How is gluten-free beer made?
Traditional lagers, stouts and ales commonly use malted barley or wheat as the basic grain. This means they contain varying amounts of gluten and aren’t suitable for people with coeliac disease.
There are currently two ways to manufacture gluten-free beer. The first is to use a malt from cereals or pseudocereals that are suitable for those on a gluten-free diet, for example sorghum, millet, buckwheat, rice, quinoa or maize. These beers often have slightly different aromas and flavours. The second method is to produce a beer using a gluten-containing malt (wheat, barley or rye), and then introducing a process to reduce the gluten content. One way of doing this is to use an enzyme at the start of the fermentation process to break down the gluten protein. An example of this is the patented product Brewers Clarex® (also used to reduce the chill haze in beer). This protease enzyme degrades the gluten to levels below the 20 ppm threshold for labelling gluten-free.
When manufacturers label their beer gluten-free, it is important to make sure that the levels of gluten are less than 20 ppm. Laboratory testing is the best way to assess the amount of gluten in a product, but there can be difficulties when testing beer using the usual R5 ELISA Sandwich method (commonly used for foods), due to the gluten being broken down. An alternative method is available (R5 ELISA Competitive) which is a more effective way to measure the gluten in beer and other hydrolysed products.