I drank crap loads of the stuff in college. And in this case, I literally do mean crap loads because the morning after a night of partaking in frothy, hoppy brew, I could easily decommission any bathroom in sight.
Of course, I always chalked the gas, bloating and other digestive distress that ensued from beer consumption to lack of sleep, a hard night of partying, and possibly the enormous post-midnight pizzas or burritos that I inevitably consumed after the drinking was done.
But then, post-college, the problems with beer continued, even in the absence of beer-induced debauchery.
For example, I found that even a normal, sane pint of beer consumed at a backyard barbecue could easily set off heartburn, or a bit of gas, or indigestion, or simply a post-drinking fuzzy head or urge to nap. Sure, a quality microbrew tasted oh-so-good, but still seemed to still set off some kind of gastric or nervous system dysfunction.
So for years, and until quite recently, I simply quit beer.
And this was frustrating, because, as you learned in the recent podcast in which I discussed “The Effects Of Beer On Hydration“, a cold brew after a hot summer's workout ranks right up there with burgers, sweet potato fries and watermelon on my summer cravings list.
What exactly is it about beer that can leave you feeling less than stellar, especially in the brain or gut department? You're about to discover the answer, and you're also going to learn how gluten-free beer works and why you may want to consider trying gluten-free beer, even if you don't have full-blown celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
The Problem With Beer
Let's start here: in the podcast “8 Scary Beers You Should Stop Drinking Now“, I introduce you to all the hidden assailants in the average cheapo brew, from Pabst Blue Ribbon to Bud Light. In that podcast, you learn about everything from BPA to high fructose corn syrup to GMO ingredients to a host of other hormonal disruptors and potential carcinogens in beer.
So let's now operate on the assumption that you've committed to drinking high quality microbrews made from holistic ingredients without any of the frankenfuel ingredients I discussed in that episode. In other words, you're turned into a full-fledged beer snob, or at least you like to think that you make the healthy choices when it comes to beer.
But there's still one glaring and damaging component of beer that even the good stuff contains…
Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you probably know by now that gluten can be found in many common cereal grains, such as barley and wheat. Even in small quantities, glutens from barley and wheat (specifically the glycoproteins “hordein” and “gliadin”, which do indeed sound like tiny little fart-inducing demons) can trigger serious gut inflammation in those who suffer from celiac disease, and in people who don't suffer from celiac disease but are gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive, these same proteins can cause brief bouts of everything from constipation to bloating to brain fog to sleepiness.
Now of course, if you are a savvy, modern, somewhat nutritionally informed beer enthusiast who has read articles like this recent one in the New York Times entitled “The Myth Of Big Bad Gluten“, then you would probably argue the levels of gluten in beer are really only a concern for those with diagnosed celiac disease, and that for the rest of us, gluten intolerance is either all “in our head”, it's simply following the latest food craze, or that any gut discomfort is not induced not by gluten, but by other issues such as leaky gut syndrome, the consumption of fermented foods that often accompany gluten, or simply excess carbohydrates.
And while I'll admit that the gluten-free craze is absolutely blown out of proportion, especially with the gluten-free label getting slapped onto everything from water to licorice, if you think that gluten intolerance is really only an issue for those who have celiac disease, you'd be wrong.
For example, Dr. William Davis, author of the book “Wheat Belly” and a previous podcast guest, had this to say in response to the recent New York Times article suggesting that gluten intolerance is all in our heads:
“There are plenty of other components of wheat and grains for which we have no adaptations. What about tolerance to those phytates in the other 90% of people who continue to have iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium absorption blocked? What about tolerance for the people who are susceptible to the mind and emotional effects of the gliadin protein that cause paranoia in schizophrenics, mania in people with bipolar illness, behavioral outbursts and abbreviated attention spans in kids with ADHD and autistic spectrum disorder, or 24-hour-a-day food obsessions in people with bulimia and binge eating disorder? What about adaptation to the central nervous system damage inflicted by the gliadin protein that is responsible for deterioration of the cerebellum resulting in cerebellar ataxia, or peripheral neuropathy (50% of unexplained peripheral neuropathies have now been associated with wheat gliadin), or temporal lobe calcification that results in “absence” seizures, or the recently described “gluten encephalathy,” i..e, dementia from wheat? How about majority of people who, regardless of number of AMY1 genes, still experience high blood sugars from wheat and grain consumption? How about the direct gastrointestinal toxicity of wheat germ agglutinin and the endocrine disruptive and inflammatory effects it exerts when absorbed in microgram quantities? What about adaptation to common wheat and grain allergies manifested as skin rashes, asthma, and gastrointestinal distress?”
Allow me to translate that for you. Basically, what Dr. Davis is saying is that even if gluten doesn't cause you to blow diarrhea out your butt in the bathroom, and even if it has absolutely no effects on your gut whatsoever, it can still wreak havoc on your nervous system, your brain and your ability to absorb precious vitamins, nutrients and minerals from your food.
Yeah, but how much gluten is actually in beer? Isn't it only present in trace amounts?
It is certainly true that beers brewed from cereals such as millet, rice, sorghum, buckwheat and corn, all of which do not contain gluten or contain very trace amounts of gluten, do not trigger an autoimmune response in celiacs. In most countries, this technically classifies these type of beers as gluten-free beers.
However, I'm not sure if you've partaken of these forms of beer made with non-traditional ingredients, but in my quest to discover some kind of beer that agrees with my tummy and my nervous system I certainly have. I distinctly remember sitting one day outdoors at a pub in the sunshine ordering lunch when my eyes settled upon a seemingly brilliant new addition to the menu: gluten-free beer. Eureka!
I ordered up a bottle, rolled up my sleeves and took a swig. To my dismay, I discovered that, similar to gluten-free bread, gluten-free pasta and gluten-free baked goods, beer not made from traditional ingredients like wheat and barley tastes like…
And, again similar to other gluten-free foods, the gluten-free beers that actually do taste decent taste that way because they've had a bunch of post-fermentation sugars added such as honey and maltodextrin.
No, thank you.
Of course, when it comes to the more traditional beers made with wheat and barley, the glycoprotein hordein found in barley and the glycoprotein gliadin found in wheat are types of gluten that can absolutely trigger nasty symptoms in sufferers of Celiac disease or in people who are insensitive to gluten.
And while many brewers will even argue that the hordein in barley, and even some of the gluten in wheat, is converted into non-harmful amino acids during the fermentation process, I certainly haven't found that my gastrointestinal tract or post-beer bathroom experience or fuzzy post-drinking head agrees with that statement. This is likely because the barley hordeins in a barely-based beer may not actually be detected, but smaller pieces of these proteins, known as peptides, can remain and be toxic for celiacs.
Then there are “hybrids” like Corona. According to tests done by the Argentine Coeliac Association (ACELA) and the Swedish National Food Agency, Corona contains less than 20 ppm, making it legally gluten-free (FYI, around the world standards of “gluten free” vary – for example, in the European Union a beer with less than 20 parts per million gluten (20ppm) is “gluten free”, while in Australia only beers with no detectable gluten can be described as gluten free). This is because Corona, like most pale lagers, contains rice or corn in addition to the malted barley. But because it still has barely, it still has the gluten – just less of it. So if you're sensitive to gluten or you have Celiac disease, then these type of beers are no good.
Finally, in August of 2013, the U.S. FDA released updated regulations on gluten-free labeling. The FDA maintained the widely accepted global gluten-free standard (set by the CODEX Alimentarius commission in 1978) of less than 20ppm of gluten. But unfortunately, at the time of the ruling, they did not rule on fermented products like beer, and so as a result the “TTB”, which is the organization that governs malt beverage labels and generally follows the FDA, did not adopt any new labeling regulations. Basically this means that even a gluten-free beer may not only taste like crap, but may not even be gluten-free at all.
So for years, I have simply avoided beer.
But recently, I have once again begun partaking of the occasional frosty brew. My refrigerator is actually now full of gluten-free beer. In the same way that I delved into a healthy alternative to wine in my article “Dark & Dirty Secrets Of The Wine Industry, Four Ways To Make Wine Healthier, and What Kind Of Wine Fit People Should Drink“, I've now discovered that there actually is a way to drink gluten-free beer that doesn't taste like…well, the term I'm about to use below.
How To Get Rid Of The Gluten In Beer Without Making Beer Taste Like Crap
Yeah, the title of this section kind of sums it up: how do you actually get rid of the gluten in beer without making beer taste like crap, horse piss, cardboard or any of the other affectionate terms often used to describe the taste of gluten-free beer?
To make a gluten-free beer that tastes good, you cannot, as I mentioned earlier, start with bland, tasteless ingredients like tapioca, rice and corn. Instead, you have to begin with the basic ingredients used in the process of creating any great craft beers: malted barley, hops, water, and yeast.
But here's where things get different. Once the beers are ready for the fermentation tanks, you add a special brewing enzyme that can break apart and detoxify the gluten protein chains. The form of brewing enzyme used by “Omission” the gluten-free brand of beer I've been drinking is called Brewer's Clarex.
Yes, I agree: Brewer's Clarex sounds like a horrible chemical that you wouldn't want anywhere near your frosty brew.
But the fact is, it's just a fancy scientific title given to a natural protease enzyme that I first mentioned back in podcast episode #319, in which I discussed brand new research about a potent gluten-digesting enzyme isolated from a mold called Aspergillus niger. Turns out that this enzyme is sold commercially under the Brewer's Clarex name by DSM Food Technologies.Brewer's Clarex is sometimes generically abbreviated “AN-PEP” which is an acronym for “Aspergillis niger prolyl-endoprotease”. OK, now you understand why they call it Clarex? Aspergillis niger prolyl-endoprotease sounds frighteningly complex and unmarketable in comparison.
Anyways, the target of this enzyme’s action is an amino acid called proline.
Why proline? There are several forms of gluten depending on the source grain, including beit wheat, barley, and rye. Some folks also lump oats into the gluten containing grain category. However, no matter which type of gluten-containing grain, each one is extraordinarily rich in proline, and the proline amino acid can be found repeating often and throughout gluten molecules. The way that Brewer's Clarex works is by breaking one of the two bonds surrounding proline. The end result of cleaving the protein chain is a boatload of small peptide fragments that each have a proline on one end.
Stick with me here.
Imagine a protein as a string of white beads in which each bead is one amino acid. But on that string of white beads, each time a proline appears it shows as a blue bead instead of a white bead. So what you’d see is a very long beaded chain with a blue bead occurring for every small handful of white beads. When treated with Brewer's Clarex, the single long beaded chain would now be a bunch of much smaller white bead chains that each have a blue bead on the end. So the chain breaks where ever there's a blue bead.
Brewer's Clarex was initially developed to combat “beer haze”, which, it turns out, is a result of gluten proteins reacting with other beer constituents to form a precipitate which eventually gets big enough to form what is called a haze particle. That makes foggy, nasty-looking beer. Since the gluten molecule has been rendered into tiny pieces as a result of Brewer's Clarex action on proline, the other active beer ingredients can no longer bind to proline to make these haze particles.
But beyond disrupting haze locations on the protein to help make beer clear, the fact that Brewer's Clarex digests gluten into small fragments is of obvious importance for people with gluten sensitivity. Along their length, gluten proteins contain sections of certain specific amino acid sequences that trigger immune reactions in celiacs and anybody else with gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance.
These toxic peptide sequences in a gluten molecule are referred to as epitopes, and they are the very specific sections of gluten that trigger reactions to gluten. In fact, most of what makes up gluten are inert sequences of amino acids (non-epitopes) that periodically border one of these toxic epitope sequences. But since these epitopes contain proline, they are broken apart by Brewer's Clarex into smaller pieces, which (chemically speaking) don’t resemble their origins and which behave differently when consumed by a human. Research has shown that epitopes lose their toxicity as a result of being broken apart into fragments.
OK, so going back to our beaded chain concept: let’s imagine an epitope involves red beads and is defined as a repeating, alternating structure of three red and three blue beads bound together (yep, that's a total of beads) In this case, Brewer's Clarex would break apart the alternating red and blue sequences at the blue binding points and the six bead structure would no longer exist. So the epitope is gone. Vamoose. Bub-bye. Essentially, the parts do not equal the sum, and the toxicity disappears.
Boom. I shall now remove the propellor hat.
So, has this special enyzmatic treatment been proven to actually work?
In 2013, Mass Spectrometry research was conducted by an independent lab which validated that the Omission Lager and Pale Ale are totally devoid of any known barley “toxic epitopes”, which are the specific peptide sequences and reactive sites in gluten molecules that cause deleterious reactions in the human small intestine. No epitopes, no nasty epitope poopies. Jackpot.
The beers were also tested using the R5 Competitive ELISA and were found to lack any measurable gluten content.
R5 Competitive ELISA?
Yeah, that's what I was wondering too.
R5 Competitive ELISA is an internationally validated form of testing for gluten-based peptides that was recognized in 2013 by AACCI and the American Society of Brewing Chemists for testing fermented foods and beverages to determine whether they conform to the required threshold of less than 20mg gluten/kg (that's the same as 20ppm) in total gluten for gluten-free products. While it is not a routine protocol to test beers with this protocol, Omission beers have also been tested using the A1 Competitive ELISA, the G12 Competitive, and a G12 LFD, all variations of this ELISA test.
None of these three tests were able to quantify any gluten in the beers.
After the special enzymatic treatment, the Omission beers are then packaged in a closed environment to eliminate any cross contamination risk. This is because the beers are brewed at breweries that also brew traditional gluten-containing craft beers. So Omission has to take precautions in the brewing and packaging facilities to ensure that you get a consistent product that meets the 20ppm or lower gluten-free standards. Samples from every batch of beer are tested internally for gluten content before packaging, and then the packaged samples are sent to an external lab for testing before being released from the brewery.
In addition, the Omission beers are the first beers to be packaged after the packaging lines have been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, and during the packaging process the facility is locked down to prevent any cross contamination.
So they're going through some pretty calculated steps here to ensure you don't mess up your nervous system or decommission any bathrooms.
And that, my friends, is why the only beer I'm now drinking is Omission gluten-free beer.
This stuff is brewed by Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland, Oregon and by the Redhook Brewery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and really is the first craft beer brand in the United States focused exclusively on brewing great tasting craft beers with traditional beer ingredients specially crafted to remove gluten.
You aren't going to find Omission beer on tap, but you can use the website FindOmissionBeer.com to hunt down a bottle near you. The reason they don't package Omission in kegs is to avoid any cross-contamination risks and the possibility of you being accidentally served a pint of beer other than the Omission that you ordered.
But you can always grab a frosty pint glass to accompany your bottle, and then simply close your eyes, take a sip, and pretend it came straight from the tap.
Here's how they describe their beers (and yes, I'm a crappy beer-describer, so I'm using their exact description rather than my own, which would be something along the lines of “brown, cold, tastes good”).
Lager: Omission Lager is a refreshing and crisp beer, brewed in the traditional lager style. Perfect for a variety of beer drinking occasions, Omission Lager’s aromatic hop profile offers a unique, easy-drinking beer for those looking for a lighter and approachable beer style.
HOPS: Sterling, Mount Hood, and Hallertau
Pale Ale: Bold and hoppy, Omission Pale Ale is a hop-forward American Pale Ale, brewed to showcase the Cascade hop profile. Amber in color, Omission Pale Ale’s floral aroma is complimented by caramel malt body, making for a delicious craft beer.
MALTS: Pale, Caramel, Honey, Dark Munich
IPA: Omission IPA is a bright, hop forward Northwest Style IPA produced in the spirit of the original IPAs shipped from the UK to India in the late 1800’s. The heavy-handed use of Cascade and Summit hops give it notable pine, citrus, and grapefruit aromas and flavors. The bitterness is what you would expect of a NW IPA but this beer is balanced and smooth due to the perfect level of malt sweetness. The finish is crisp, clean, and refreshing – it’s a true IPA lover’s IPA.
MALTS: Pale and Caramel 10°L
HOPS: Summit, and Cascade
Is your mouth watering yet?
It likely is, unless you're my wife, who still hates beer, even with our refrigerator full of Omission. Ah well. More for me.
Finally, in case you were about to ask the big GMO question, Omission beers are not brewed with any genetically modified ingredients. Just malted barley, hops, water and yeast. That's it. Oh yeah, and it's in glass, so no BPA-in-your-can issues either.
Bon appetit. Drink up, guilt-free. No beer farts, no beer brain fog, no post beer sleepiness. Check it out at FindOmissionBeer.com.
So, do you have questions, comments or feedback about gluten-free beer? Do you have your own favorite brands of gluten-free beer to add? Have you tried Omission beer? Leave your thoughts below!