Going GF & Desperately Seeking Suds

It started with a decision I made in 2006. I was chatting with a dear friend who had recently switched to a gluten free diet. Many of the symptoms she was describing prior to adopting the new diet were things that I, too, experienced yet had just accepted as normal. Our conversation got me thinking, and I committed to a two-week trial to determine if a gluten free approach was something that made sense for me.

Within just a few days of taking gluten off my plate, I felt noticeably better. When I embarked on the trial diet, I naively thought that it would be pretty easy to follow. But as I educated myself on what exactly gluten is (a protein found in wheat and related grains) and in which types of foods it is found (most everything I loved to eat and drink), I discovered that one of my biggest vices, a staple as far as I was concerned, was now off limits…BEER!

Barley, wheat and rye were the first three items identified on a list of things to avoid when following a gluten free diet. Each of these grains contain the gluten protein and, unfortunately for me, plays a critical role in the production of beer. What it boiled down to was that all of the delicious craft beers I had enjoyed up to that point would no longer be an option for me.

I understand that this might not seem like too big of a deal to some folks, but for me, enjoying a refreshing beer with family and friends plays a big part in my quality of life. After a day at the beach, exploring a new trail, or après ski, nothing caps off a fun day like a delicious beer. I was pretty discouraged as I imagined sitting quietly, hands in my pockets, while everyone else savored their favorite beer, embellishing the day’s events around a campfire.

Early on, and perhaps suffering from a bit of denial, I would occasionally fall off the wagon and indulge in my favorite beverage. But when I did, my body made me acutely aware of how ingesting any quantity of gluten was no longer a good idea. I came to the harsh reality that I was going to need to find the next best thing to my beloved craft beer.

To my surprise, and providing a brief sigh of relief, in 2006 there were a few options of gluten free beer commercially available. How was that possible? How can you make beer without malted barley, wheat or rye? My interest was piqued. I bought a few bottles and toasted my fortuitous discovery. Then I took my first sip.

The beers left me very unsatisfied. They lacked body, flavor and aroma. Where I wanted a beautiful, white foamy head spilling over the top of the glass (queue: any TV beer commercial), there was none. Where I expected a pleasantly sweet, malty flavor, there was a strange bitterness in its place. And where I anticipated a subtle, crisp bitterness lingering at the end, inviting me back for another sip, I tasted an astringent, almost medicinal finish that lingered far too long.

I was disappointed, but in equal measure, I was curious. I imagined there had to be a way to brew a quality gluten free beer that exhibited the great flavor, appearance and aroma of the craft beers with which I could no longer stock my refrigerator.

I decided to take matters into my own hands … and thus began my home brewing adventure.