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What’s the deal with gluten-free beer?

08/03/2013 3:54 PM | Deleted user

Demand for gluten-free beer has risen recently, with people who are unable to consume gluten not wanting to miss out on delicious craft beer. Gluten sensitivity affects an estimated 6% of the general population, leaving many unable to drink beers fermented from conventional grains. Gluten sensitivity is caused by a T cell driven intolerance to wheat gluten epitopes.

Current Methods of Preparation of Gluten-Free Beers

There are currently several methods of producing gluten-free beers. The most common is use of fermentable cereals such as sorghum, rice, millet, buckwheat and corn that do not have gluten. These beers have generally not been accepted as a direct substitute for those brewed with conventional grains. Widmer Brothers Brewing Company is currently producing Omission, a gluten-free beer with conventional grains by enzyme degradation. I’ll explain how it works and how you can achieve similar results with your brewing.

Gluten Enzymatic Degradation by A. niger Protease (the science part)

Gluten found in beer has a high proline content in the T-cell stimulating epitopes.  In the last seven years, an endoprotease from the fungus Aspergillus niger has been isolated, researched, and made commercially available.   This enzyme, Aspergillus niger prolyl endoprotease (AN-PEP) has been shown to efficiently degrade gluten by post-proline cleavage at the C-terminal side of proline residues.

AN-PEP has been shown to degrade gluten 60 times faster than a prolyl oligopeptidase. Studies have also shown AN-PEP to be active at pH ranges of 2-8, with peak enzymatic activity of pH 5.0-5.5 at 37ºC. At these conditions, AN-PEP degrades 50% of the total gluten every 6 minutes.

Is gluten-free beer actually gluten free?

There’s quite a bit of debate on that subject, and several methods for determining what counts as “gluten free”. The simplest definition is “made entirely with gluten-free ingredients”. This applies to sorghum beers like Redbridge.

The FDA definition of “gluten free” is “contains less than 20 ppm gluten”. Depending on why a person is avoiding gluten and how sensitive they are, this definition is a point of contention. Some people with Celiac’s Disease get a negative reaction to as low as 1 ppm gluten.

When I use enzymes to make gluten-free beer, I call it “reduced gluten”. It meets the definition of <20ppm gluten, but lets people know that it may contain some gluten.

Procedure for making reduced gluten beer as a homebrewer

The enzyme that breaks down gluten is sold commercially as Clarity-Ferm by White Labs (WLN4000). They sell vials pre-measured for 5-7 gallon batches. Just pour a vial of Clarity-Ferm into your fermenter when you pitch yeast, and it’ll break down the gluten as well as proteins responsible for chill haze. It’s about $2 per vial, so is an easy and inexpensive way to make your beer drinkable by more people and impress everyone with your brewing prowess.

Happy Brewing!

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