The Dangers of 'Gluten-Reduced' Beers

Let’s bring Celiac Awareness Month to an end with an issue that’s very close to our hearts (and stomachs), and something we think many of you care about: Gluten-reduced beers. Gluten-reduced beers are just that: beers that have had some of the gluten removed during the brewing process. The key word is “some.” Not all.

A few beers actually market themselves as “gluten-reduced,” likely targeting the gluten-free diet crowd. Still others promote their products as gluten-free, though we at Aurochs consider them gluten-reduced. This means their beer is brewed using gluten-containing grains like wheat and barley, wheat, and rye, and they remove “all” of the gluten during the brewing process.

As both brewers and gluten-free consumers, this makes us a bit nervous. Why? Well, let’s dive right in:

  1. It’s difficult to test for gluten in beer: During the brewing process, gluten is hydrolyzed, or broken down, to some of its constituent molecules. These compounds have the same effects on the human body as gluten does, but they’re harder to detect. That’s because some of the current tests rely on binding to multiple sites on the molecule, and if it’s slip these sites may no longer be together. This means that you can’t simply test beer (or other gluten-free alcoholic beverages) at the end of the line for gluten.

  2. There are cross-contamination concerns: Obviously, when you’re using gluten-containing ingredients to make a gluten-free product, there are always cross-contamination concerns. Brewing in an industrial setting is a complex process that zips the beer through a variety of pipes and tanks, often from one side of a facility to the other. Though most breweries are very stringent about hygiene and sterilization, this doesn’t help with gluten, and cross contamination is always a concern. The safest way to avoid this is to brew entirely with gluten-free ingredients and, ideally, at a dedicated gluten-free facility.

  3. It’s unclear what levels of gluten are safe for celiacs: As we’ve talked about a few times before, it’s not entirely clear what levels of gluten are safe. This means that even if the vast majority of the gluten is actually removed, whatever’s left may still have an impact.

  4. Gluten-reduced beers aren’t transparent about what goes into the bottle: Though the FDA currently does not have official regulations in place regarding gluten-free beer (or food), due to what are, quite honestly, quirks in the law, beer made from ingredients other than barley, wheat, or rye are required to show their ingredients and nutrition facts on the bottle. That means you know exactly what’s going into your beer. This is not the case with gluten-reduced beers, which often rely on “proprietary processes” to remove the gluten, so you can’t be certain what exactly you’re drinking.

  5. The TTB doesn’t allow these beers to be labeled “gluten-free”: Perhaps most importantly, a recent TTB ruling declared that beers brewed from gluten-containing ingredients cannot be labeled “gluten-free.” You can read more about that here.

Because of these concerns, at Aurochs we brew all our gluten-free beer from naturally gluten-free ingredients like millet, quinoa, and amaranth. And we stay away from beers that do otherwise. But the choice is yours!