For many of us, drinking beer is a simple pleasure that's easily—and frequently—enjoyed. But what if you had a disease that kept you from that delight? What if your body actively revolted from just one locally brewed beer? Sadly, there are many who have this very problem. They suffer from wheat allergies, gluten-intolerance or, worst of all, celiac disease. May is National Celiac Disease Awareness month.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that prevents a person's system from digesting gluten—a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Since most beer includes one or more of these grains, celiac sufferers should not drink regular, gluten-laden beer. If they do, they risk torment from a host of issues ranging from migraine to intestinal damage.
Though many think of celiac disease as a modern affliction, mentions of it are in texts dating to First Century A.D. Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia wrote of patients with "the coeliac affection." One modern theory says that before agriculture was practiced, man was a hunter/gatherer who ate mostly fruit, nuts and, occasionally, meat. As Neolithic man began learning how to grow and cultivate plants, grains in the form of bread (and beer) became part of his diet. Some people grew sick consuming them; 8,000 years later, Aretaeus identified these individuals as coeliacs.
What can a beer-loving person—with a gluten intolerance, allergy or celiac disease—do? Fortunately, brewers are producing gluten-reduced or gluten-free beers without sacrificing great taste.
One such brewery is Omission Brewing Company of Portland, Oregon. Since 2010, Omission has been putting its product through a special process to remove gluten, making them safer for those with gluten sensitivities. The process introduces an enzyme that breaks down gluten protein chains, resulting in a brew with fewer than 20 parts per million, a level considered safe for celiacs by the Food & Drug Administration.
"Omission started out as a passion project after my wife was diagnosed with celiac disease," said Omission Brewmaster Joe Casey in a press release. "I remember the day she took her first—and second!—taste of Omission and, ever since then, Omission has been winning consumers over for its great taste."
Indeed, Omission has won multiple awards for its four gluten-reduced beers at the Great American Beer Festival and other prestigious contests. Omission brews light golden ale, pale ale, IPA and lager.
Stone Brewing Company and Dogfish Head Brewery, among others, have dabbled in creating gluten-removed and even truly gluten-free beers. In addition, products such as hard cider and mead (but not braggot) are gluten-free.
It's important to note that the method used to produce gluten-reduced beer is somewhat controversial in that it does not remove gluten. Instead, it breaks gluten down in smaller pieces that—theoretically—shouldn't affect those with sensitivities. Though true for some afflicted with celiac disease, it's not true for all. The best course? Make your own decision about drinking these beers, possibly after diligent research.