Awareness about gluten in food and drinks has increased significantly over the last several years. You may have noticed this anywhere from the “GF” label on the menu at your local restaurants to the new gluten-free options of your favorite foods that are showing up at the grocery store.

But what exactly is gluten? Is it normally in beer? And why might someone want a gluten-free beer? We chatted with Amy Crook, Quality Lab Manager at Firestone Walker, to learn more.

Amy Crook at work on the line in the Paso Robles can hall

What Is Gluten?

The word “gluten” refers to the proteins that are found in wheat, rye, and barley. You may have been hearing more about gluten lately as awareness about gluten sensitivities and allergies continues to grow. People who have these sensitivities and allergies aren’t able to comfortably or safely consume food products that contain wheat, rye, and barley. In response, gluten-free alternatives have been popping up more frequently.

Does Beer Contain Gluten?

Generally, yes. Most beers contain wheat, rye, or barley, which means that most beers contain gluten. However, a few breweries have started brewing gluten-free or gluten-reduced beers to cater to those who have gluten sensitivities and allergies.

How Is Beer Made With Less Or No Gluten?

Gluten-reduced beers are those that contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. At the start of brewing, gluten-reduced beers are made like any other typical beer, including the amount of gluten they contain. The difference between “regular” beer and gluten-reduced beer comes later, with the addition of an enzyme that breaks down the gluten. This process helps make the beer safer for consumption by people who have gluten sensitivities. But people who are highly sensitive to gluten or have been diagnosed with celiac disease may still have reactions to the gluten-reduced beer due to the small amount of gluten still present.

Gluten-free beer, on the other hand, is beer that never used a gluten source. When brewing gluten-free beer, barley is swapped out for another carbohydrate source that doesn’t contain gluten, like buckwheat, rice, corn, or millet. Because they never contained any gluten during the brewing process, gluten-free beers contain 0 parts per million of gluten.

When making gluten-free or gluten-reduced beers in a brewery setting, the brew team must be extremely careful to prevent cross-contamination of these beers with the “regular” beers that contain gluten. To prevent trace amounts of gluten from being picked up from the production facility, the gluten-free or reduced beer needs to be the first thing on the production schedule after the CIP (clean-in-place procedure). In addition to the scheduling needs, all tanks and equipment that will be used during brewing need to be tested for gluten to confirm low enough levels for however the final beer will be categorized. This process adds a lot of extra steps, which translates to more time and more money invested in the final product, and it’s a big reason why gluten-free and gluten-reduced beers aren’t more common.

Do Gluten-Free Beers Taste Different?

Yes. Because of the alternative grains used in them, gluten-free and gluten-reduced beers tend to have a thinner mouthfeel, and they’re often described as being less rich on the pallet. Because of this, gluten-free and reduced beers have not been widely adopted by people who are gluten tolerant.

Do Firestone Walker Beers Contain Gluten?

Yes. Currently, all Firestone Walker beers contain gluten.

Will Firestone Walker Release A Gluten-Free Beer Someday?

You never know what the future could hold!

If you have more questions about gluten in beer – or anything at all! – send us a message on Facebook or Instagram, and our social team would be happy to look into it for you.