since going GF, I’ve tried to become a wine-drinking lady, but my love of beer goes back many years to my college days… sometimes only an ice-cold beer will do! It’s taken awhile, but I’ve grown to love Redbridge.
    Several of the Mexican beers(of course with a slice of lime) were my favorites back before GF days. I have found that squeezing a slice or two of lime into an ice-cold Redbridge bottle, really makes it taste close to the beers I used to love. :)

  9. Awesome review post, Mike (and Heidi Schmidt–who knew?)! The only one I haven't tried is the one that won your competition! I received the New Planet Off the Grid to try, but we didn't get to it this past weekend. So Son took it home to taste test. Haven't heard back yet. Most folks are raving over the Spanish beer that Rochell mentioned. I was lucky enough to get a bunch of that (and Green's) from dear Jules. :-) Oh, and I'm I'm holding on to at least one bottle of the Green's Dark so I can make her cake you linked to. :-)

    Thanks to all! Loved the unpretentious reviews!

    Shirley

    • I can't wait to here what your son thinks of the Off Grid and I;m looking forward to trying it again once my taste buds are fully functioning again (they're finally improving after 13 months of no taste, yea!).

      I had never heard of the Estrella Damm Daura before you mentioned it to me yesterday, I'm going to see if my local Whole Foods will order some, I'm curious to try it.

      Jules chocolate cake looks very interesting, I bet the beer really adds to the chocolate flavor…a must try recipe! :-D

      xo,

      Heidi

  10. Michelle Olejar says:

    Now I REALLLLY wish I was at your 4th of July party. Like Heidi, I am German and my pacifier was dipped in the stuff and so I LOVE my beer. Like Mike I like the darker, more craft beer like Sam Adams and a local brew called "Final Absolution". At a 10.9 percent alcohol, it is pretty final, lol. Going gluten free has been extremely hard in the beer area. This is my husband and me thing. We LOVE beer.

    I have had most of those beers, except the New Planet as they are not in my area. I also have had a beer that is from WI called New Grist that I think Heidi would like as it is a lighter summer type beer. I have to say my favorite is St. Peters but my stand by is Bards. I bought a Greens Dubbel Dark and was extremely disappointed. At $9 a bottle I was expecting it to be good. Maybe I was hoping for a true Guinness replacement but it tasted almost fizzy and weird. Someone tell me I got a bad bottle, lol! I was actually surprised by the Red Bridge because most products by that company I wouldn't drink in my real beer days.

    I love this post and thanks for the beer show down. I guess I will have to get to CO and get me some of that New Planet beer that got the best reviews. They are a "like" on FB and I read all about them. Still hoping they will come to the east side of the country.

    • Michelle,

      You are only the second female that I know who likes Guinness…very impressive my friend, you are what husband deems as a "very cool chick," LOL!

      I'm going to have to order some New Grist, sounds like my type of beer…but then again, I'm pretty much good with anything if it doesn't put hair on my chest (like Guinness did many moons ago). :-D

    • WI Beer Snob says:

      in Wisconsin we love our "flüssiges Brot", and we've got the waistlines to prove it.

      i love Lakefront Brewery beers, but New Grist is OK, not terrible. i found the sorghum left a strong syrup/molasses flavor on the tongue. i think your testers would make faces after tasting it. it might grow on you.
      http://www.lakefrontbrewery.com/gluten_free.html

      the distribution–and production–is limited, but Capital Brewery's Wild Rice was a decent GF beer. http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?art

      i've tried Redbridge, and it's too much like Annheiser-Busch's other top popular beers–that is, it tastes like water.

      shame we can't get the New Planet in the midwest, but i think i can track down the Green's somewhere nearby.

  11. Great UNbiased review. Real men, real testing :) And I thought that Bud version was the only readily accessible one out there. Bought it to make beer brisket. Anywho! Thanks for this review.

    xoLexie

  12. Alta says:

    New Planet doesn't sell in Texas yet! I hope they come soon. I usually buy Bard's Tale, and sometimes Green's – I like that dark one too! Great review post.

  13. Great Fun Mike!

    I totally agree with the comments on the Off Grid Pale Ale, by far my favorite of the New Planet offerings. I am a big fan of the Green's beers as well. The availability of these beers is improving thankfully. There are reviews on the glutenfreebeer.org association website as well. Thanks for sharing y'alls experiences!

    Joey

    Gluten Free Beer Assoc.

  14. Great post/review. I am DYING to try that New Planet Off Grid Pale Ale!!! I used to be in love with pale ales before I went GF a few years ago. It took me a YEAR to get used to Redbridge since that's all that's around here. Wish that GF pale ale was available in NY state, but your review gives me motivation to try to get our local places to stock it — hopefully soon!

  15. Bethany says:

    This was great! Thanks.

  16. Jennifer P says:

    Actually I'm not surprised about the redbridge, whenever Brian has that one, the smell drives me out of the room. The rest I can handle….but that one i won't go near it. We were in FT. Collins, so I think he got it fairly frehs.

    Now, while reading, I was trying to figure out which ones were his comments! I'm guessing maybe the Pabst and the My Wife would like this? I used to like fruity beer prior to going gluten free, and well, he actually likes Pabst. :D Remind me to share a story about Pabst beer, New Years eve, being totally broke and 2 weeks overdue pregnant sometime. You'll love it!

  17. MamaKate says:

    Any idea if these are available in Canada? The only one I've been able to find is from Quebec. It's ok, but not a real 'beer-beer', for those who are big beer drinkers.

  18. Oh, I am so excited to try some of these when I am in the US next month!!

  19. I just happened to stumble across your blog & I am in love! I was diagnosed with Celiac just over a year ago so I am still trying to adjust to a gluten-free life style! Can't wait to read more! I am a new subscriber!

  20. Christine says:

    My husband drank his way accross Belgium before a gluten free diet. He LOVES and misses beer flavors. His favorite- not mentioned in the taste test- is Bard's. It is simmilar to a nut brown ale. Not as rich as a porter. We both enjoy the Green's Dubbel Dark and agree with your taste tester's comments.

  21. Renee says:

    It was great fun to watch them all testing! The comments were amusing. I enjoyed our ice cream tasting much more than any beer though. And drinking the potent margaritas and hard cider, of course. Thanks for having us over to a great party, Heidi!

    • ROFL! Yeah, those margaritas had a little bite to them, I was a bartender in my past life and I always got the best tips when I free-poured! :-D

      Loved ice cream/sorbet taste test, I really need to thank Kim over at Gluten Free Is Life for the Cabernet sorbet recommendation…dang, we really hit it on the booze, didn't we? LOL!

      Loved having you and Nathan over, will have to do dinner again sometime soon (btw, how did he like the portobello mushroom? The marinade is my next product review.

      • Renee says:

        I kept forgetting to tell you about the portobellos…he liked them, flavor was great, but he said don't cook them as long next time. You want them firm, still with a texture like fresh mushrooms.

        And yes, being a two drink (max!) kind of gal, that margarita was dangerous. Especially since I could just push the little button on the cooler, and out it came! Gah! I had to force myself to stop so I didn't end up embarrassing myself. (Margaritas have been know to have that effect on me, yet I haven't learned my lesson!)

        Let's do something again soon…I was thinking we should do a gf girls evening.

  22. Okay, too bad we were in Cali for this party! This would have been one that Kurt would have claimed as the “perfect party”! LOL What an absolutely BRILLIANT idea!! I have to say that Kurt (and I) agree with the masses of your participants here. Those are our top picks as well, even though we have never been quite as scientific about it as you guys! I am ultimately impressed and in total awe of you, now and always!!
    You have just helped so many gluten free beer drinkers!!
    xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox and more,
    k

  23. I'm not a beer drinker, but I loved this post. LOVED IT! I think I agree with the 96 year old grandma judge. All beer tastes like horse p**s. =) Will be sending this link to my daughter who has celiac and lives in NYC. She would have loved to be a judge with all these guys!

    Melissa

  24. Melissa says:

    So funny they didn't like New Planet Tread Lightly. That's my hands-down favorite, although I haven't tried Off Grid yet. I totally agree on Red Bridge, though.

    My husband is a homebrewer, and we're having a blast coming up with gluten-free beers.

  25. Heidi May says:

    I love this posting! I am a beer drinker and recently went gluten free. Since I don't care for wine, cocktails, etc I am always looking for a good GF beer. I do not like Bard's as it tastes vinegary to me and I tolerate Red Bridge as it hints at being a beer but by far the best "gluten free" beer is Estrella Daura.

    I purchased Estrella Daura at my local Whole Foods and found no mention on the actual package or bottles of being GF, only an added promo piece mentioning their two GF awards for best tasting beer.

    So I did a little more research and found that in the US & Canada that as long as the product has less than 20 ppm it can be labeled GF. Source: http://www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/FoodAll

    To me foods containing 3 ppm to 20 pmm should be "gluten light".

    An Australian is more likely to have a true GF diet. "Standard 1.2.8 – Nutrition Information Requirements of the Food Standards Code requires that for a food to claim it is gluten free there must be no detectable gluten in the food. Foods claiming to be low in gluten must have gluten detected at levels less than 20 mg of gluten per 100 g of food (200 ppm) (Food Standards Australia New Zealand, 2008b)." Source: http://www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/_Documents/sc

    So before consuming Estrella Daura remember that there is gluten and by US standards it's GF, but not Australian standards. =)

  26. Great post, Mike! I miss my Corona quite frequently but it's good to know that there is a palatable beer out there. Wish it was allowed on the elimination diet though! Please tell me it gets better. Need to get more of Heidi's awesome recipes to help myself and my son through this. :)

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