When food intolerance or allergies keep us from our favorite things, the search for comparable substitutes can be frustrating, even depressing. Rarely do the alternatives measure up. Compared to the real thing, they are usually blander or have an odd texture, flavor, or aftertaste.
In recent years, gluten intolerance (including celiac disease and wheat allergies) seems to be on the rise, accompanied by a movement away from cooking with wheat and related grains. According to the Celiac Disease foundation, gluten intolerance is a genetic disorder that affects at least 1 in 133 Americans. Symptoms of celiac disease can range from diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition to less obvious effects, such as nutrient deficiencies with no clear stomach or intestinal symptoms. According to people I know who suffer from gluten intolerance, it can be decidedly unpleasant.
But what is the poor beer lover to do? Grains are one of the cornerstones of brewing beer; how can a celiac manage? There have been several attempts at gluten-free beer. Notable entries into the market in recent years have proven less than stellar. Redbridge from Anhueser Busch/InBev is a sorghum-based brew that just doesn’t cut it, with a slick but grainy mouthfeel and a clear sorghum sweetness that is unpleasant in a beer. Only slightly better are the offerings from New Planet Brewing. Tread Lightly Blonde, 3R Rasberry, and Off The Grid Pale are not terrible, but nowhere near as good as any decent craft beer on the market. A handful of European gluten-free beers are passable, even some Belgian brews with “gluten-extracted barley” used, but those are hard to come by here in the States. In general, things have been bleak for the gluten-intolerant beer lover.
Enter the Widmer Brothers (of Widmer Brothers Brewing) and their Omission brews. According to the brewery, “Omission is the first craft beer brand in the United States focused exclusively on brewing great tasting craft beers with traditional beer ingredients, including malted barley, specially crafted to remove gluten.” The process is proprietary, the results are tested independently, and I can say without reservation the beer is actually really good. Currently there are two offerings: a lager and pale ale.
Omission Lager is light and crisp, as a lager should be. It pours a pale gold in color with a light head that reduces to some delicate lacing. There are very nice pale and caramel malt aromas in the nose, with a hint of the hops. The flavor has a great malt backbone with just the right amount of hop bitterness. It is well balanced with good carbonation and a crisp finish. At 4.6 percent ABV, it’s an easy drinker, and perfect for warm days.
Omission Pale Ale is on par with the great straight-up American pales out there. Hop-forward in the aroma with cascade and Citra, it pours a lightly hazy copper color. With a nice head that lingers, the lacing is thin but prevalent. The flavor and mouthfeel are what you expect from pale ale, a nice balance of malt and hops, neither overpowering the other. The alcohol comes in at 5.8 percent, making it equal to other beers of this style.
The bottom line: Omission beers are not just good gluten-free beers, they are simply good beers, period. I hope to see an expansion of the styles to include an IPA, a porter, and maybe something “out there” as well. A job well done by the Portland, Ore. brewery.