What to know about allergens in beer
Lindiwe is the creator of The Allergy Table blog. She…
You wouldn’t be wrong to say that I love beer. Alcohol can be a minefield when it comes to allergies, not only does some alcohol have allergens present in their products but others use them in the facilities where the alcohol is processed. How do we begin to uncover allergens in beers?
When navigating allergens in beer and alcohol there are a lot of unknowns because each country abides by different labelling laws.
Personally, beer has always been a safe drink for me. I don’t have any allergies to gluten, fish, or dairy. It is only in the last few years that alcohol brands have started using nut and fruit extracts in craft beers – it is more common now than ever before.
A few years ago, I went on a gluten-free diet to try and heal my gut (luckily it wasn’t glutens’ fault). As a result of that experiment, I uncovered a whole new world of gluten-free and gluten-reduced beer.
Is gluten-free beer good?
Some people, like I was, are skeptical about trying gluten-free beer based on the aged old myth that gluten-free beer doesn’t taste as good as the “regular” product. They may not know the difference between the various kinds of gluten-free beer, how they are made, and whether they are actually safe for people with celiac disease or a wheat allergy.
There is so much more to beer than its gluten-free distinction! One great outcome of all the new gluten-free beers on the market is that brands are making consumers more aware of what is in their products which in turn makes it safer for people with food allergies. You will be better informed to make purchasing decisions once you have more information about ingredients including allergens in beer.
Let’s take a deeper look at beer, so you know how to choose the right one for you!
Hidden allergens in beer
First and foremost, beer is an alcoholic beverage. It is typically made with a base of malted barley and hops, brewed and fermented. Most beers have sugars, yeast and water for flavor (Source).
Hidden allergens in beer come into the picture when companies use ingredients like milk, oats, and nuts, which have become very popular these days to add a complex taste.
In addition, occasionally beers are processed using fish bladders (Isinglass). If you are allergic to fish, make sure to research ahead to find out the company’s process regarding this allergen. (Read more here.)
The difference between gluten-free and gluten-reduced beer
Presently there are two ways beer is made gluten-free.
Follows the same process that most beer companies use (malt and hops) and then reduces the gluten content to be in line with the current laws to make it gluten-free (20ppm or less – may vary by country).
The gluten-reduced method uses an enzyme which is added to the start of the process. During fermentation, the enzyme breaks down the gluten protein, resulting in a gluten-reduced product.
This is a wheat-free process using malted cereals that are naturally gluten-free (such as quinoa, rice, millet). The brewing process is the same as traditional beer. These beers have a different taste than that of a “normal” beer and their aromas are very unique. Their selling point is that they do not contain any gluten at any point during the process.
Is allergen-free beer good for celiacs?
If you are avoiding gluten or have celiac disease, it is important to check with your doctor/allergist on the levels of gluten you can consume. In the US and UK, the law states that brands can claim gluten-free when their products are lower than 20 ppm or less (FDA and Coeliac UK).
For those with a nut allergy, beware of stouts. Whilst they are my favourite beers, some are made with nut products. Check the brand and ingredients before purchasing any product.
Quick tips for navigating allergens in beer
- Buy it in a bottle or can – This way you can see the ingredients directly on the product, with some apps you can scan the barcode to find out about allergens as well. Unfortunately, even though pubs/bars clean their draught lines thoroughly after each beer is finished, cross-contamination can occur. If you are celiac or have a dairy allergy, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing a draught because a residue of lactose or gluten could exist in the lines.
- Choose a craft or a name brand – Craft beer companies are very particular about what they put in their products and most often each ingredient is clearly stated on the bottle. Many companies put their ingredients on the kegs of their beer- ask your bartender to take a photo of the keg (ingredients) so you can know what is in the beer if you decide to go for a draught.
- Go for vegan certified – Vegan products mean that the process did not pass through any dairy or fish products. They will always say it on the product (this goes for wine as well).
- When in doubt, do your research – Always do your due diligence and investigate if unsure since protocols can change over time.
- Drink safely and responsibly – Alcohol is a luxury, not a necessity therefore, it is always better to err on the side of caution.
The gluten-free and gluten-reduced beer taste test
- Control: a mix of gluten-free and gluten-reduced beer will be taste-tested with allergen information and ppm listed for each brand. I will give what I think is an equivalent suggestion to each beer.
- Ratings: There will be three categories based on flavor, texture and affordability which will be rated out of 5, yielding an overall score.
- Candidates: four store-bought beers and one homemade recipe (Kvass).
*Skinny Lager, Estrella Daura Damm and Alt Grain Random Ale samples were gifted to Zestfull in collaboration for this post. All opinions are my own.
- Allergens: Gluten reduced <3ppm & Vegan
- Available: International
- Equivalent: Heineken
Flavor: Tastes like the real thing- similar to gluten beer. I wouldn’t know it didn’t contain gluten if I was tasting it blind.
Texture: The only beer that was foamy at the top.
- Allergens: Gluten reduced <10ppm & Vegan
- Available: UK Only & online (Amazon)
- Equivalent: Corona/Sol
Flavor: Great low-calorie beer- fun for a summer picnic in the park.
Texture: Lighter on the palate, carbonation is consistent and perfect with a lime wedge.
- Allergens: Gluten free & Vegan (malted millet, quinoa, hops, and yeast)
- Available: UK Only (online)
- Equivalent: There is nothing like it that I have ever had.
Flavor: A smooth yet light, floral taste and easy on the palate. The taste is of elderflower cordial and water.
Texture: You can taste the grains more than other beers and it doesn’t leave you with a gassy tummy because it has low carbonation. Velvety and pleasing on the palate.
- Allergens: Gluten reduced <20ppm & Vegan
- Available: International & online
- Equivalent Classic pale ales such as a Sierra Nevada
Flavor: A delicious, rich amber color. Carbonation is similar to commercial gluten beers.
Texture: Taste lingers on the palate giving you a pleasant texture on your tongue even after the first sip.
- Allergens: Rye (Gluten – Use a gluten free rye if you can find)
- Available: DIY
- Equivalent: Copella Cloudy Apple Juice
Flavor: Sort of like cloudy apple juice, flavorful but not beer.
Texture: Mellow and sweet
I would say make it in the name of a science experiment but I am going to stick to buying my beer which is less hassle!
And the winner is…. Daura Damm. I genuinely couldn’t tell that it was gluten-reduced, they provide the allergens on their can, PPM is less than 3 and they are vegan.
I couldn’t get my hands on every beer (there are a lot more gluten-free and gluten-reduced beers on the market now) however I wanted to mention two companies that are great with gluten-free and gluten-reduced products. Check out where to buy them!
- Allergens: Gluten-reduced <10ppm & Gluten-free (Sorghum, Millet, Buckwheat, Brown Rice) & Vegetarian
- Available: UK, US & Canada (In stores or online)
- Allergens: Gluten-free (Sorghum, corn, hops, yeast) & Vegan
- Available: US only – Online
Not allergic to gluten?
Heineken Lager is a go-to beer sold around the world. You can get it on draught, or by the bottle. It is a classic lager, easy to drink and a crowd favorite.
- Allergens: Gluten (Barley & Hops) & Vegan
- Available: International
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Lindiwe is the creator of The Allergy Table blog. She brings awareness by sharing stories about the real person behind the allergy. Lindiwe hopes that others will feel more confident in advocating for their food allergies.