Last year Scott reviewed a couple of Gluten Free Beers for The Brew Club – perhaps most notably the “Bard’s Tale” gluten free beer which he described as having “a good flavor that I think anyone could enjoy” – you can follow that link to the full review, and I’ll excuse Scott’s misspelling of the word ‘flavour’.
Scott’s reviews prompted enquiries from some British Brew Club visitors about the availability of gluten free beers in the UK, which set me a bit of a challenge. I managed to find a few and contacted the various breweries to see if they’d be kind enough to send me a sample to taste on your behalf.
Hey, it’s a dirty job…
Wold Top Brewery
The first brewery to respond was the Wold Top Brewery in East Yorkshire, which is perhaps appropriate, as their ‘Against The Grain’ was Britain’s first gluten free beer.
The Wold Top Brewery was founded in 2003 by Tom and Gill Mellor at Hunmanby Grange, their family farm near Driffield in East Yorkshire, high on the Yorkshire Wolds. It’s a five barrel microbrewery producing a range of beers using water from their own borehole and, as far as possible, home grown or locally grown ingredients.
The Yorkshire Wolds, incidentally, are a range of low, chalk based hills on the east coast of Yorkshire, close to the North Sea Coast – thought you’d like to know that – and the chalk based stone filters the water used in the Wold Top brews.
‘Against The Grain’ is brewed using ‘lager malt, maize, hops and yeast’, it’s brewed to 4.5% ABV and has less a gluten content of less than 20 parts per million.
Green’s Gluten Free Beers
The second brewery to respond was Green’s who have taken a different approach to gluten free beers, turning to Belgium for their brews which are brewed for them in Ghent, exploiting Belgium’s rich brewing heritage. Much as Greene king did when calling on Rodenbach to transform ‘Old Speckled Hen’ into ‘Old Crafty Hen’
Green’s produce a range of eight different gluten free beers including a Lager, an Amber beer, and a Tripel. The brewmaster was kind enough to call me to find my personal taste in beers before sending me samples, wary that I needed to be aware that gluten free beers can be very different to ‘normal’ beers and should be approached somewhat cautiously.
Having reassured them that I would be comparing gluten free beers amongst themselves, a few days later two bottles each of the rather dramatically named ‘Pathfinder’ (a bottle re-fermented gluten free ‘dubbel’ dark beer weighing in at 7% ABV ) and ‘Quest’ (a bottle re-fermented gluten free ‘tripel’ blonde beer brewed to a potent 8.5% ABV).
St Peter’s Brewery
The third brewery I had managed to identify is the somewhat better known ‘St Peters’ brewery from Suffolk, in East Anglia – that’s the bulbous bit of England on the east coast – about a hundred and fifty miles south of Yorkshire’s Wold Top brewery.
St Peters brew a range of around a dozen interesting beers, including the excellent Winter Ale that Scott recently reviewed. Their gluten free beer, which was launched in 2007 is called ‘G-Free’ and is a Summer Ale, brewed to 4.2% ABV.
So there we have it, no less than four gluten free beers, in a wide range of styles. But what are they like to drink?
Against The Grain – Wold Top Brewery – 4.5% ABV
As you should see from the photo it’s a very pale ale that pours with a full white head that disperses quickly, there’s not much nose to speak of, a few more hops wouldn’t go amiss.
It’s quite well bodied, very much a light summer ale, these have become quite popular here in the UK in recent years – my local brewery – Crouch Vale – won Champion Beer of Britain for two years running (2005 and 2006) with their ‘Brewer’s Gold’ Summer Ale.
Anyway, back to ‘Against the Grain’ – as my first gluten free beer I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this pleasantly surprised me, I suppose that tasted alongside a regular Summer Ale then the differences would become apparent, but on its own it works well, It’s light and refreshing, with an underlying hint of citrus.
Personally I’d prefer a few more hops, but I wouldn’t complain about drinking this if I had problems with gluten.
Pathfinder – Green’s Gluten Free Beers – 7% ABV
Unlike ‘Against The Grain’, Pathfinder pours a distinctive dark amber/brown colour, as you’d expect from a ‘dubbel’ with a rich, caramel coloured head. The head is reasonably slow to disperse and leaves some lacing.
The colour is rich, dark and cloudy, a classic Dunkel.
The nose is sharp, almost sour, but not an ‘in your face’ sour as you would get from a Lambic. The mouth feel is good, well bodied.
Flavour wise, this is a really interesting beer; initially there’s a slightly sharp taste, almost sour, that mellows down to reveal hints of (very) bitter chocolate.
This is a very deceptive brew, it goes down really well, and doesn’t taste like a 7% beer.
I recommend you approach with (gluten-free) caution, but I recommend you approach it.
Quest – Green’s Gluten Free Beers – 8.5% ABV
Quest weighs in at a mighty 8.5% ABV, which means 4.25 ‘units’ or close to 1½ times your recommended alcohol allowance (according to the UK Government) – dangerously close to ‘binge drinking’ as I described here.
It pours with a copious, loose, white head, with large bubbles that disperses fairly rapidly, leaving some lacing. The beer itself is pale but cloudy.
The nose, I confess was a bit of a disappointment, coming through as mainly ‘bready’ with hints of lemon. I was hoping for coriander or banana, but lemon it is.
It’s full bodied, surprisingly so for a pale beer, and the flavour comes through much like the nose, bread with hints of lemon, and caramel lurking in the background. There’s a subtle potency in here, again, it’s not ‘in your face’ like many of the strong Belgian brews, but it’s there.
I take my hat off to Greens, they brew beers with strength and subtlety, and they happen to be Gluten-free.
And at 8.5% make no mistake, this is a beer worthy of respect. And worthy of trying.
G-Free – St Peter’s Brewery – 4.2% ABV
There was no head to speak of, and no noticeable nose which was disappointing, but when I tasted it the flavour came through as really ‘zingy’.
It’s another Summer Ale, which the brewery describes as “a clean, crisp, gluten free ale with a pilsner lager style finish and aromas of citrus and mandarin from American Amarillo hops“. While I haven’t enjoyed these Summer Ales very much in the past (I like my bitters to be dark and bitter and my lagers to be light and refreshing), this is, I think, my first encounter with Amarillo hops and they pack a zesty citrus punch with hints of grapefruit and mandarin – very refreshing.
And I concede this provides a viable alternative to a lager; on a hot summer day I could quite enjoy this, gluten-free or not. But a bit more fizz would be nice.
So, in summary, I really didn’t know what to expect when I approached Gluten Free Beers, but having tasted a few I can can confirm that we here in the UK are well served with Gluten Free beers, and have a variety of styles from which to choose.
As I mentioned above, on a hot summer’s day I would have no problem reaching for G-Free from St Peter’s brewery, while on a dark winter evening either of the Green’s brews would go down (indeed went down) very nicely indeed.
Once again I’d like to thank the various breweries for their assistance on this particular journey, for the record their websites are:
St Peter’s http://www.stpetersbrewery.co.uk/
Wold Top : http://www.woldtopbrewery.co.uk/