How is gluten free beer made?
There are currently two ways to manufacture gluten free beer. The first is to use a malt from naturally gluten free cereals or pseudocereals such as sorghum, millet, buckwheat, rice, quinoa or maize. These beers often have slightly different aromas and flavours to regular beer.
The second method is to produce a beer using a gluten containing malt (wheat, barley or rye), and then introduce a process to reduce the gluten content so that it complies with the law on gluten free and contains 20 ppm or less of gluten. 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 so it can be labelled gluten free. As this type of beer has been made from barley, by law the labelling must also state ‘contains barley’. This allows people to identify gluten free beers made from barley separate to gluten free beers made from naturally gluten free cereals or pseudocereals.
By law, manufacturers can only label their beer gluten free if it contains 20 ppm or less of gluten. 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 or fermented products.
Scientists continue to explore other techniques to try to further advance the analysis of gluten in food and drink products such as mass spectrometry, PCR (polymerase chain reaction), aptamers. There are pros and cons with all testing methods and we look to the experts for the very best and latest advice such as the Prolamin Working Group , Codex Alimentarius and our Food Standards Committee. The approved method for testing gluten in beers is currently the R5 ELISA Competitive method but Coeliac UK and producers remain engaged with experts and global research exploring potential new test methods.
Please remember that alcohol can have side effects whether or not you have coeliac disease. Check out Drink Aware for more information.
This advice has been discussed and continues to be approved by Coeliac UK’s Food Standards Committee, our Health Advisory Council and the Prolamin Working Group April 2020.