Diagnosis celiac: How one beer lover came to terms with giving up gluten

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Dane Breimhorst of Burning Brothers Brewing // Photo by Aaron Davidson, The Growler

Filling this gap has pushed me to explore a much-debated boundary: gluten-free versus gluten-removed beer. Gluten-removed beer usually incorporates a product such as Clarity-Ferm: a hungry little enzyme that breaks up gluten strands. Since traces of gluten still remain after this process, its effects vary from person to person. Dane, for example, has found gluten-reduced beer still contains enough gluten to wreak havoc on his system; he won’t touch it. On the other hand, Jackie Hess, store manager at Elevated Beer Wine & Spirits and diagnosed celiac, enjoys gluten-removed beer in moderation, as does Gera. I recently had the Spoke Wrench Stout Apple from Sociable Cider Werks, a gluten-removed stout/cider hybrid, with no apparent reaction.

I am not alone in my exploration. Jackie has observed an increase in gluten-reduced beers at Elevated, such as New Belgium’s Glütiny line and Stone Brewing’s Delicious IPA. Even at homebrew competitions, beyond offering more ciders—which are naturally gluten-free—Gera has seen an increased use of Clarity-Ferm, which not only extends a beer to the gluten-sensitive audience, but potentially increases the beer’s score by enhancing its clarity.

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Unfilled cans of Burning Brothers Pyro // Photo by Aaron Davidson, The Growler

The delicacy of the consumer-provider relationship has increased with the influx of food allergies, with the customer relying more heavily on information from the venue. Dane says, “[Going out] is always a toss of the coin—it never goes away […] You always have to ask. It’s hard to be that kind of pushy, and that much of a jerk, but really it’s your health […] If [a restaurant is] saying it’s gluten-free, make sure they know that you have an autoimmune disorder that will kill you eventually if you’re not careful.”

But let’s face it. For all the frustration and annoyance the gluten-free trend can cause the food industry from producers to restaurant wait-staff, the voluntary gluten-free trend has bolstered the gluten-free market in substantial ways that allergies alone may not have: an increase in gluten-reduced beers, an increase in gluten-free options at restaurants, clear labeling of those options, even grocery store aisles dedicated to gluten-free products. Inarguably, the trend has made gluten a recognizable term. Jackie was diagnosed with celiac six years ago. “The first two years were really hard,” she recalls, “and then everyone wanted to be gluten-free. […] But I’m nervous about what will happen when the trend dies.”

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A sign on one of the entrances to Burning Brothers // Photo by Aaron Davidson, The Growler

Tamara Brown, registered dietician and owner of Sassy Spoon, an entirely gluten-free restaurant, believes the trend is here to stay. She finds that more people are choosing to, if not go completely gluten-free, incorporate less gluten into their diets. “There’s more nutrition information available now; more self-awareness; more people experimenting with their bodies and finding that they just feel better with less gluten in their diets. There are more people actively choosing to eat this way.” And for a protein whose Latin translation is “glue,” it’s no surprise that many people may feel better without it in their systems.

There are other signs that gluten-free trends are going mainstream. The 2015 Markets and Market report projects the gluten-free market to reach a worth of $7.59 billion by 2020. Australia is securing a seat at the table with its recent development of an entirely gluten-free barley. This Kebari barley could open doors for more traditional-tasting beer that is also gluten-free.

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Unfilled cans of Burning Brothers IPA // Photo by Aaron Davidson, The Growler

Pairing a dietary need to a product that yields a profit is indeed a good motivator to help solidify the gluten-free trend. The Twin Cities has leaders in the food and beer industry that are creative, careful, and thoughtful in providing products that are not considered substitutes but well-crafted innovations. I find this incredibly encouraging, not only for my future indulgences but also to know I live in a community that takes care of its members in such an inclusive way, that uses limitations to incite solutions meant to delight. So while I have to say goodbye to old favorites, I feel confident that new favorites, ones that are both digestible and delectable, will surely be there to fill my plate and my glass.

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