I first accepted the challenge to find a good, gluten-free beer almost a year ago, when a friend, who has allergies, said she couldn't find a gluten-free beer that had any flavour. I was able to find her a beer, in Québec, and she later told me it "wasn't bad."
I never tried the beer myself.
A few months ago, an acquaintance also asked me about gluten-free beer, and had I tried any. I hadn't. Hadn't brought myself to trying what, to me, is the beer equivalent to decaffeinated coffee. That's not coffee: that's a hot coffee-like beverage.
Last week, when yet another friend asked me about gluten-free beer, I decided to pony up. To put my prejudice aside and judge this specialty beer myself.
Yesterday, I did just that.
But I made the tasting interesting, having the brew back-to-back with a beera true beerby the same brewery.
I say "true" do describe a beer because one of the key components in beer is, in fact, gluten. Gluten is a protein composite that is found in grains: for beer, primarily wheat, barley, and rye. As a protein, it helps bind the molecules and helps give beer its body.
As its name suggests, it's a food agent that acts as glue. Without gluten, a beer can be astringent, without body. It can have a lifeless taste.
In theory, anyway.
But, to be fair, over the next few days, I will try some gluten-free beer and give my honest opinion of them.
To start, I chose a Burlington, Ontario, brewery, and I compared it with one of its regular, gluten-laden, ales. The brewery is Better Bitters Brewing Company, which operates under the name Nickel Brook.
About a year ago, I tried a draft of theirs, Naughty Neighbour. At the time, I really liked it. So when I discovered that it was recently made available in bottles, I had to pick some up and give it proper attention. But, because my main focus was the gluten-free beer by this brewery, I put the Naughty Neighbour aside until afterwards because I didn't want the taste of it to interfere with the gluten-free brew.
Gluten Free Alcoholic Beverage (5.8% ABV)Appearance: deep straw with a white head that quickly dissipates to almost nothing, but retains a good effervescence.
Beer O'Clock rating: 1.5
Nose: light grass and honey melon.
Palate: bitter grass and sour hops. It lacks body. As I took more sips, the flavour made me think of what it would taste like if I sucked on rubber bands. The alcohol comes out in a watery finish, which is lengthy, though I wished it would end.
Overall impression: Nickel Brook got one thing right: they called this drink an "alcoholic beverage" and not a beer. Although, after the first sip, it reminded me of one of the big-brewery ales: grassy and sharp, with very little flavour. In that first sip, I thought, "okay, I see what they are aiming for, but it's not my cup of tea." I was prepared to give Nickel Brook credit for their attempt. I also thought, "it's not bad, but it's not great, either."
But after a few more sips, I wanted the taste to leave my mouth. I looked at my glass, knowing I couldn't finish, and so I did what I rarely do: this.
It was time to move on to the beer that I chose to compare the Gluten Free with.
Naughty Neighbour American Pale Ale (4.9% ABV)Appearance: an unfiltered, bright gold, with a foamy white head that held a dense cap.
Beer O'Clock rating: 3
Nose: intense citrusa honeyed orange with rich hops.
Palate: sour grass, orange and grapefruit rind, mixed with a peppered, black tea, and hops, all of which end in a medium finish.
Overall impression: my memory of this draft version is different, which makes me wonder if Nickel Brook created two versions of the Naughty Neighbour. I remember the colour being more orange and the flavour also containing more orange in the mouth. I also remember bolder hops: my memory made this neighbour to be very, very naughty. And nice.
So either this is not the same beer or I don't have the beer imprint memory that I pride myself on.
Nevertheless, this Naughty Neighbour was enjoyable and helped me get rid of the taste of the gluten-free, alcoholic beverage.
My search for a good gluten-free beer continues.