Last July I reviewed and ranked the Six Gluten-Free Beers available at the LCBO from best to worst. None of the G-free delights really hit the spot and I was not ready to recommend any of them. For those who must go gluten-free my big tip was to drink a good craft cider instead. Read the story & ratings here: A BRUTALLY-HONEST REVIEW OF THE LCBO’S SIX GLUTEN-FREE BEERS
I am now here to give an update to my less than stellar reviews: there are two brilliant exceptions in the G-Free world that even a beer-loving Certified Cicerone can stand behind.
Montreal’s Glutenberg fashions five flavourful brews from a mix of various grains, including quinoa corn, millet and buckwheat. Their brews have bold, clean flavours and heavier bodies than their G-free competitors, best of the bunch are the American Pale and Red Ales. Albertans can pick them up easily from Sobey’s, Co-op and other grocery chains, while Ontarians have to private order from Keep 6 Imports for now—but the Blonde is coming to the LCBO soon. Glutenberg’s offerings are stellar, however they are distinctly different in flavour than your average Pale Ale or Blonde.
That’s because, like most gluten-free brews on the market, they’re made with alternative grains like quinoa, spelt, corn rice or sorghum, and it’s tough to duplicate the body and flavour of barley.
That’s not the case with Brunehaut’s line of organic, (almost) gluten-free, vegan ales. I was blown away by the rich body and signature fruity and spicy flavours of their four gluten-free ales. This old-school Belgian brewery, founded in 1890, de-glutenizes its estate-grown barley malt, and claims there are less than 5 ppm ofgluten remaining in the malt. Like the breweries other ales, these are bottle-fermented and use a signature peppery and fruity Belgian yeast. The newest release, a Belgian-style witbier is a great patio sipper: crisp and slightly acidic with bright orange peel, lemon and coriander flavours. It substitutes wheat malt for buckwheat and millet, so it misses that sticky, mouth-coating fluffiness of traditional witbiers, but hits the mark on every other characteristic.
The triple is my favourite: an 8% ABV beauty with light apple and pear aromas, a honeyed-fruit flavour balanced by a crack of white pepper and hint of bittering hops and an impressively full and rich body. The amber is a close runner-up—its caramelized flavours make it a natural partner for grilled or stewed dishes, like barbecue ribs and chilli. A number of liquor and grocery stores in Alberta carry the beers, including Sobeys Liquor Stores, Sherbrooke Liquor and CRAFT. And in Ontario, the beers can be privately ordered through It’s an Eco Life—itsanecolife.com—and are on offer at Toronto’s Bar Hopand Monk’s Kettle, at Il Fornello in Oakville and Richmond Hill, and at Brother’s Bistro in Ottawa.
While a de-glutenized barley might not be a strict enough line for some diets (the products are under 5 ppm gluten content) it’s using this grain as the base that makes the ales so indistinguishable from other Belgian-style brews. For now, there’s no other gluten-free beer that’s readily available in Canada that comes close to the real thing.
ONE TO WATCH: Snowman Brewing, based out of Toronto, is doing some remarkably good ales and even malting their own grains—but for now their tipples are only available at some southern Ontario bars and restaurants, which is why I haven’t included them in this round up. They are one to watch though!