(Portland, OR) – Is there a battle brewing between Harvester Brewing and Widmer Brothers over the gluten-free beer market?
Sure, there are other players in the gluten-free market though Harvester is sending a loud-and-clear message with this press release: it does not approve of what Widmer Brothers is doing with its recently-launched Omission Beer ‘gluten-free’ line. Widmer Brothers removes gluten through an intensive process during brewing. Both companies operate out of Portland.
Check out the press release that Harvester just shipped out below.
On May 24th, the United States Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued a ruling on gluten labeling for alcohol beverages. The ruling, TTB Ruling 2012-2, reinforces Harvester Brewing’s long-standing decision to use only inherently gluten-free ingredients in its beer. This stands in contrast to other production methods that use barley and attempt to remove gluten proteins enzymatically.
The ruling determined that products made from ingredients that contain gluten (barley, wheat, and rye) cannot be labeled as gluten-free. From the TTB’s press release:
TTB will not allow products made from ingredients that contain gluten to be labeled as “gluten-free.” Because TTB is concerned about the potential health consequences associated with the consumption of gluten by individuals with celiac disease and, because there are currently no scientifically valid testing methods available to accurately measure the gluten content of fermented products, we will only allow these products to be labeled with a statement that they were processed to remove gluten but that the product may still contain gluten.
If a beer is made with gluten containing ingredients, the following warning is required for consumers:
Product fermented from grains containing gluten and [processed or treated or crafted] to remove gluten. The gluten content of this product cannot be verified, and this product may contain gluten.
Harvester’s decision over three years ago to make gluten-free beer without barley, wheat, or rye means that their ales do not require this warning. In Harvester’s dedicated facility no gluten-containing ingredients are ever used at any point in the production process, enabling testing for gluten allergens before fermentation occurs using proven testing methods. As testing regimens evolve we are in continued contact with certification groups, independent labs, test manufacturers, and industry professionals regarding the state-of-the-art in gluten testing.
Back to that labeling and specifically, “this product may contain gluten.” Regardless of actual testing results, the consumer only has this message to go by in the liquor store. If the customer is looking for a gluten-free beer, do they trust this beer after reading this message? And how heavily does Craft Brew Alliance have to lean on wholesalers and sales reps to train stores that stock this brand? People in the beer department would likely need to be specially-trained to communicate to the customer to ignore that warning and re-assure them that the product is fine.
It’s yet another challenge for Widmer Brothers on top of a stack of many.