The first time I was ever introduced to the concept of drinking a gluten-free beer, I thought, “What’s the point? Might as well just pick up a bottle of potato juice or reach for the Cuervo!” But I’ve known friends with gluten issues and people experimenting with a Paleo diet, so at one point I got my hands on a beer from New Planet, a Boulder-based brewery. Its GF beer is widely distributed and has been described by other craft-beer drinkers — and, ultimately, by myself — with numerous unpleasantries, so from then on I stayed far away.
Until this past year, that is, when I discovered Fieldhouse Brewing Co. and recognized a few gluten-free options on its tasting menu. I still had reservations and steered clear when ordering a flight during my first visit, but in truth I was curious. Would its GF beer also taste like swill? How was the brewing process different? With the company’s second anniversary party coming up from noon to 10 p.m. June 25th, I sat down with brewer and co-owner Travis Fields to explore and better understand their efforts.
According to the American Journal of Gastroenterology at least three million Americans suffer from celiac disease, and one of them is Travis’ wife Niki, spurring the couple to dabble in the world of gluten-free brewing.
Fields starts his GF beers by exclusively using a different grain than most: millet, actually, which is traditionally used as birdseed. Fieldhouse’s millet comes from Colorado Malting Co. in Alamosa and lends itself to the brewery’s first gluten-free beer: Chicks Dig Millets.
Beers brewed predominantly using sorghum create the strange aftertaste attributed to most GF beer, Fields says, adding that brewing in the GF style is a pain. The millet costs four times as much as traditional grain and calls for a longer brew day with more special attention needed during the mash process. This phase, which usually only takes about 45 minutes, turns into a two-hour slog and constant stirring is necessary to keep the mash from sticking. (Think of walking away from your mac-and-cheese for 10 minutes with the heat on high — no bueno.) Since gluten-free grain has less fermentable sugar content, Fieldhouse adds dextrose, corn-based sugar, as a supplement to achieve a higher alcohol percentage. The brewer says his initial attempts fell short and that tackling the growing style has been a process of trial and error.
“There are few-to-no resources for gluten-free brewing,” he says. “You don’t have the body and it’s hard to get the same mouthfeel.”
I did a side by side tasting of the brewery’s popular American Pale Ale Paralysis by Analysis and its GF IPA Chicks Dig Millets, plus a Peach-O-Sour and gluten-free sour. I preferred the Paralysis as it had the more familiar, citrusy notes I enjoy in a pale, while the Chicks Dig tasted nutty, which is a common tasting note when using millet. I enjoyed the GF sour more than its traditional counterpart though. Fields says the pH is lower in a GF beer so it would make a sour taste more mild. It also offers plenty of nutty characteristics, which is why Fields says a gluten-free Irish Red is soon to come.
Whether you’re among those affected by gluten intolerance or sensitivity, or just an avid craft beer drinker like myself, Fieldhouse Brewing offers a host of options heading into its second anniversary.
“A fine beer may be judged by only one sip, but it’s better to be thoroughly sure.”
[Images: Dionne Roberts]