Get Smarter About Your Diet

Get the 5-minute weekly newsletter keeping thousands looking, feeling, and performing at their best.

Join thousands of faith-focused, fitness-minded men and women. You’ll get the Nikkola Newsletter each Monday and Thursday, filled with insights, tips, and articles that’ll strengthen your body, mind, and resolve.

What You Need to Know About Gluten-Free Beer

On average, adults aged 21 and older drink almost 30 gallons of beer per year in the United States. If I had to guess, I maybe drink a gallon or two, so others drink way more than 30 gallons per year to even out people like me. Since it’s such a popular beverage, and more and more people avoid gluten, many people wonder, “Can you drink beer on a gluten-free diet?”

In this article, I’ll briefly address what gluten is and how it shows up in beer. I’ll also review how you can follow a strict, gluten-free diet and still drink it now and then. Finally, I’ll wrap it up with some of the best gluten-free beers to try.

Of course, I’m not advocating drinking alcohol. It can lead to numerous health problems, even if you don’t drink to get drunk. But I want to help people who drink responsibly and do so occasionally as part of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a group of proteins found in certain grains, including wheat, barley, and rye.1Shewry, P. R., & Halford, N. G. (2002). Cereal seed storage proteins: structures, properties and role in grain utilization. Journal of Experimental Botany, 53(370), 947-958. It’s the “glue” that gives bread its chewy texture and helps it rise. In beer production, barley is a common ingredient, and hence, so is gluten.

Some people react negatively to gluten. Reactions range from mild sensitivity to severe intolerance, known as Celiac Disease.2Ludvigsson, J. F., Leffler, D. A., Bai, J. C., Biagi, F., Fasano, A., Green, P. H., … & Ciacci, C. (2013). The Oslo definitions for coeliac disease and related terms. Gut, 62(1), 43-52. These reactions can lead to many problems, including digestive issues, fatigue, and even damage to the intestines, in the case of Celiac. Gluten consumption can also lead to cognitive problems.

Symptoms of gluten sensitivity or allergy include:

  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain or twitches
  • Numbness in limbs
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Foggy headedness
  • Anemia
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Depression
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Bloating and gas
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Muscle wasting
  • Weight loss
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Type I diabetes
  • Psoriasis
  • Autism
  • Schizophrenia
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Skin rash
  • Rhinitis / asthma
  • Ingrown hairs
  • Oligo- or polymenorrhea
  • Hallucinations

Beyond the issues above, gluten may cause mental problems, including:

  • Ataxia
  • Appetite stimulation
  • Brain-active exorphins
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Epilepsy
  • General cognitive impairment
  • Dementia
  • Psychiatric disorders

If you want to read more about these gluten-related health problems, check out my article Gluten: Health Concerns for Your Brain and Body.

Gluten and Beer

Most beers are brewed from barley, which is malted and fermented along with water, hops, and yeast.3Bamforth, C. (2009). Beer: Tap into the Art and Science of Brewing. Oxford University Press, USA. Gluten in the barley makes its way into the final product. Some beers can contain significant amounts of gluten, especially those brewed with wheat or other high-gluten grains.

While it can be challenging to quantify the exact amount of gluten in a serving of beer due to variations in brewing processes, some sources estimate it to range anywhere between 15-60 milligrams per liter.4Colgrave, M. L., Goswami, H., Howitt, C. A., & Tanner, G. J. (2012). What is in a beer? Proteomic characterization and relative quantification of hordein (gluten) in beer. Journal of proteome research, 11(1), 386-396. A 12-ounce (354ml) beer serving could contain approximately 5-20 milligrams of gluten.

Comparatively, a slice of wheat bread contains approximately 4.8 grams of gluten, far higher than the content in beer.5Gallagher, E., Gormley, T. R., & Arendt, E. K. (2004). Recent advances in the formulation of gluten-free cereal-based products. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 15(3-4), 143-152. However, even the lesser amount found in beer can be problematic for someone with celiac disease or high sensitivity to gluten.

Beers with the highest gluten content tend to be wheat beers and certain types of lagers. For instance, Weissbier and Hefeweizen, which are made primarily from wheat malt, are likely to have significantly higher gluten content compared to beers made from barley or other grains.6La Vieille, S., Pulido, O. M., Abbott, M., Koerner, T. B., & Godefroy, S. (2016). Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free Oats: A Canadian Position Based on a Literature Review. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 2016.

So, back to our original question. Can you drink beer on a gluten-free diet? Yes! If you choose a gluten-free beer.

Gluten-Free Beer

The brewing process for gluten-free beer differs from traditional beer in that alternative grains are used instead of barley, wheat, and rye.7Koehler, P., & Wieser, H. (2013). Chemistry of beer instability. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 93(9), 1961-1970. These grains are milled and mashed just like traditional grains, but enzymes are added to break down the starches into fermentable sugars. Some gluten-free beers also use enzymes to break down gluten proteins, making them safe for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities to consume.

Some gluten-free beers are also made with normal beer-brewing grains, but they add enzymes that break down gluten proteins, making them safe for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities to consume. The brewing process for gluten-free beer can be more challenging and time-consuming, but the end result is a delicious and safe alternative for those who cannot consume traditional beer.

Gluten-free beer can have a range of different flavors and tasting notes, just like traditional beer. Some gluten-free beers have a light and crisp taste, while others have a more complex flavor profile with notes of fruit, spice, or hops. For example, Omission’s Pale Ale has a hoppy and citrusy flavor, while New Belgium Glutiny’s IPA has a bold and bitter taste. When trying different gluten-free beers, it’s important to keep an open mind and explore different styles to find the ones that best suit your taste preferences.

The Top 10 Gluten-Free Beers

The following are some of the most popular gluten-free beers available, though their availability varies by state.

  1. Ghostfish Brewing Company’s Shrouded Summit Belgian White Ale: This award-winning beer is made with millet, buckwheat, and rice and has a flavor profile that includes sweet orange and coriander spice. Brewed in Seattle, Washington, this Belgian-style white ale is a testament to Ghostfish’s brewing prowess​.
  2. Holidaily Brewing Co. Beulah Red Ale: As Colorado’s first 100% gluten-free brewery, Holidaily Brewing Co. impresses with its diverse range of beers crafted from buckwheat and millet. The Beulah Red Ale offers tasting notes of caramel and toasted malt​.
  3. Two Brothers Prairie Path Golden Ale: This beer is gluten-removed, meaning it’s crafted like a traditional beer and then has the gluten content reduced. It’s a mellow, creamy, and refreshing ale with fruity notes, perfect to be enjoyed with a meal​.
  4. Omission Lager (one of my favorites): Brewed in Oregon, this reduced-gluten barley beer consistently tests at less than 10 parts per million of gluten. With a fruity and hoppy flavor profile, this award-winning lager fits right in with regular beers of the same variety​.
  5. Stone Brewing Delicious IPA: A reduced-gluten India Pale Ale that has a strong hoppy flavor with a bitter-dry finish. Brewed with Nugget, Calypso, Lemondrop, and El Dorado hops, it provides a citrusy taste and a strong 7.7% ABV​.
  6. Ipswich Ale Brewery Celia Saison: Brewed from sorghum, this gluten-free beer maintains the saison style of Belgian farmhouse ales. With a pleasant sourness of zesty orange, it provides an interesting addition to the gluten-free beer scene​.
  7. Sprecher Shakparo African-Style Ale: This African-style ale is brewed with wild yeast and a combination of millet and sorghum. It has a light body and carbonation with fruity notes and hints of spice that make it intriguing​.
  8. Redbridge Gluten-Free Sorghum Beer: A macro brew made by Anheuser-Busch, Redbridge uses sorghum for a gluten-free beer experience. Its availability across many U.S. supermarkets makes it an easy-to-find option for drinkers who do not have a lot of options in their area​. Of course, being that it’s made by Anheuser-Busch, I don’t know anyone who’d be willing to drink it right now.
  9. Glutenberg Stout (one of my favorites): A gluten-free American Stout hailing from Canada. With an alcohol content of 5.0% ABV, it is a distinctively flavorful beer crafted primarily from millet and corn, with the addition of cocoa nibs that lend a touch of richness. A key aspect of this stout is its original gluten-free creation, meaning it contains no wheat or grain from the start, instead of being made with gluten ingredients and then removing the gluten.

What about Number 10? I’d love to hear from YOU! Leave a comment and let me know which gluten-free beer you’d like added to this list.

Health Risks of Drinking Alcohol (Even if It’s Gluten-Free)

Alcohol consumption, particularly when excessive, is associated with numerous health risks. When you consume alcohol, it’s crucial to understand these potential hazards and take appropriate measures to minimize harm.

Alcohol disrupts sleep architecture, even though it might initially induce sleepiness. Consuming alcohol before bedtime can affect the quality of your sleep, primarily by reducing the amount of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that is so crucial for memory consolidation and learning.8Chan, J. K., Trinder, J., Andrewes, H. E., Colrain, I. M., & Nicholas, C. L. (2013). The acute effects of alcohol on sleep architecture in late adolescence. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Additionally, alcohol-induced sleep can lead to frequent awakenings, lighter sleep, and less refreshing sleep overall. Over time, chronic alcohol consumption can contribute to insomnia or other sleep disorders.9Roehrs, T., & Roth, T. (2001). Sleep, sleepiness, and alcohol use. Alcohol Research & Health.

As for hormonal disruptions, alcohol can have a profound impact on various hormonal systems. In the reproductive system, chronic heavy drinking can lead to lower testosterone levels in men, causing erectile dysfunction, reduced libido, and infertility. In women, alcohol can cause irregular menstrual cycles and early menopause.10Emanuele, M. A., & Emanuele, N. V. (2001). Alcohol’s effects on male reproduction. Alcohol Health and Research World.

Moreover, alcohol consumption can disrupt the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to abnormal cortisol levels. This can interfere with the body’s stress response, metabolic processes, and immune function.11Rivier, C. (1996). Alcohol stimulates ACTH secretion in the rat: mechanisms of action and interactions with other stimuli. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Additionally, alcohol can interfere with the hormones that regulate kidney function and fluid balance, such as antidiuretic hormone (ADH), leading to increased urination and potential dehydration.12Eggleton, M. G. (1942). The diuretic action of alcohol in man. The Journal of Physiology.

Alcohol consumption increases the risk of liver diseases, including alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis, which can lead to life-threatening complications.13Seitz, H. K., et al. (2018). Alcoholic liver disease. Nature Reviews Disease Primers. Consuming alcohol chronically and excessively can damage your liver cells, leading to inflammation and scarring, thereby affecting the liver’s ability to function properly. This can result in problems with nutrient absorption, waste filtration, and drug metabolism.

Drinking alcohol can also have significant effects on your cardiovascular system. Studies show that high levels of alcohol consumption can raise your blood pressure and contribute to the development of heart disease, stroke, and cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick, or rigid.14Roerecke, M., et al. (2017). The effect of alcohol consumption on blood pressure is nonlinear: results of a meta-analysis. Hypertension. Additionally, binge drinking can lead to irregular heart rhythms, a condition called arrhythmia.

Alcohol consumption is also linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.15.Bagnardi, V., et al. (2015). Alcohol, less than we thought: a meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Annals of Oncology. The risk becomes more significant with higher alcohol consumption. Alcohol can interact with tobacco use, substantially increasing the risk of upper gastrointestinal and respiratory tract cancers.

Drinking alcohol affects your mental health as well. Chronic drinkers are more likely to suffer from mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety. Moreover, alcohol dependence or addiction is a significant risk.16Rehm, J., et al. (2015). Global burden of disease and injury and economic cost attributable to alcohol use and alcohol-use disorders. The Lancet. It’s worth noting that alcohol can also increase the risk of engaging in risky behaviors, potentially leading to injury or other adverse events.

Lastly, alcohol can harm the pancreas, leading to a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels called pancreatitis, which can prevent proper digestion.17Samokhvalov, A. V., et al. (2015). Alcohol consumption as a risk factor for acute and chronic pancreatitis: A systematic review and a series of meta-analyses. EBioMedicine.

Can you drink in moderation and stay healthy? Sure. But if you need to drink more than once or twice a week or multiple drinks on a given day, you’ll do much more harm than good.

Practical Summary

While gluten-free beer offers a feasible solution for beer lovers on a gluten-free diet, it’s important to remember moderation. Beer, even if it’s gluten-free, is still alcohol. Overindulgence can lead to many other health issues, like liver problems and obesity. Always consider your individual health needs.

Can you drink beer on a gluten-free diet? Absolutely. Can you find one that tastes good? Definitely, but just because it’s gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It’s healthier, but it’s not health food.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share to...