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Gluten-free beer made from barley – would you drink it?

Posted on December 29th, 2010 by Alison Read 21 Comments - Add Your Own »

estrella-damm-daura-glutenThere is a gluten-free beer from Spain called Estrella Damm Daura, which its manufacturers call a lager and say “retains the same taste and properties as tradition beers.” The reason it tastes like other beers? It’s made from barley malt! As you students of gluten-free life know, barley contains gluten, so how can a beer made from barley malt be gluten-free? According to the manufacturer, the level of gluten is lower than the European gluten-free standard of 20 parts per million, or ppm.

According to their website, “Estrella Damm Daura is the result of a long collaborative research process between Damm and the CSIC (National Scientific Research Council) gluten unit, using the most advanced technology. It is the first beer in Spain to guarantee a gluten content below 6 ppm (products with a gluten content below 20 ppm are suitable for people with coeliac disease). Estrella Damm’s research and strong social commitment have made this breakthrough possible, which comes as excellent news for all those with coeliac disease.”

For those of you who don’t understand what this parts per million business is about, this is how I understand it: The Codex Alimentarius Commission was created in 1963  by two agencies of the United Nations — the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) — to develop food standards. This commission revised the gluten-free standard in 2008 to be 20 parts per million. This means that in order for a food to qualify as gluten-free by the Commission’s standards, its gluten levels must test at 20 ppm or less. Think of it as dividing a piece of bread into a million crumbs — no more than 20 of those crumbs can be gluten for it to be called gluten-free. If you like percentages better, this translates to .002%. Keep in mind that this is a standard set by that commission only, and it is up to the countries to adopt it if they choose. Here in the U.S. we have adopted no standard yet — anyone can put “gluten-free” on a label and it officially means nothing. The FDA is working on setting a standard and is considering whether to adopt the Codex standard or to make the ppm even lower.

So, let’s take this beer. Their detectable level of gluten is 6 parts per million. Divide the beer into a million sips — 6 of those impossibly tiny sips would be gluten, or .0006% of the beer. Logically and rationally and statistically it seems like this beer could pose no problem. But psychologically, would one drink a beer made from barley, an evil grain in the gluten-free world? Anecdotally, I know of people who react to the tiniest bit of gluten, so would they react to this seemingly negligible amount?

And you might be wondering… did I drink it? I had two sips of one bottle, my husband drank the rest. I didn’t notice any reaction and neither did he (he is gluten-sensitive). Although I did like the taste, my fear of barley overshadowed the enjoyment of finding a really great gluten-free beer.

saxon-gluten-free-beerClinical trials are being conducted for another gluten-free beer made from barley called Saxon from Finland. Their claim is that after testing many European beers for their gluten content, “many Finnish barley malt beers had a very low content of gluten compared to many European and especially to Belgian and German beers. The observation led to an idea of an improved process to reduce the amount of gluten in barley malt beers. Further process trials proved that it is possible to control the brewing process in a way that beers made from malted barley repeatedly show prolamin and gluten levels well below the 20 ppm level, the level for natural gluten free products. Even below detection limit (5 ppm).” Because of these studies, The Finnish Coeliac Society granted Sinebrychoff/Carlsberg breweries, the maker of Saxon beer, permission to use the gluten free logo on Saxon beer. You can read more about the science and testing behind these conclusions on the Saxon website.

I wonder if gluten testing has been conducted on commercial beer here in the U.S. I know of one gluten-sensitive friend who drinks Budweiser with no problem. I am certainly not advocating drinking beer if one has celiac or is gluten-sensitive! But I am curious about how much the gluten content varies between brands. As for me, I’m sticking to Redbridge.

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  1. We have tried a German gluten free beer where the gluten is removed from the beer afterwards (so I think it is brewed just like any other conventional beer). It’s by Neumarkter Lamsbräu. I am not sure what the actual reported gluten content is in ppm, but my husband has enjoyed it on several occasions without issue.

  2. Jenn,
    Thanks — I haven’t heard of that one. Amazing how many there are now!

  3. While I appreciate the makers of Bud for trying, I would almost rather go without than have a Redbridge. Similarly I don’t really care for New Grist’s GF beer either. But Bard’s Tale sorghum beer is a good amber from the US that is not terribly expensive and St. Peter’s Sorghum Ale from the UK and several styles (lager, porter, ale) by Green’s from Belgium are very good if a little pricey. Try BevMo or WholeFoods to find any of these.

  4. Thanks for a male perspective Bob! 🙂 (although my husband likes Redbridge)

  5. I found out 10 days ago that I am gluten sensitive. My wife has been gluten-free her entire life so living a gluten-free life is no mystery to me. After living a gluten-filled life of 30 years, beer was the first thing that I mourned. I am also a homebrewer and my last name is Bierly (prounouced beer-lee) for goodness sake. I found Estrella Damm Daura at Whole Foods the very same night I discovered my sensitivity and I can vouch for the brewer’s claim that it tastes just like regular beer.

    As my knowledgeable wife says, 6ppm is very low–probably lower than American “Gluten-free” products. In my opinion having a standard like ppm makes all the difference. It allows us to make informed choices about what we eat.

    Thank you Jenn for recommending the German Neumarkter. I will check this out.

  6. Well, Mr. Beerly 😉
    I think it’s time for you to homebrew some GF stuff!

  7. I will drink St Peters if it’s the only beer available but Bard’s I can’t drink.

    I’m not sure I would overcome the fear of drinking a spaniard barley beer – and somehow, the Finish beer looks “safer”.

    as for now, I’m safe and my tummy is happy with redbridge – which is decent from super cold to lukewarm (better than most low price beers).

  8. Cool! I have trtied bards tale and so far its my favorite, especially over red bridge. Just tried greens for the first time and its good, but expensive. I think i might try this, if can find it. Interesting article!

  9. I tried Estrella Damn Duara a few weeks ago and practically cried it tasted so good. It was just like I remembered beer (no disrespect to Redbridge) really tasting. However, I am seriously conflicted by the knowledge that there is any gluten at all as I belive I am quite sensitive–I just don’t get immediate reactions so can’t pinpoint what it is I ate/drank that was the offending item. I am also starting to wonder if even Redbridge has some level of gluten as a result of cross contamination as I believe they manufacture their beer on shared equipment with regular beer.

  10. Mark,
    I have wondered about Redbridge processing also. I’ll call them if I find the time! Or if someone else does, will you please post what they say?

  11. The number one thing I miss from my gluten-filled days is beer. St Peters is the only GF beer that I find tolerable–and it does have the extra cache of that 18 century bottle (plus the huge expense…).

    To me the key factor in understanding the safety of these new beers is your point: “Here in the U.S. we have adopted no standard yet — anyone can put “gluten-free” on a label and it officially means nothing.” How many PPM of gluten are we eating and/or drinking in the hundreds of US products marked GF? It may be even more that these two beers are documented to contain!

    As part of my continuing quest for a better-than-decent GF beer, I think I could get past my psychological barely barrier and give these a try. Mainly, I’m really encouraged to see more manufacturers enter the GF beer market. Looking forward to some good micro-brewed GF beers. Anyone know of any?

  12. Here in Beervana (Portland, OR), Deschutes Brewery has a Gluten Free microbrew at its Portland pub. It is better than Redbridge, Greens, New Grist and Bard’s, but it is still lacks the malty taste that beer has and that Estrella Damm Daura has.

  13. I am recently diagnosed and would love to be kept in the loop with respect to the processing of Redbridge (same equipment). I thouroughly enjoyed trying new beers but the cost of some of these GF options makes it difficult…Bards, Greens, etc.

  14. I agree with you Alison, it would give me the willies to drink a beer made from barley, especially after reading this article of Tricia Thompson’s back in the fall: http://www.glutenfreedietitian.com/newsletter/2010/10/03/barley-malt-ingredients-in-labeled-gluten-free-foods/

    Thanks for this GREAT post!!

  15. awesome post! i just re-tweeted through adventures of a gf mom actually…. I would love to try this. I would give it a try knowing the levels are so low.

    I drink redbridge now and I like it – but miss real beer. Bards Tale is pretty good too… That other new beer looks pretty good also.

    did you find these in local liquor/beer stores? I just tweeted the companies to find out if they sell in the boston area.

    thanks again!

  16. no way! i’m sensitive to trace amounts of gluten, can’t eat oats, and also have a severe soy intolerance. you couldn’t pay me! i’m more than happy to keep drinking my redbridge, green’s, and GF cider!

  17. I’ve got a Redbridge update! I just called and spoke to a “beer specialist” (i.e. customer service rep) and he told me that they can ensure that Redbridge is 100% gluten free and there is no risk of cross contamination. He’s also sending me 3 Redbridge beer opener key chains — never hurts to ask for free stuff! 🙂 I’ll be giving these away at the next GIG of Marin meeting.

  18. Please be very wary of products that are labelled ‘gluten free’ that contain barley. I have written more on this at http://hubpages.com/hub/food-testing

  19. Green’s beer actually states it does not contain egg, soy, wheat etc. Can anyone tell me if Redbridge contains egg at all?
    Thank you!

  20. Not sure if this thread is still going, but here goes. I had Saxon beer while visiting family in Sweden this summer. Hands down the best gluten free beer I’ve tried. I called local stores, distributors and even emailed the brewery without any luck. I found this thread by googling Saxon beer in the hopes that someone has started to carry it here. Please let me know if anyone has any ideas of how to get it here.

  21. Erik,
    You let us know! Sounds like you will be the first to track it down!

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