Things are changing in the world of beer. Several American and European breweries are now offering gluten-free brews, ranging from lagers to ales to Belgian-style, in an effort to cater to those with celiac disease.
Imagine: Your whole life you enjoy the typical food and drink that people love to consume -- bread, pizza, pasta, maybe an occasional beer or two.
Then, suddenly, the foods and beer you crave begin to make you sick, and you find out you cannot have them anymore because you've developed celiac disease.
Celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance or coeliac disease, is a disorder of the small intestine. Those who suffer from it cannot eat items containing gluten -- such as wheat, barley and rye.
``Beer has always been an underserved product in the gluten-free market,'' said Jason Clevenger, a Watertown resident and product research director for Healthy Villi, a celiac disease support group. ``Imagine if you're a normal, red-blooded American guy who grew up on pizza and beer, and you can't have it anymore. They miss beer and pizza the most.''
Things are changing. Several American and European breweries are now offering gluten-free beers, ranging from lagers to ales to Belgian-style brews.
``People call into our call center and say thank you,'' said Anheuser-Busch product manager Bruce Eames. ``They say, `I haven't been able to have a beer for 15 years. Thank you and keep doing it.' ''
Anheuser Busch produces Redbridge, a gluten-free lager, in the company's Merrimac, N.H., brewery. Instead of barley, Redbridge uses sorghum.
``It was really challenging to produce a beer without barley or wheat,'' said Anheuser-Busch brewer Kristi Zantop. ``It took a year of test brews and batches in our research pilot brewery. We wanted a hearty, full-bodied lager. Early prototypes were a little tart.''
The gluten-free beers on the market are definitely different than the typical beers. There seems to be a sweet aftertaste common among them, and it is a taste that takes awhile to get used to.
They're not bad, though.
Lakefront Brewery in Wisconsin was the first to release a gluten-free beer in the United States with the New Grist. Bard's Tales Beer Company out of New York produces Dragon's Gold, which is probably the weakest of the gluten-free beers.
Ramapo Valley Brewing out of New York produces a unique Passover Honey Ale -- it's gluten-free and reminds me of a carbonated mead. It's very sweet, as you would expect a beer brewed with honey to be.
But it's the European gluten-free beers that are at the top of the heap. Green's Beers has released three Belgian-style ales, brewed in Lochristi, Belgium: the Discovery Amber Ale, at 6 percent alcohol by volume; the Endeavour Dubbel Ale, at 7 percent ABV; and the Quest Tripel Ale, at 8.5 percent ABV.
Green's Beers have just been shipped to the United States and are not yet available in stores, but I have tried them all. They're not at the level of the better Belgian ales, but they're not half bad. The Quest, in particular, is tasty and full of flavor.
``I think people who aren't celiacs will enjoy it,'' said Craig Hartinger, marketing manager for Merchant du Vin, which imports Green's Beers. ``The tripel is a little lighter-bodied than a Belgian tripel, but the flavor is beautifully Belgian. It has sweetness in the middle, and a little spice.''
Green's Beers -- whose brewer, Derek Green, has celiac disease -- are brewed with a combination of rice, buckwheat, sorghum and millet.
Another import is Toleration, an English pale ale from Hambleton Ales in England. Another unique brew, it is much sweeter and darker than a typical pale ale, but it is not bad.
``A lot of people really dis on that one, but it does have good character,'' Clevenger said.
Europe, he said, is much further along in its gluten-free beer production. A Finnish beer, not available in the United States, contains malt, and the gluten is removed after it is brewed.
In Italy, gluten-free pasta is available, as well as a popular gluten-free beer called 76.
``This has really begun happening in the last couple of years, post Atkins,'' Clevenger said. ``Companies were looking for the next big thing. Catering to the celiac market isn't a fad. It's not a diet fad, because once people are diagnosed with celiac disease, they have it for life. I'm not surprised if there is even more interest.''
Most of the gluten-free beers are widely available. The Toleration is only available at Julio's Liquors in Westborough and the Warehouse Wine & Spirits in Framingham. Green's should be hitting the market in the next couple of months. The 500-milliliter bottles should retail at about $6.99.
Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-626-3823.