Widmer Brothers’ introduction of the Omission series of beers has sparked some discussion from competitors on what constitutes “gluten-free” and what should be able to be labeled gluten-free. Harvester Brewing praised a TTB ruling in which beers like Omission with gluten removed could not be labeled as gluten-free. Steadfast Beer Co. called products like Omission “gluten-neutered.”
Today, Merchant Du Vin (which carries competing gluten-free products) jumps into the discussion via newsletter, albeit with a more subtle approach.
Even before we started bringing Green’s gluten-free ales to the US in 2007, we kept an eye on news about gluten-free beer. We have also worked to keep in touch with the celiac community at local events, conferences, and retail tastings.
It has been interesting and at times rewarding. Celiacs – those who cannot consume gluten, a protein found in barley and wheat – have educated us, helped us make retail placements in stores, and have made Green’s one of our fastest-growing brands. We have witnessed changes: the first shipments of Green’s could not say “gluten-free” on the labels, even though they are made from all gluten-free ingredients; we’ve seen the number of gluten-free beers expand; we had celiac consumers point out to us that Sam Smith’s Organic Cider (introduced to the US in 2008) was naturally gluten-free.
Recently, beers have been appearing that are made from barley but then “de-glutenized” in a laboratory process. (They still can’t say “gluten-free” on the labels, because they are malt beverages regulated by the US Tax and Trade Bureau. The TTB does not allow a “gluten-free” claim on labels.) Green’s gluten-free beers are made from millet, rice, sorghum, and buckwheat (soba); neither Green’s nor Sam Smith’s Organic Cider are malt beverages so they are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration – and can say “gluten-free” on the label. (This is also why Green’s & Sam Smith’s Cider have a nutritional information panel on the label – something the FDA allows, but the TTB does not allow.)
To a celiac, avoiding gluten is more than a fad, or a concept, or an idea: it is a life and health issue. We have heard from some celiacs that “made from gluten free ingredients” seems safer to them, and we did hear of one new gluten test that may have raised a question of how well the de-glutenizing process works (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia, late in 2011).