Yesterday, my family and I took part in the 6th Annual International Walk for Celiac Disease. My niece has Celiac disease and this walk is a great way to support her and help raise funds to support research of the disease. Most of the funds raised go to the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research.
Very briefly, Celiac disease is autoimmune disorder that is caused by the ingestion of gluten. Gluten is made up of a number of proteins, but the main player seems to be gliadin. The main source of gluten is from wheat, but there are similar proteins found in rye and barley (more on this later).
There is no cure for the disease, but it can be treated with a gluten-free diet. That's the good news. The bad news is that it takes a lot of effort to avoid gluten. Anything made from wheat is out, and a lot of things are made from wheat. While it is tough, with a bit of education and training, people with Celiac disease can live completely normal lives.
The annual Celiac walk is quite the event. Over 1000 people show up, many of whom have Celiacs, but I would bet most do not but are there to support family members who have it. At the Minneapolis event, Rich Gannon (2002 NFL MVP) is Honorary Host. There are tons of food vendors giving away free samples of gluten-free foods. There are door prizes, raffles and then of course, the 5K walk. It is a lot of fun.
So, what does this have to do with beer? Well, beer is made from barley. For a person with Celiacs, that means barley beer is off the menu. Even a small amount of gluten can cause significant issues. The good news is that there is an alternative to beer made from barley. The alternative is sorghum.
Gluten-free beer can be made from sorghum. Beer made from sorghum is common in Africa where sorghum is a common crop, but until recently, beer made from sorghum has been rare. In addition, gluten-free beer made exclusively from sorghum has been very rare.
At the Celiacs walk yesterday, a vendor was supplying samples of Redbridge beer. Redbridge is made by Anheuser-Busch. I tried a few samples. My first impression was that it was not too bad. It had a decent flavor, but it lacked a malty body (it is from AB after all). It was also lacking in hoppiness, but that is normal for the macrobrews. I'm going to see if I can find some in my area. I need more that 2 ounces to get a good feel for it.
Homebrewing gluten-free beer is challenging, but entirely possible. It carries with it some unique challenges, but so did "normal" homebrewing back in the early days. I don't brew gluten-free beer, so I have no insights to give (sorry to anyone who googled "gluten-free beer" and got this blog).