Tag Archives: tap this

There’s no omitting taste with this gluten-free brew!

4 Nov

If my doctor told me I had to stop drinking beer due to a medical condition, I’d probably cry.  I would most likely throw a hissy-fit and it would definitely have an enormous impact on my lifestyle in addition to forcing me to adapt to an entirely new diet.  And that’s really no fun. 

Luckily, I do not have an allergy that would force me to stop drinking beer.  But millions of Americans do, and gluten-free diets are becoming more commonplace as celiac sufferers and those with a gluten-intolerance or sensitivity have to adapt to a whole new diet—one that omits any product that contains wheat, barely and rye.  For those with this restriction, that often means giving up some of their favorite foods—pasta, pizza, cupcakes…and of course, for many, beer. 

The selection of gluten-free beers on the market has grown immensely over the past few years and craft brewers across the country have been offering some gluten-free options, usually using sorghum, buckwheat, quinoa and even rice, as a substitute for malted barley or wheat.  The movement is so popular that even Anhueser-Busch InBev has a beer option for the celiac-sufferers—Redbridge.  There are also many more craft options out there created by microbreweries. 

But commercially, nobody has created a beer using the traditional four ingredients—malted barley, water, yeast and hops—that is, until Widmer Brothers Brewing based out of Portland, Ore., released their option earlier this year, a brand appropriately named “Omission.”

Sure, those avoiding gluten can always opt to drink hard cider—I know many of my regulars at the bar that live gluten-free often opt for this—but that doesn’t satiate the craving for a hoppy, delicious, well-crafted brew.    

Until now.  And for those who have tasted the gluten-free beers out there, whether out of curiosity or because of dietary restrictions know that there’s just something missing.  Most don’t really taste like beer.    

The people over at Widmer Bros have recognized this lack of a satisfying gluten-free beer and made it their mission (pun intended) to create a brew that tasted, well, like a “regular” beer.  And they even went out of their way to create two different but recognizable and satisfying styles—a sessionable, light blonde, almost German (Helles)-style lager and a hoppy, amber-colored American pale ale, an essential west-coast style, brewed with the distinctive aroma of Cascade and Citra hops.  We were lucky enough to taste both last week at Swine in the West VIllage, where representatives of the brewery were present. 

 Both options are highly approachable.  And just like choosing a candidate to vote for in this upcoming election, some of us prefer a light, easy drinking lager while some of us may prefer a more bold, classic-style pale ale—we live in America and we have the freedom to choose!  Even if we can’t have gluten!  Yeah!

And they’re both really good.  Coming from a person who is blessed to not have celiac or any sensitivity to gluten, both styles satisfied my need for a well-crafted, easy drinking beer.  If handed one blindly without the knowledge of its “secret,” I would still think, “Hey…yeah…this is a great beer.”

So how did Widmer Bros create a gluten-free beer using barley?  Isn’t barley the celiac’s enemy?  Well, that answer is purely scientific—they extracted the protein from their beer using a handy little enzyme called Brewer’s Clarex that breweries have been using for years in order to clarify their beer.  It seems that this handy enzyme also has the ability to extract that nasty gluten protein that celiacs and those with a sensitivity have come to loathe so much.  Both brews actually contain both Caramel and Pale malts—no gluten-free substitutes here.    

And to prove that it’s not a farce, Widmer Brothers tests every batch: Both at the brewery, with their own staff of scientists, and through the aid of an independent lab, using the R5 Competitive ELISA test.  This specific test insures that the detectable presence of gluten measures below the standard of 20 ppm (parts per million) or less so that it can be called “gluten-free.”  Still not convinced?  Every bottle of Omission beer contains a date on the label that when entered on Omissiontest.com reveals a photocopied result of the beer’s test with ELISA.  There’s your revelation, right there—this beer you’re drinking has an almost untraceable amount of gluten.

The best is the explanation for the creation of this beer–not just because of the basic lack of decent and drinkable gluten-free brews—that’s self-explanatory.  But for Widmer Brothers the reason was much more personal—Both the CEO of the Craft Brew Alliance, Terry Michaelson, and the wife of Widmer Bros’ brewmaster, Joe Casey, have been unable to drink beer for many years due to their own gluten-intolerance:  This made the quest to create a GF beer brewed with traditional ingredients even more of an important issue and a project that took years to perfect.      

And as more and more people are living gluten-free, the quest for a decent brew that meets their dietary restrictions will grow.  My regular at the bar who shuns beer festivals and jealously eyes beer-drinkers at the bar?  She can now drink this.  No longer restricted to ciders, now everyone (of age) can enjoy a decent brew thanks to Widmer Brothers.  Look for Omission at your favorite craft beer bar or store.  Mission complete.       




Bourbon Barrel Aged Beers: Some things are worth the wait!…like this post!

20 Sep

What do you get when you mix your bourbon with your beer?  And I’m not talking about a boiler-maker, where one takes a shot of bottom shelf whiskey and pairs it with a Pabst!  No, I’m taking about craft beers aged in used bourbon barrels. 

After spending a week in Kentucky with 100+ other bartenders at Camp Runamok, I learned all about the art of our native distilled spirit, Bourbon.  I also learned a few other things, but those don’t need to be mentioned here.  This is a beer blog, after all.

Even though we were roughing it in cabins, I was able to obtain and sample some native beers.  One of these was the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout from Bluegrass Brewing Company (Clay Street Series).

This particular stout from BBC, a local Louisville brewery, is aged in bourbon barrels for sixty days, and is then mingled with the pre-aged stout to have a consistency of flavor.  In doing this though, I feel that the aged beer may have lost some of the distinctive complexities imparted by the bourbon barrels. 

The aromas of the bourbon were slightly present on the nose where you got the caramel and vanilla notes.  The particular brand of bourbon aged in these barrels was not specified.  For a stout, it was a bit thin or watery, and tasted kind of like an egg cream.  I would’ve liked to taste the bourbon more.  Still, this craft brew was a welcome alternative to cans of Busch in the woods.

Unfortunately, the local bourbon barrel aged beers I was able to sample in Kentucky are not available in NYC.  But for you locals, there are other beers of this style available here, despite our distance from the bluegrass state. 

One exceptional and local example is the Brooklyn Black Ops from the Brooklyn Brewery.  The beer is only released once a year and the bottles sell fast so if you see it this November, get your hands on it.  Black Ops is a Russian Imperial Stout that is aged for four months in bourbon barrels, and then bottle fermented with champagne yeast.  The yeast adds effervescence to the heavy, highly alcoholic beer (11% ABV).  This is probably my favorite of all the bourbon barrel aged beers I’ve ever tasted, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it again this winter.    

Another standout is Allagash’s Curiex, a Belgian Tripel that has been aged in Jim Beam bourbon barrels for eight weeks in a cold cellar.  It pours a golden yellow color.  The result is a boozy, oak-y, vanilla and banana-like tasting beer that is still surprisingly light.  Like the Black Ops, a corked bottle makes it ideal for aging.  If you’ve never tried it, I recommend it, especially for fans of Belgian ales.  The barrel aging adds to the complexity of flavors.

Goose Island has been producing a Bourbon County line for a long time now, with its stout being its most popular.  It is certainly a forefather in the bourbon barrel aged beer category.   

Weyerbacher (*one of the breweries we’ll be visiting on our Brewery Bus Tour*) releases its “Heresy,” in February, a bourbon barrel aged version of their Old Heathen Imperial Stout. 

Beers with a heavier malt background like stouts, porters, bocks, and barleywines, have a roasted coffee, chocolate-y taste, which works well with the oak-y vanilla caramel flavors present in the barrel and what remains of the bourbon (3 gallons of the whiskey automatically soak into the wood, hence the term “Angel’s Share”).   

While barrel aging your beer in bourbon can add wonderful new notes in the nose and layer it with a complexity of flavors, used bourbon barrels are not the only vessels brewers are using.  Different types of wood will impart different flavors, and the barrels may be used or new.  Beer can be aged in barrels previously used for port, sherry, whiskey, rum, wine, etc.  For example, Scotland’s Innis & Gunn have built their brewery’s reputation on aging different styles of beer in different types of barrels.  Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin is another great brewery that ages their beers in barrels, but with a Belgian twist.

In fact, Belgium brewers have been using this process way before American craft breweries started to do the same thing.  Hence the distinctive Flanders-style beers like Rodenbach that have recently experienced a surge in popularity.  The unique flavors of this beer come from the aging process.

But sours and Belgian styles are a whole other category of barrel aged beers.  Right now, I still have bourbon on the brain.  September is National Bourbon Heritage Month, after all.    

If you are an experienced home brewer and would like to experiment with aging your beer in barrels, my first recommendation would to make friends with a distiller who can hook you up!  Kidding.  Barrels of different types are available in some homebrewing stores, and also available for purchase from distilleries and wineries as well as online. 

Do you have a favorite barrel aged beer?  Have any of you home brewers ever tried making one? 

   And if you ever find yourself in Kentucky, take a break from the bourbon and the horses to sample beers from the local breweries—you won’t be disappointed.