Beer is an amazing thing when you consider the simple ingredients that go into it - just water, malt, hops, and yeast. The variety of flavour that can be created, and how different this end result is to the flavour profile of the ingredients which go in, is really quite amazing.
But it is very much a balancing act, and the problem with this balancing act is that when you try to change one of the ingredients the whole thing starts to become unsteady, and what you’re left with is something that doesn’t really taste like beer at all.
For people who have an intolerance to Gluten, or have Coeliac disease, one of those key ingredients can cause big problems. I’m talking of course about the malt, which in most beers will be malted barley (or a combination of malted barley and wheat).
Malt is extremely important in all beers, and even in really hoppy beers is vital as a backbone to the flavour of the hops. But in a lager, where it is central to the flavour profile of the beer, removing it could spell disaster.
There are of course other grains apart from malted barley which can be used to make beer which are perfectly safe for people with a gluten intolerance to drink, but the problem is that the beer won’t taste anything like what people are expecting from a lager. Let’s look at sorghum for example, as it’s probably the most obvious choice: It gives beer a sweet, very slightly sour, and almost funky character which in Nigerian FES actually works really well, but in a clean, crisp lager? I don’t think so.
Rather than change the ingredients what Estrella decided to do when producing their gluten free beer was to brew the beer pretty much as normal, and then remove the gluten afterwards. The result is something which tastes almost as good as a normal, decent, European lager.
That may not sound like high praise, but it is.
They achieve the decent taste by brewing to a much higher ABV than they need (I think the reps from the company said around 6.8%) and then removing the gluten, and with it some of the alcohol, after brewing until the beer is 5.4% and ‘Gluten Free’ at around 6 parts per million (ppm).
It tasted good, and after speaking to some of the guys from the Coeliac disease society, who find it almost impossible to find decent tasting gluten free beer, I can definitely see where this beers place is in the market. Sure, if you did a taste test of this beer next to the Spanish equivalent Estrella (which is also brewed to 5.4%) then I can bet which one would taste better. But that’s missing the point.
It’s a good thing that breweries are producing products for people who might not otherwise be able to enjoy beer, and it’s something that I definitely want to support.
La Tasca have struck up a deal with Estrella to sell Daura exclusively in their restaurants across the UK, and have also launched an 18 dish gluten free menu to support the beer (or maybe the beer is to support the new menu?).
Obviously people who suffer from the condition will already know which foods they can and can’t have, but it’s reassuring to know that a dish definitively won’t have any gluten containing ingredients - and that things such as sausages, sauces or dressings (which may contain flour, breadcrumbs or other malt derivatives such as malt vinegar) have been made in a gluten free way.
I'm going to be doing a side by side taste test of a big bunch of gluten free beers with Rob from Hopzine.com very soon, so keep an eye out for that.
I’m lucky enough to not suffer from Coeliac disease or gluten intolerance, but was invited by La Tasca to come and sample their menu and meet the team from Estrella to discuss their gluten free beer. More importantly though, after speaking to the guys from the Coeliac disease society talk about the difficulty of being gluten intolerant I knew this was something that needed writing about.