Nothing quite says summer like the smell of a barbecue, a cool lakeside breeze, the stiff comfort of a wooden Muskoka chair, the company of a good book and, of course, a nice, cool bottle of bubbly beer.
Sadly, gluten-free means call for gluten-free measures and this summer I have obtained what only a year ago I would have deemed impossible; relatively gluten-free existence. I’ve swapped wheat pasta for rice, sandwiches for salads and wheat-laden dessert for fresh fruit. The result has been that I feel lighter, more energetic, suffer from fewer monthly hormonal flutuations and have bid farewell to the once-inevitable monthly migraine that would always conveniently fall on a Saturday, rendering my weekends useless. Following the naturopathic elimination diet has done wonders. I feel all-the-better for it.
There are downsides to being gluten-free, however. Having a piece of scrumptuous tiramisu for a friend’s baby’s baptism leaves you feeling sick and bloated for three days afterwards and, being made of barley, one of the three grains that contain the culprit protein gluten, beer is always off-the-table.
Thankfully, as more people begin to embrace hypoallergenic living, I’ve noticed a slowly growing selection of gluten-free options when it comes to beer or, excuse me, beer-like alcoholic beverages. Ontario’s LCBO offers three distinct varieties and my beer-connoisseur brother and I have tried them all. Here is our take on each one:
1) Nickel Brook Gluten Free. Made in Burlington, Ontario. Sold as single cans for $2.95. Contains 5% alcohol and 250 calories per can. Nickel Brook’s Gluten Free was the first GF beer I tried. Never having tried a gluten free beer before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, being sweetened with molasses and pear juice, this brand was too sweet to really remind me of true beer. I was disappointed and my brother and I haven’t bought this brand again. Other internet reviews, however, swear that Nickel Brook’s flavours grow on you. I’ve also heard that this brand is offered in restaurants and so it might be a good option when you’re eating out and craving the taste of beer but reluctant to spend the rest of the night enduring painful flatulence.
2) Lakefront New Grist Gluten-Free. Made in Wisconsin, USA. Sold as a 6-pack for $12.85. Contains 5.7% alcohol and 179 calories per bottle. This beer is made from sorghum, rice and hops. I preferred this beer to the Nickel Brook variety, mainly because it tastes more like beer, albeit a lighter beer, which I find refreshing. I like that it’s less sweet than Nickel Brook’s and the ingredients seem more wholesome. I preferred this gluten-free beer to the other two varieties we tried. It has a good amount of bubbly hops-like taste that goes perfectly with a barbecue and a hot summer day. Whenever the need for beer arises, this brand will do nicely.
3) La Messagère Gluten Free Beer. Made in Quebec, Canada. Sold as a 6-pack for $16.05. Contains 4.7% alcohol and 136 calories per bottle. I was excited to finally find La Messagère Gluten Free at the LCBO. Having read reviews on the internet, I had high hopes for this beer. It just looked like it would taste good, it was from Quebec and it was proclaimed the best gluten-free beer available in Ontario – both by the internet and the girl working the cash at the LCBO. The ingredients consist of rice syrup, glucose extract, rice malt, buckwheat malt and hops. When I tried it, I was put off by a strange aftertaste, which I think might be an effect of the buckwheat. However, buckwheat gives the beer a heavier feel so it might be preferable to those beer-lovers who prefer a darker beer to the lighter taste of New Grist. This was the option that my brother liked best, especially when served good and cold. I, other hand, before writing off this brand, would like to try the other gluten-free options from La Messagère, including one made from millet. These options are not currently offered at the LCBO in Ontario, but those who are in Quebec this summer might want to try them out.
Gluten-intolerant beer lovers need not despair. While the available gluten-free options might leave something to be desired, there is still the opportunity to join your friends on a patio and enjoy the taste of hops without the downside of having to wear loose pants for the next three days. There is still hope, too – outside of Ontario there exists a larger variety of gluten-free beer options made from other grains that do not contain gluten, such as millet and even a promising line of gluten-free beers made from gluten-extracted barley, which acts to preserve the barley and hops taste of true beer.
Here’s to summer!