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A few friends of mine have Celiac Disease. They've all told me that the commercial gluten free beers they've tried have been terrible. Can I brew something at home that's tasty and something they can drink?

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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There are basically two ways of making gluten-free beer:

  • Use gluten-free ingredients, like sorghum, buckwheat, millet, quinoa etc. It's doable, but it's likely it won't taste quite like "regular" beer.
  • Use enzymes to break down the gluten, something like Brewers Clarex, which is sold by White Labs as "Clarity-Ferm". This stuff is added with the yeast and is designed to break down proteins and clarify the beer, but it also breaks down gluten as a "side-effect".
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There's a ton of information on gluten free brewing over on the Homebrew Talk Gluten Free Forum. One of the more interesting things I saw over there was the use of roasted chestnuts to replace the malt extract when making gluten free beer. I tried it last fall, and while it wasn't perfect, it was much better than any of the commercial sorghum beers that I've tasted. I can't wait to try it again. Here's the basic process.

  • 12 to 24 hours prior to brewing, soak chestnuts in the oven overnight with some Amylase Enzyme to break down the fermentable sugars.
  • Strain the liquid removing the chestnut chips, and use this as the basis of your wort. If needed add water to bring up the volume to at least 2 gallons. (From here it's pretty much a normal brew process)
  • Bring the wort to a boil.
  • Add 4 to 5 lbs of fermentable sugars such as honey or corn sugar.
  • Bring back to a boil and start a 60 minute timer.
  • Add hops as needed according to the type of beer you're making.
  • With 15 minutes left in the boil, add 8 to 12oz of maltodextrin. Since most of the sugars produced by the chestnuts are fermentable, these beers can have a bit of a "thin" mouthfeel.
  • When the boil is completed, chill the wort, transfer into the primary fermenter, and add water to bring the volume up to 5 gallons.

The beer will be cloudier than a normal beer, so here are a couple of optional steps that you can use to clear up the beer.

  • Add Irish Moss during the last 2 minutes of the boil.
  • After 10 to 14 days of fermenting rack it to a secondary for further clarification.
  • Cold crash the beer for 24 hours or so prior to bottling or kegging.

Enjoy! Here are some additional resources.

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BYO did a story on Gluten-Free brewing in their Mar/Apr 2007 issue. The online version is here. This includes an all-grain recipe for those who are brave enough to malt their own sorghum. There is an extract version of the recipe here which uses Briess sorghum syrup and honey as fermentables.

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