Monday, December 10, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Gluten-Free Beers

     I first learned about celiac disease about four years ago, from a friend of mine named Chris.  It’s a genetic disorder, but sometimes other factors affect its severity.  In Chris’s case he didn’t develop it until he was in his late teens/early twenties, when he had a terrible bout of food poisoning while on vacation.  Ever since, if he eats wheat, barley, rye, or oats he experiences extreme abdominal pain and severe digestive problems.  He has an amazingly sensitive case, too—even the smallest amount of gluten can set him off.  While on projects several waitstaff or food preparers obviously either didn’t check to see if dishes were gluten-free, or weren’t careful about keeping orders separate, resulting in Chris essentially spending the next day or so in the bathroom.  It’s surprising how prevalent gluten is in foods—celiac sufferers miss out on tons of tasty meals.
     It’s not all gloomy, though.  Chris has learned how to prepare substitutes for many traditionally gluten-packed dishes, and his mother in particular specializes in delicious gluten-free desserts, like cookies and various cakes and pastries.  As celiac disease has become more diagnosed, and known about, more and more restaurants are including a safe meal or two, or sometimes even an entire menu page for those that have it.  Pizzeria Uno and Outback Steakhouse were two of the first U.S. chains to have these, possibly because they evidently had family members who had this affliction.
     Anyway, in addition to certain foods, celiac sufferers also are limited as to what alcoholic beverages they can enjoy, since many of these are made from those taboo grains.  Alas, beer, since it’s usually made from either barley or wheat is typically off limits.  Fortunately, a few breweries have taken it upon themselves to come up with gluten-free offerings.  By far the easiest one to get (sometimes it’s even on tap at particular bars) is, of course, the Anheuser-Busch one, Redbridge.  Other brands are Bard’s Tale, New Grist, and two U.K. types, St. Peter’s and Green’s, to name a few.  There’s some variation, but most of these use sorghum as the primary grain.  Corn, millet, rice, and buckwheat are also occasionally used, and most exotically, Sprecher Brewery makes Mbega Ale, made from bananas (!), as per a traditional African recipe.
     But on to the reviews.  I tried some of Chris’s Redbridge, and came away with an ambivalent reaction.  This sorghum-based beer tasted pretty similar to regular Budweiser.  Since I really only drink Budweiser if it’s the only beer sold in the place (something that’s sadly often the case in my travels across the small towns of much of the Eastern U.S.) that’s hardly a ringing endorsement.  But, on the other hand, it’s positive in that it was drinkable, it just resembled its weak, watery-tasting cousin.
     Recently I tried another kind, the Glutenator, made by Epic Brewing, from, of all places, Salt Lake City, Utah (really).  First off, I loved the name—I immediately pictured a cybernetic organism sent back from a dystopic future, one which “Doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and it absolutely will not stop, EVER, until all wheat, barley, and rye products are dead!” to paraphrase the movie line.  The website contends that this beer doesn’t use “astringent” sorghum, and instead Glutenator is made from millet, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and molasses.  It definitely had a distinctive flavor—starchy, and little fruity.  Good in its way, though, and certainly worlds better than Redbridge.  As with some other specialty beers I don’t know that I could drink it all night, but an occasional one or two wouldn’t be bad at all.  And for those beer aficionados who can’t have gluten I could see it being a very viable alternative.
     In closing, I hope this isn’t seen as being mocking towards celiac disease sufferers—as someone who had food allergies as a pre-pubescent (chocolate and egg yolk), I can personally sympathize with being unable to partake in some delicious foods.  And, of course, it’s not just celiac—some folks have gluten allergies, or just want to avoid/minimize gluten intake for other possible health reasons.  Some churches are adapting to this new health issue as well, as several Christian denominations are beginning to offer gluten-free Hosts for Communion.  And for those that are interested, May is Celiac Awareness Month.

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