The best beers for the gluten-intolerant or coeliac drinker
Cork brewery 9 White Deer is shaking up the market with craft gluten-free beer offerings
Don O’Leary of Cork microbrewery 9 White Deer. Photograph: Conor McCabe
Gordon Lucey and Don O’Leary of Cork microbrewery 9 White Deer. Photograph: Conor McCabe
Not long after Cork microbrewery 9 White Deer was up and running, one of the co-founders, Don O’Leary, discovered he was gluten intolerant. As pretty much all beer uses gluten, it wasn’t great news for a brewery starting out. But it led to an interesting business opportunity.
“When Don discovered he was gluten intolerant first he started thinking he might have to stop brewing,” says Gordon Lucey, co-founder of 9 White Deer, which is based in the small town of Ballyvourney, Co Cork. “But then we started looking at the gluten-free beer idea and we saw there was a huge gap in that area. There were simple gluten-free lagers on the market, but that was about it.”
In 2015 they released Saor, a gluten-free India Pale Ale, as part of their range of craft beers. “We were just dipping the toe in, to see what would happen,” Lucey says. The response was so positive they decided to follow up by creating a whole range of gluten-free craft beers, including Ireland’s first gluten-free stout made with oats, cocoa nibs and vanilla.
There are two ways to make gluten-free beer: one is to use cereal without gluten such as sorghum or millet; another way is to get rid of the gluten, which is how 9 White Deer make their GF beers. “We break the gluten down, using a longer mash and boil in the brewing process, and then we add an enzyme in the final stage to mop up any last bits,” says Lucey.
All the 9 White Deer range are officially certified gluten-free, which means lower than 20ppm (parts per million), according to European rules. (Low gluten usually means less than 100 ppm.) The 9 White Deer GF beers are available in bottles and they’re working on a draught offering, which is a bit more complicated. The possibility of “cross-kegging” – for example if a GF beer line is paired with a regular one – can be tricky to manage.
“There’s been an incredible response to the gluten-free range,” says Lucey. Their GF kolsch has been the bestseller from their GF range so far, though the stout may soon overtake it.
“Nearly every second day we get messages or emails wondering where to get it or to say thank you,” he says. “One person got in touch to say it was the first time they’d been able to drink a stout in 10 years.”
THREE TAKES ON GLUTEN-FREE BEER
The coeliac beer drinker: Madeleine Lyons has tried a few of the GF beer offerings. “(Estrella) Daura is the closest thing to an easy-drinking lager,” she says. She’s a fan of the Bru GF lager and Dungarvan’s Comeragh Challenger, a certified gluten-free Irish bitter. “You usually find one brand that you like and stick to it,” she says. “The Saor IPA is really flavoursome and drinkable,” she says. Before she was diagnosed coeliac, Madeleine used to drink Guinness. “The 9 White Deer GF stout is very distinctive, with a smoky flavour with vanilla. I’d definitely try it again.”
The coeliac who’s never tasted beer before: Nuala Storey was diagnosed a coeliac when she was 13 and usually drinks cider. She had never tasted beer before. “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” she says, sipping a glass of Hufi GF beer. Next up is Greens Golden Ale, which she describes as “lovely”. The Saor Kolsch gets her top vote from the 9 White Deer range. “It’s clean and crisp,” she says but still a bit strong-flavoured for her taste. Will she be converting to GF beer? “I’ve just discovered the world of craft ciders – so probably not!”
The (gluten-tolerant) craft beer drinker: “I’m not a huge fan of lagers/kolsch style,” says Ciaran Murray, trying the Hufi and Green Golden Ale, which he describes as “quite bland”. “I generally tend to go for stronger, double IPA beers,” he says. What does he make of the 9 White Deer IPA? He’s impressed by its hoppy aroma, while the bitterness builds after a few sips, he says. “It’s like a mid-range Irish IPA.”