August 28, 2012

Where to Find Gluten-Free Beer in Boulder

By Evan Sandsmark -  

When you eat gluten-free, you will inevitably begin to yearn for foods and beverages that were once a part of your life. Bread, pasta, and, perhaps most tragically of all, beer fall into this category. What Oscar Wilde famously said of cigarettes is true of beer (and ironically probably not of cigarettes): a beer is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want? In other words, to drink an excellent beer is a sublime experience, one that very often leaves one unsatisfied, but only because in having one beer, you want another. This is a long way of saying that beer is awesome, and it can be a herculean challenge to avoid beer when you’re on the gluten-free diet. In response to this problem, and out of sympathy for those confronted with it, we answer the following question: where can you find gluten-free beer in Boulder? Boulder is full of gluten-free dining options, so surely there are gluten-free beers around, right?

Right. But gluten-free beer can be a little hard to come by, and the ease with which you can find it depends on the context in which you hope to drink beer. For instance, if you want a beer with dinner at a restaurant or bar, you might have to do a little planning, as not all restaurants and bars have gluten-free beer – not by a long shot. However, plenty of establishments do have gluten-free beer, and you merely have to check out drink menus online or call around to figure out where these places are. This may seem a little cumbersome – because it is a little cumbersome – but you’ll soon discover several places with at least one gluten-free beer on the menu (this one gluten-free beer is often Bard’s Beer, which we’ve found at such diverse locations as Martino’s Pizzeria and Hapa Sushi). Of course, you could also just visit places and hope that they have some type of gluten-free beer. This happens more often than you might presume. Just a couple of weeks ago we learned that Pastavino has gluten-free beer during the course of reviewing this excellent Italian restaurant, and this has happened to us at least a few other times.

If you aren’t interested in drinking gluten-free beer at a restaurant or bar and just want to pick some up for your refrigerator at home, this is quite easy, as most of the liquor stores around town have a gluten-free beer selection. Of course, the extent of this selection will often depend on the size of the liquor store, which is why when we went on the hunt for gluten-free beer to write this article, we went to Boulder’s most famous liquor store: Liquor Mart. (Liquor Mart was also the largest liquor store in town until very recently. Now that honor belongs to Hazel’s Beverage World on 28th Street, a behemoth of a booze vendor if there ever was one.)

Fortunately, Liquor Mart makes it extremely easy to peruse their gluten-free selection. Every gluten-free beer in the store is in one cooler – cooler 21, at least during our recent visit – so you don’t need to search around the store to make sure you’ve seen every GF option. Unfortunately, not every product in this cooler is gluten-free, which we learned after purchasing a beer made by Pinkus Müller, a brewery in Northern Germany. We were right on the verge of opening the bottle when we noticed that the label explicitly calls attention to the fact that the beer contains wheat. In hindsight, we feel fairly stupid about this error, considering the beer is a hefeweizen (the German word that denotes an unfiltered wheat beer, and wir sprechen ein bisschen Deutsch), but apparently our judgement was clouded by the desperate euphoria we felt after finding (what we believed to be) a gluten-free German wheat beer. How could there possibly be a gluten-free German wheat beer?! Well, there isn’t (at least as far as we know, and in any case it isn’t made by Pinkus Müller). So, when you go to the gluten-free beer section of Liquor Mart, keep in mind that it is not in fact a gluten-free beer section.

This is actually true in two ways. First, as we just said, not every beer in cooler 21 is gluten-free. All of them appear to be organic, however, and there are definitely several GF beers in the cooler. We counted six: two are from New Planet (Tread Lightly Ale and 3R Raspberry Ale), another two are Green’s (Dubbel Dark Ale and Tripel Blonde Ale), and Bard’s and Lakefront Brewery offer one each. Second, there are a couple of different hard ciders in this cooler, and you’ll want to consider these as you check out the gluten-free beers. (You might also consider checking out our article about gluten-free hard cider, which was spawned as a result of this article.) On a subsequent visit to the liquor store, we traded out the hefeweizen for New Grist, the gluten-free beer made by Lakefront, which means we are at last ready for the fun part: trying our gluten-free beer.

New Grist, made by the Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, does not taste like a regular beer; indeed, it hardly tastes like beer at all. It has a slight orange flavor, and a touch of green apple can be detected as well, giving the beer a citrusy and fruity component. Mostly, though, it tastes like Saki, no doubt because it is made with a rice extract (along with a sorghum extract, yeast, water, hops, and nothing else, which is why it is gluten-free, and, as far as we can tell, vegan too). Because it tastes like fruit-infused Saki, it is slightly sour and tart, and because it’s a beer, it’s carbonated. This strange combination makes for a unique drinking experience, but it’s a positive one, which perhaps explains why New Grist won the Gold Medal in the category “Experimental Beer” at the 2006 Great American Beer Festival. It’s hard to recommend New Grist on the basis of it being a good beer – one must speak in more general terms, recommending it on the grounds that it’s a drink worth trying.

(Lest we imply that New Grist isn’t a beer at all, we should add that it still tastes more or less like a beer, it has a comparable alcohol content level, and it comes in packs of six 12-ounce brown bottles, so we don’t mean to imply that the traditional comforts of beer are lacking from this particular gluten-free rendition. And no matter what else may be the case about it, it is definitely gluten-free, as each batch is tested before it is bottled and shipped. Lakefront also claims that New Grist was the first beer to be certified as gluten-free by the U.S. Government, but as we’ve written elsewhere, we are unaware of any government agency that yet certifies products as being gluten-free.)

Because we bought a six pack of New Grist – it was on sale – we sampled the beers with a friend, who had this to say of them: “I feel like I can buy 12 and then finish all of them.” He made this casual but extraordinary claim while describing the beer as smooth and very easy to drink, one that is conducive to marathon drinking sessions. This person also added: “Then again, I think I can do that with a lot of different beers,” so clearly his earlier endorsement most be considered in its proper context.

To be sure, the great majority of the beer is closed off to those on the gluten-free diet. This is the hard fact of the matter, it’s unfortunate, and there is no reason to sugarcoat it. ‘Tis a cruel world. However, there are decent gluten-free beers out there, and they are becoming increasingly easy to find. A simple trip to our neighborhood’s liquor store presented a range of gluten-free drinking possibilities. Moreover, as more people gain an awareness of celiac disease, it is inevitable that more brewers will start to develop gluten-free beers – if not out of love for their fellow man, perhaps out of a desire to profit from a growing market. The future of gluten-free beer may yet prove to be bright.

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  1. LW says:

    You’ve missed the Brunehaut at Rueben’s Burger Bistro. It actually tastes like beer and is 6.5%abv.

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