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Gluten-free beer may not be ‘real beer,’ but Glutenberg’s comes close

Glutenberg’s Blonde Ale, made with millet and corn, tastes more like typical beer than do other gluten-free options, which are usually made with buckwheat, sorghum or rice. The Ale will be available on LCBO shelves.

It looks like this summer might be less sad for the gluten-averse: Montreal's Glutenberg, a brewer whose gluten-free beers are better-tasting than most, is coming to Ontario. Though the company makes more than 20 beers, it's only its Blonde Ale, made with millet and corn, that will soon be available in every single LCBO branch (plus bars and restaurants seeking a gluten-free option), thanks to a distribution deal with Vankleek Hill, Ont.-based Beau's All Natural Brewing Company.

There was a time when gluten was just a relatively ignored protein that was found in certain grains, one that gave bread its chewy texture and helped dough rise. Today, of course, a greater awareness of gluten intolerance and celiac disease has combined forces with fad diets to such an extent that gluten is often met with the same enthusiasm with which a vampire might greet garlic.

The corresponding huge upswing in gluten-free products on grocery-store shelves has made this a great time to be a person who can't digest gluten (well, as great a time as it can be for someone with digestive problems). But there's been one area where gluten-free products in Ontario have been slow to catch up: beer. Because, unfortunately, gluten-free beer that actually tastes like beer is tough to make.

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Canada's Food and Drug Regulations define "beer" as something made with "barley or wheat malt" that's "brewed in such a manner as to possess the aroma, taste and character commonly attributed to beer." But gluten-free products, according to Health Canada and the Canadian Celiac Association, must have no "deliberately added" ingredients "that contain any gluten proteins from barley, oats, rye, triticale or wheat."

In other words, "real beer" simply can't be gluten-free.

A chemical process that's often used to "deglutenize" beer made from traditional ingredients isn't 100-per-cent effective and efforts to make a beer-like beverage from non-traditional ingredients too often miss the mark on possessing "the aroma, taste and character commonly attributed to beer." That's because these products are typically made with buckwheat, sorghum or rice, all of which tend toward flavours that are sweeter than beer or result in a product that's watery and not very appealing.

Glutenberg Blonde, though, actually tastes like beer. It's crystal-clear and pale gold, with faint green-grape and apple aromas and a hint of citrus. The flavour is just a little sweet, with grassy, herbal, cereal notes but ultimately is a light and slightly carbonated ale that doesn't leave too much of a lasting impression.

It might not make a beer snob's top 10 list, but it's refreshing and – on a hot summer day – it's as close as the gluten-averse can get to the real deal.

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