The incidence of gluten intolerance and the number of people adopting a gluten-free lifestyle is rising globally. Gluten-free alternatives are becoming increasingly popular, and beer is no exception to this trend. Making modifications to your brewing technique could allow you to cater to those with such dietary requirements, and it could be simpler than you thought.
How to Create a Gluten-Reduced Beer
Beers marketed as “gluten reduced” must pass tests to prove that they contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten, which is below the sensitivity level for the majority of people who are intolerant to gluten. These beers are not gluten-free and are therefore unsuitable for all drinkers’ dietary requirements but are a viable option for many people who are intolerant to gluten.
There are different methods to make gluten-reduced beer. One approach is to make partial use of ingredients that contain no gluten, such as rice, sorghum or buckwheat along with conventional grains like wheat malt. This beer can be labeled “gluten-reduced,” as long as it qualifies for the 20 ppm gluten-free norm. However, the style of beer generated from these cereals mix is very distinct from the traditional flavors we associate with beer.
Another option is to create a gluten-reduced beer made 100% with gluten-containing wheat, rye or barley, which are the standard ingredients for making beer. This is achieved with the addition of an enzyme, reducing the amount of gluten in beer.
Gluten refers to a group of hundreds of distinct proteins within the same family and is found in barley, wheat and rye. In some people, gluten can trigger an autoimmune response. This is called celiac disease and mainly affects the small intestine. The disease, if left untreated, causes various gastrointestinal symptoms that can cause lasting damage to the small intestine. This decreases the body’s ability to absorb vital nutrients and vitamins, causing deficiencies and further symptoms such as anemia and fatigue. At present, the only treatment for celiac disease is a lifelong, strictly gluten-free diet.
Gluten intolerance (also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity) is distinct from celiac disease as it has no known links to the immune system. Sufferers also experience similar symptoms including fatigue, bloating, abdominal pain and headaches after eating gluten, but they do not suffer lasting damage to the intestinal tract. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a relatively new condition and appears to be on the rise globally. The cause and pathology of the disease are not fully understood, complicating diagnosis and treatment.
Like those with celiac disease, the majority of people with gluten intolerance adhere to a gluten-free diet. Often, those with gluten intolerance can afford to be slightly less strict in their avoidance of gluten if their symptoms allow it. Thus, mastering a gluten-free beer can be useful and make your brew more accessible to those with an intolerance.
Reducing Gluten Content Using Enzymes
Proline endo-peptidase is an enzyme that has historically been used by brewers to improve the shelf life of their product and to reduce “chill haze,” a phenomenon associated with the clumping of proteins that occurs at cold temperatures, causing the beer to become cloudy. Proline endo-peptidase can break the bonds that exist within proline-rich protein molecules.
This means the proteins in the beer are broken down into much smaller pieces and cannot aggregate to form the cloudy haze. Interestingly, this action also has the effect of reducing the gluten content of beer because the gluten is also made up of proline-rich proteins. The smaller protein fragments are thought to be less efficiently detected by the body, meaning many of those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease do not react to them.
Enzymes make it simple to brew your own gluten-reduced beer, as it is not necessary to modify your starting ingredients, equipment or process. You can create a gluten-reduced beer by adding enzyme when adding the yeast at the start of the fermentation process. This means you can still use your favorite recipes and brew the same quality beer.
Tips and Tricks
Here are some extra tips that could help you to get consistently tasty and reduced-gluten beers.
1. Use a low-protein barley
Although proline endo-peptidase does allow you to brew with barley, wheat and rye, you may want to select these ingredients carefully to minimize the gluten content of your beer. Brewers from two leading producers of gluten-reduced beer, Omission and New Planet Beer, recommend using low-protein barley, which contains lower levels of gluten than traditional barley used for brewing. This helps to ensure your beer contains the lowest levels of gluten possible, making it even safer for those with an intolerance. Additionally, you could substitute some of the fermentables with gluten-free alternatives such as rice or honey, lowering the gluten levels by dilution.
2. Look after your enzymes
When enzymes are exposed to high temperatures, they will denature and be permanently deactivated, rendering them useless in the brewing process. Low temperatures, by contrast, do not adversely affect enzymes, meaning they can be frozen without any issue. It is, therefore, best to refrigerate proline endo-peptidase to stabilize the temperature at approximately 4-8ºC. This will reduce the activity loss of the enzyme over time.
3. Check your dose
Online calculators exist to ensure you are adding the correct volume of proline endo-peptidase to your brew. Using parameters such as the ingredients used, the volume of your fermenter and the desired outcome for your craft beer, these tools calculate how many enzymes you should be adding. Following these guidelines is important to develop a reproducible, high-quality beer with a reliably low-gluten content.
4. Sanitize your equipment
If you are using equipment that has previously been used to produce standard, gluten-containing beers, it is important to fully clean and sanitize all utensils and containers before brewing your gluten-reduced beer. At Omission, they clean and sanitize all equipment downstream from fermentation between every batch produced. This is to avoid any risk of cross-contamination, keeping the gluten content as low as possible.
5. Continually test the gluten levels of your beer
It is essential to test your beer to ensure it meets the requirements for being “gluten reduced” (containing less than 20 ppm gluten), especially if it is to be consumed by someone with a serious gluten sensitivity. Various tests can be used, but most breweries favor the R5 Competitive ELISA test. This is considered to be the gold standard and is thought to be the most accurate for detecting gluten levels in beer. There are a number of alternative tests that may be more suitable for checking the gluten content of your beer.
We have not yet featured a gluten-free or gluten-reduced beer in our Craft Beer of the Month Club. If you want to see one featured, email or call us and let us know!
Author Bio: Morgan is a writer and beer aficionado from Dallas, Texas. He has over 5 years of experience in homebrewing and 10+ years of bartender experience. In his spare time, he enjoys creating his own recipes for his friends and family to enjoy. His passion for brewing stems back four generations to his family's deep roots in the brewing industry.