Gluten-free beer market grows, expands

Whether it’s because of an intolerance to gluten or a choice to follow a gluten-free diet, a small percentage of beer lovers are turning to gluten-free beers, and such beers are starting to show up more often in beer and liquor stores. Canadian breweries are taking up the challenge to brew good-tasting, gluten-free beers, but the country still doesn’t quite have the selection available to American beer drinkers.

One of the first gluten-free beers to appear in Canada was the La Messagère brands (three of them are now available –- the original, Red and Millet) from Microbrasserie Nouvelle France of Saint-Alexis-des-Mont, Quebec. La Messagère has been available in Quebec since 2003, and it has become more widely available through North America since. A more recent addition to the Canadian market is Nickel Brook Gluten-Free from Better Bitters Brewing (more often known as Nickel Brook). Also available (at least in Ontario) is New Grist from Lakefront Brewery of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

So what do all these beers have in common? Simple. They don’t contain gluten. They’re either brewed with malted grains that don’t contain traces of gluten, or they’re made with another fermentable sugar (like in the case of Nickel Brook Gluten-Free).

But are they beer? In that case, the answer is: It depends. According to Roger Mittag, founder of Thirst For Knowledge and the Prud’homme Beer Certification program and professor of beer in Humber College’s School of Hospitality, most gluten-free beers do fall into the category of beer because they contain malted grain. Although some purists may argue that they don’t contain barley or wheat, the generally-accepted definition of beer today includes the use of any malted grain that will yield the sugars needed for fermentation.

“They still can be malted. It’s just the style of grain that they’re using. That all leads together to: It is definitely beer,” Mittag said.

This doesn’t apply to all gluten-free alcoholic beverages, though. The dominant source of fermentable sugar in Nickel Brook Gluten-Free is pear juice, which makes it an alcoholic beverage but not a beer, Mittag said.

John Romano, president of Better Bitters Brewing (aka Nickel Brook), said it was about two years ago that one of his employees suggested the idea of gluten-free beer. Romano admitted he had no idea what gluten-free beer was at the time, but since Better Bitters isn’t afraid to experiment with beer styles, he began researching what was available and what the process to make it was. In short: He wasn’t impressed with the products on the market.

“These poor people that are gluten-free, and their choice is this beer. It’s crazy,” Romano said. Even though Romano noted that he doesn’t like to bad-mouth other craft breweries, he said the first gluten-free beer he tried was La Messagère, and he had hoped for more body and character than the beer had.

At the time, the only gluten-free beer in the LCBO in Ontario was La Messagère. Better Bitters set out to make a competing product, and after much experimentation, the Better Bitters team realized it couldn’t get the complexity it wanted from gluten-free grains. It turned to fruit. Romano said he makes pear wine, and so he started playing with pear as the base for his gluten-free beer.

“When you make pear wine, there’s not a lot there, so I started playing with pear and buckwheat and sorghum and Demerara sugar, and finally came up, after many, many trials … with the base that we have today. And it’s been reviewed very, very well,” Romano said.

However, Nickel Brook Gluten-Free is not classified as beer, even though you’ll find it resting beside beers on LCBO shelves throughout Ontario. The company is currently developing a second gluten-free beer.

The market for gluten-free beer is small, but it’s growing.

“Go back three years ago, we had one product. Now we have three,” said Leanne Rhee, category manager for beer and cider at the LCBO. “The variety available … could be bringing more people into the category.”

Although the number of people with celiac’s disease, which makes people intolerant to gluten, is only a small number throughout Canada, Rhee said many people are making healthier choices and cutting gluten from their diets. She said the LCBO gets requests from customers all the time for gluten-free products. In addition to the gluten-free beers currently available on LCBO shelves, the LCBO also has several other alcoholic beverages that cater to those with gluten intolerances, including cider, wine and spirits.

The gluten-free beers available are fairly light-bodied compared to most craft beers available, but they serve a growing market, Mittag said.

“I think there are massive opportunities in this category. If I [owned] a restaurant, I would make sure to have a gluten-free beer on my menu,” Mittag said.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 4.2/5 (9 votes cast)
Gluten-free beer market grows, expands, 4.2 out of 5 based on 9 ratings

Tagged as: , , , , ,

27 Responses »

  1. Cheers on a great post. It’s always good to hear about Gluten Free Beer becoming more and more prominent. At the moment, I’m building a Gluten Free Beer Finder, and have added the LCBO stores that sell gluten free beer. I hope it helps some of your readers find good gluten free beer near them.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
  2. The demand for gluten-free beer is increasing along with the demand for more styles. And, it is not just from people with celiac disease. Individuals are voluntarily choosing to reduce or eliminate gluten from their diets. Only Bard’s Beer is made with malted sorghum for traditional craft beer flavor and aroma. If malting is not necessary, why is all the barley malted in traditional beer? We are distibuted in BC and Alberta and are working on distribution in other Provinces at this time.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +9 (from 13 votes)
  3. I was just diagnosed with celiac disease, and my first two thoughts were about ice cream and beer! Those are two food items I just can’t give up. A big thank you to companies who are addressing this issue.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  4. I’m from Saskatoon SK and I have to special order my rice beer and it’s sure a dissapointment. Aprox 30% of Canadians are allergic to Gluten, and we only have about 4 small brands floating around. The first Big Gluten-Free Beer Company that really gets there beer out there will make Billions…. Our society is moving towards healthy eatting and Gluten foods are starting to be one of the first to eliminate along with dairy.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +5 (from 9 votes)
  5. Before I was diagnosed as Celiac I enjoyed beers from all over the world.
    Since my diagnosis I’ve tried the three Gluten Free Beers found at the LCBO and found them all to be rather nasty.Only one New Grist was even palatable.I’m currently trying to find a Gluten Free beer that won’t make me gag as I try to choke it down.Until then I’ll have to be content with Rum.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 5 votes)
  6. This article went live almost six months ago to the day, and it’s remained the most popular article on the site (a lot of people find Beer In Canada because of a search for articles on gluten-free beer). Clearly, there are a lot of beer drinkers interested in finding out about this growing beer niche.

    Paul, I’ve tried both the Nickel Brook and New Grist gluten-free beers, and I share your opinion on them. They don’t quite taste like beer.

    In the Canadian Amateur Brewers Association’s Great Canadian Homebrew Competition, homebrew club Snowman Brewing walked away with a gold medal in the specialty beers category for a gluten-free maple stout. Kevin Snow and Hirsch Goodman, who make up Snowman Brewing, buy gluten-free ingredients for their beers and do all their own malting in the kitchen. They’re going to be talking about the process at an upcoming Evening With a Brewer event at the Rhino on October 14th.

    Chris

    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  7. Have you tried our beer? Glutenberg – blond ale.
    It tastes like normal beer… We have worked one year and a half on the recipe.
    100% raw grains (milet and corn).

    We will also launch the Glutenberg Pale Ale in the next two months (millet, buckwheat, corn and malted quinoa + 4 types of american hops). Delicious!

    Available soon in Ontario.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
  8. Hi, Julien.

    No, I haven’t had Glutenberg yet. Will it be distributed through the LCBO?

    Chris

    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  9. The demand for gluten-free beer is increasing along with the demand for more styles. And, it is not just from people with celiac disease. Individuals are voluntarily choosing to reduce or eliminate gluten from their diets. Only Bard’s Beer is made with malted sorghum for traditional craft beer flavor and aroma. If malting is not necessary, why is all the barley malted in traditional beer? We are distibuted in BC and Alberta and are working on distribution in other Provinces at this time.
    +1

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  10. @ Chris :

    Yes our products will be distributed through the LCBO. As soon as we will find an affordable agency…

    We will keep you in touch.

    Julien Niquet
    Brasseurs Sans Gluten

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  11. I have been craving a cold beer for 6 months ( since I was diagnosed celiac)! Living in a small town, I have to ask for them to order in a gluten free beer. This site is great for reviews, thank you, and I will be taste testing soon!!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  12. Miranda,

    Please come back and tell us how your taste testing is going.

    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them.

    Chris

    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  13. So there are still only 2 beers in Ontario (LCBO or Beer Store)? La Messagere and Nickel Brook?
    I have only tried La Messagere but am going tomorrow to give Nickel Brook a shot but was hoping for a few more alternatives.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  14. The LCBO has brought in a few other beers in the meantime. There were one or two that were imported from the US. I’m not sure what is currently available, though.

    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  15. Tx for the info Chris, I dropped by my local LCBO – they had 3 choices. So I picked up some New Grist and a couple of cans of Nickel Brook. They also had the La Messagere but already tried that one. Not expecting much based on reviews but not much choice either. Hopefully someone can post something that comes along that tastes like a Stella (dreaming of course) – oh I miss my Stella!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 2 votes)
  16. I really enjoy Schnitzer Brau gluten free beer, available in New Brunswick…so I assume larger provinces must have it as well. It has an almost smoky/bacon taste, quite interesting! Bard’s is quite good as well, however NB Liquor does not carry it. I think I have tried 11 different gluten free beers, most of them purchased in Boston and brought back after vacations.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  17. This might be good information for my research. If I use it, I’ll be sure to link back to you and mention you as a resource.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  18. BSG, in Montreal, now has five different beers (named Glutenberg) on the market in Quebec and just announced its first delivery to the LCBO on its Facebook page. So far, all their beers have tasted better than all the other ones available in Ontario. You should try them.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  19. The glutenberg very good Canadian ,the mongozo delish,Schnitzer brau it fools my friends, wold top ipa from the old country excellent,greens 8 percent yummy,new grist another fav I drank everything till I was 45 now these are my go to choices and I tried them all, let me know of others and enjoy!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  20. I tried the New Grist gluten free beer but being a real beer drinker for a long time it just doesn’t do the trick for me. Also more calories than regular beer. Hopefully a better one will come along.
    George

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  21. George, I’m the same way. I find most gluten-free beers to be somewhat thin and not have the flavours I’m looking for in a beer. However, there is a possible solution. If you’re in the Toronto area, seek out Snowman Brewing’s beers. Kevin and Hirsch really seem to know what they’re doing, and some of their gluten-free beers are as flavourful as non-gluten-free beers.

    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  22. Living in Saskatoon ,I find it incredible that the selection at this point to be NIL for gluten free beer. I shouldn’t have to order “in” a beverage in a larger amount in order to “try” it. I should be able to buy a pint so to speak and go from there. Another market that is graciously taking money but establishing not a loyal customer base :( Suggestions on how to get a decent beer? Maybe a pub/bar that actually serves beer?

    Thanks for any feedback.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  23. We had a comment two years ago from someone in Saskatoon who also mentioned she had to special order it. I guess things haven’t changed, which is too bad for those who want to purchase gluten-free beer.

    According to the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, you should be able to find Bard’s, Estrella and Mongozo in Saskatoon. If your local liquor store doesn’t have them in, they should be able to order them. It’s not much of a gluten-free selection, but it’s a start.

    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  24. I’ve tried all the gluten free beers at the lcbo and l’m yet to find one that’s even close to a regular beer. I live in Cornwall Ont. and l go to the U.S. often, and l buy the gluten free beer there, and its called, Redbridge. This is sweeter than the beer here in Ont…….but…..not a hellava lot better. While l was there last week, a man was telling about a gluten free bear called O’mission and continued to say that this bear was the closes thing to a real beer. The closest plece that sells this beer is in Tupper Lake, and Plattsburg, N.Y. I’m thinking of making a little trip after Christmas to check it out………Question is…..would you people know anything about this beer ? Sincerely /G. Amelotte.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  25. I’m not familiar with it.

    If you find your way to Toronto at some point, look up Snowman Brewing, which focuses solely on gluten-free beers. And they’re actually good. With many of them, you wouldn’t even know they were made without barley.

    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Trackbacks

  1. Taste T.O. – Food & Drink In Toronto » Bottoms Up! – Thursday, March 10th, 2011
  2. Cheers to a year full of possibilities | Beer In Canada

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *