Good news for people with celiac disease: There is a great beer for you.
When Jen Kimmich, who co-owns The Alchemist brewery in Waterbury, Vt., was diagnosed with gluten intolerance in 2007, it meant the unthinkable for someone whose life revolves around beer: She could no longer drink the stuff. So her co-owner and husband, brewer John Kimmich, set out to make a beer she could drink.
The result: Celia Saison, a gluten-free beer.
“Imagine our shock when faced with the prospect of her never enjoying one of my beers again,” reads the Celia Saison label. “I immediately began researching my options, and the resulting effort is now in your hand.” (The beer has been around for a few years. It was occasionally on draft at The Alchemist brewpub in Waterbury, but now it’s in bottles.)
Made with sorghum instead of barley, Celia tastes quite different from most saisons. Saisons originated in the 19th century in the French-speaking part of Belgium, where beer was used primarily to hydrate farm workers. Traditional saisons were low in alcohol — around 3 percent — but today’s are often much higher.
Celia Saison, which is 6.5 percent alcohol, has an odd aroma — clean and lemony, but not very strong. Brewed with orange peel and Celia hops, it boasts a taste that is much sharper: notes of lemon, orange rind, and coriander intermingle with a peppery spiciness and strong Belgian yeast. It’s tart but not quite sour, and in some ways reminds me of the funkiness of Orval Trappist ale. Some people will undoubtedly be turned off by this beer, in part because it does not taste like a “normal” saison. I absolutely love it.
A four-pack costs between $9 and $10. Because it’s made by The Alchemist — brewer of the outstanding Heady Topper double IPA — it may not always be easy to find. When you see it, grab it. That’s what I plan to do. And I don’t have celiac disease.
Speaking of gluten
Celia Saison isn’t the only new beer for people with gluten sensitivities. Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland, Ore., is rolling out a line of beers under the name Omission. Unlike Celia, these beers do contain malted barley, but gluten has been removed from it.
Widmer is careful not to call the beers “gluten-free,” because beer brewed with barley cannot be labeled as such. Also, it is possible that the beers will contain some gluten — but far less than is problematic for people with celiac disease.
Each bottle of Omission is labeled with a batch number, and each batch is tested for gluten. People who are concerned about the gluten content can go to omissiontests
.com to see how the batch they purchased fared.
The first two Omission beers are a pale ale and a light lager, nothing terribly adventurous but certainly welcome for beer drinkers with gluten sensitivities.
The lager (4.6 percent alcohol) is boring, almost flavorless, but that's par for the course for a light American lager. The pale ale (5.8 percent alcohol), on the other hand, is quite nice — full-bodied with a crisp citric hop bite. I would buy it regardless of the gluten content; it’s a really good beer. No one would ever guess something was missing from either of these beers.
Follow him on Twitter @Steve