Is Beer Gluten Free?
It’s been brewed by ancient monks, drunk by medieval children and enjoyed in virtually every country around the world, but as ubiquitous as beer may be, it poses a significant health risk for hundreds of thousands of people in the UK alone.
In this article, we will explore how much gluten is contained in most beers and the exciting options that now exist for people who love beer but can’t tolerate gluten.
DOES BEER CONTAIN GLUTEN?
Unfortunately, most beers contain gluten, as you may have figured by now. Pretty much all beers are brewed with grains, which are as essential to the composition of beer as water, hops and yeast.
READ MORE: Why malt is the backbone of beer
Grains, like barley, wheat and rye, naturally contain gluten. To get a little scientific, gluten is a structural protein naturally found in certain grains. Although gluten is perfectly natural, it can cause digestive problems and more severe health issues for people who have an intolerance to gluten or coeliac disease, which affects 1 in 100 people in the UK.
In recent years, there's been a big uplift in the number of beers that are brewed to contain little to no gluten, which is making it much easier for people who are intolerant to gluten to enjoy great tasting beer, without any unpleasant side effects.
DOES BEER CONTAIN WHEAT?
Beer is traditionally brewed with the same four ingredients: water, malted barley, hops and yeast. However, some beer recipes call for wheat to be added to build body and flavour. Often, these 'wheat beers,' such as Belgian-style Witbier, tend to have a lighter, crispier character and a subtle wheat flavor.
If you are allergic or intolerant to wheat, it's essential to check the label before drinking a beer. Although most beers don't contain wheat, this doesn't mean they are gluten-free, as they will likely still contain malted barley in the recipe.
HOW MUCH GLUTEN IS IN BEER?
The amount of gluten in beer can vary depending on the type of beer and the brewing process. In the UK, a beer - or any food product - can only be labelled as 'gluten free' if it contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. This differs to 'low gluten' beers, which can contain up to 100ppm of gluten.
Most beers contain much higher levels of gluten than 20ppm or even 100pm and are, therefore, not suitable for people who wish to avoid gluten in their diet.
Darker beers and ales, which are fuller in flavour and body, tend to contain higher levels of gluten than lagers, while wheat beers, which tend to be pale and hazy, often contain more gluten than other beer styles, as may be obvious from the name.
Food authorities in the UK as well as the US and Canada recognise 20 ppm as a safe threshold to protect people living with coeliac disease, but other countries have much tougher labelling laws around gluten, like Australia and New Zealand, which have a zero tolerance approach to foods that are labelled as gluten free.
We mention this, because it’s important to note that people who are particularly sensitive to gluten should take necessary caution with beers that are labelled as gluten free, given that they may still contain low levels of gluten.
WHAT BEER CAN YOU DRINK IF YOU ARE GLUTEN INTOLERANT OR COELIAC?
No longer must you stick to soft drinks or overly sweet ciders. The good news for people who love beer but hate gluten is that gluten free beers are now much more common than they used to be.
When browsing the aisles of your local supermarket, look for cans or bottles that are specifically labelled as "gluten-free." If you’re ordering at the bar, it can be a little trickier. Pump clips and font badges do not always declare when a beer is gluten free, so if you’re looking for a gluten free draught beer, play it safe and ask the bartender if they can recommend something for you. Often, pubs will stock at least one gluten free beer in a bottle or can if there are no draught options.
First brewed in 2021, our beloved Small Beer IPA is a gluten free beer that is punchy, bitter and bright. We use floral English hops to deliver a crisp biscuit bite that is met with rich marmalade bitterness. It’s also 100% organic, suitable for vegans and naturally low in calories. We could go on...
HOW IS GLUTEN FREE BEER MADE?
Gluten free beers are now much more common than they used to be and brewers primarily use one of two methods to produce gluten free beers.
- Brewers may use alternative grains, such as sorghum, rice or corn, which are free from gluten. The brewing process for a gluten free beer like this is similar to traditional beer, but different grains are used to create the desired flavour and texture.
- More commonly, brewers will use naturally occurring enzymes after fermentation to break down the gluten protein. Gluten free beers that are brewed with enzymes are not technically free from gluten, but they contain very low levels of gluten (less than 20 ppm), which is why they can be labelled as gluten free in the UK.
Small Beer IPA is an exception, as it is a naturally gluten free beer that is brewed with organic barley. In fact, the beer is brewed entirely with organic ingredients that have been grown by British farmers.
Lab analysis has revealed that the beer inside our cans of Small Beer Organic IPA actually contains less than 10 parts per million of gluten, which is why our cans can be safely labelled as gluten free.
Small Beer IPA is one of many options that now exist for people who want to enjoy a cold beer, without paying for the consequences. If you are intolerant to gluten, or would simply rather avoid it, it’s now much easier to find a beer that suits your taste and dietary need with a little research and experimentation.