It’s no wonder people are confused by gluten free beer. There is so much conflicting and misleading information on the internet that’s it’s difficult to know what’s safe and what’s not.
You may be wondering why I think I can help to clear this up, rather than just adding to the noise and confusion. Here’s why.
I’m not going to tell you what to do, I’m going to give you the facts and let you decide. I'll also provide my sources so you can see that the information is reliable.
Let’s get started.
If you’re a beer drinker and you’ve received a celiac diagnosis, you’re probably wondering if you can still enjoy a cold one on a hot summer day.
You can, but you may need to make some changes.
As a person with celiac disease, you need to avoid gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Most beer is made from barley, which means most beer has gluten and is a no go for those of us with celiac.
Yes, there are some beers that are gluten free and safe for people with celiac disease. How can this be if beer is made with barley? There are two possibilities:
Naturally Gluten Free Beer
There are beers that are made with gluten free grains such as sorghum, rice, buckwheat, corn or millet. These beers are 100% gluten free, because they start with gluten free ingredients. These are safe for people with celiac disease.
Gluten Removed or Gluten Reduced Beer
These beers are made in the traditional way from barley, but then treated with an enzyme to break down the gluten. The idea is that the gluten is fragmented to the point that it is not recognized by the body as gluten and therefore not harmful.
Here is where you’ll need to understand a bit about gluten testing and labelling and then make your own decision.
An item can be labelled gluten free in Canada, the U.S. and many other countries if it tests below 20ppm (parts per million) of gluten. The test used to determine this this is called R5 Elisa. The problem with gluten removed beer is that the enzyme used to break down gluten interferes with the accuracy of the R5 Elisa test. Therefore, there is no way to guarantee that gluten removed, or gluten reduced beers are below the required 20ppm.1
In the U.S. and Canada, beers made from gluten containing grains like barley, wheat or rye cannot be labeled as gluten free even if they are treated to remove or reduce the amount of gluten. This is because they cannot be accurately tested to ensure they are below 20ppm.2
However, in Europe, these beers can be labeled gluten free and are considered safe for people with celiac disease.3 So, if you look at websites or join celiac communities in America and in Europe, you will get conflicting information.
This is the part where I don’t tell you what to do. You have the facts, and you need to decide your own risk tolerance.
If you spend time on gluten free blogs, celiac association websites or social media groups you’ll find reports from people who say they drink gluten removed beer regularly with no problem.
Celiac U.K. acknowledges that European laws allow gluten removed beer to be labelled gluten free and that American laws to not. While continuing research, they provide their members with information and invite them to make their own informed choices.3
Gluten Free Watchdog recommends persons with celiac disease avoid gluten removed beers.1
I personally did try a gluten removed beer before I understood the difference.
I was visiting Ireland and we stopped at a pub in Dublin for dinner. I asked what they had to drink that was gluten free and the waiter brought me a beer called Hufi. It’s made in Poland and distributed in Ireland. I was amazed! Hufi tasted more like actual beer than anything I’d had since going gluten free. I had no reaction, and it wasn’t until much later that I understood that Hufi is made from barley and crafted to remove gluten. It’s not available in Canada, but if it was, it would not be allowed to carry a gluten free label.
Would I try a gluten removed beer now that I know the difference? I’m kind of on the fence to be honest. Even though I had a good experience once, part of me thinks that there are enough things out there that can get me that I should just avoid the risk. But part of me thinks that European celiacs drink it all the time, so why not. Sometime life isn’t black and white.
No, it’s not.
I’ve seen a few blogs that say light beers such as Coor’s Light or Bud Light are gluten free. Neither of the manufacturers make this claim. From what I can gather, it seems to be people using their own home test kits and reporting their own experiences drinking these beers without reaction that have led to these reports.
It may be that they are low in gluten. It may be that some celiacs don’t react. Again, I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I’m not going to take a chance and I can’t in good conscience recommend that you do either.
Anheuser-Busch brews Redbridge Lager at their facility in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Redbridge is a naturally gluten free beer made from sorghum.6 I have not found an outlet in Canada, but it is widely available in the U.S.
Michelob Ultra Amber Max is labeled as “crafted to remove gluten” and is brewed with oats, rye and blue agave.7 I don’t believe it’s available in Canada, but it does appear to be available in several U.S. retailers including Total Wines, which we visited on our recent trip to Florida.
Coors used to make a gluten free beer called Peak Copper Lager. It seems to have been discontinued although I can’t find any statement from the company. It’s just disappeared. Coors does make a seltzer that is gluten free.
There are two places to get gluten free beer in Ontario, The Beer Store and the LCBO (the Liquor Store).
The Beer Store lists four gluten free beers.
Not all are available in all stores so check online for availability.
The LCBO lists five gluten free beer choices:
Check availability at your nearest store.
*Glutenberg Stout at time of writing it is out of stock across Ontario. I contacted LCBO and they are unable to tell me if or when it will be available. I think we need a road trip to Quebec to try this out.
**Daura Damm is a gluten removed beer so it does not carry a gluten free label and is not recommended for people with celiac.
Many beer drinkers, when then go gluten free, switch to cider. Many ciders are brewed with hops, like beer and have a similar flavor. This is my gluten free drink of choice. For more on gluten free cider go here.
There is also a wide variety of canned and bottled cocktails that are portable, easy and make a refreshing gluten free drink. Be sure to check ingredients, especially in the U.S. where many coolers are made with barley malt.
1. Thompson, T. (2014, January). Introduction - gluten free watchdog. Gluten Free Watchdog. https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/reportUploads/Gluten_Removed_Barley_Based_Beers_Jan_14.pdf
2. Association, C. C. (2023, May 31). Alcohol labelling in Canada. Celiac Canada. https://www.celiac.ca/food-labelling/alcohol-labelling-in-canada/
3. Coeliac UK. (n.d.). Emerging evidence on tests for analysing gluten. Coeliac UK. https://www.coeliac.org.uk/information-and-support/living-gluten-free/the-gluten-free-diet/emerging-evidence-on-tests-for-analysing-gluten/