The phrase “Gluten Free” is pretty big right now, and the market for it seems to be growing exponentially. Like many topics related to how we diet, gluten started becoming a household term pretty quickly. As we all know, when something gains momentum and becomes popular, people start to follow. When that happens, the whole idea gets placed under scrutiny, regardless of whether the position in question has merit. Is it necessary for most people to try and cut out gluten? Should it only be those who have an intolerance? Can it be proven that an intolerance can exist beyond celiac disease? Is a gluten-free diet even healthy? These are just some of the questions that seem to be debated here and there. I haven’t done a ton of research, and I’m not a doctor, dietitian, or scientist, so I’m not going to be making any claims whatsoever with regard to whether or not gluten is bad for you
. However, I will say is that several people I know have had their lives completely altered (for the better) after giving up gluten. That alone is enough research for me to say that gluten free products are important, should be taken seriously, and should not treated like a “fad.”
One of the main problems for people who suffer from a gluten intolerance is that many of the products that shouldn’t contain gluten actually do (soy sauce, dried herbs, pickles, etc). If it’s not already hard enough for people to avoid it, they have to read packaging and research almost everything they ingest in order to make sure that they are not being “poisoned.” However, this is certainly not the case with beer. Beer contains gluten because it’s made with lots and lots of barley, and barley contains lots and lots of gluten. Simple enough. So why make gluten free beer? Why not just drink wine and spirits? I don’t know, maybe because beer is amazing and everyone should be able to drink it! What a stupid question.
Historically, gluten free beer has been regarded as pretty awful, even from an everyday Joe perspective (not to mention an asshole beer geek perspective). This is starting to change though, and from my Quebec based perspective, it starts and ends with Brasseurs Sans Gluten. B.S.G is a Montreal craft brewery that only does gluten free beer, and you’ll never believe this, the beer is actually good. I specifically chose the three beers below because they (sort of) fall under styles that I know well and enjoy a lot. There is an American IPA, a Saison, and an “Imperial Sotolon.” (That’s where the “sort of” comes in, as the Imperial Sotolon doesn’t really fall under any style classification – but it’s aged in rum barrels, and I’ve had my fair share of those).
Glutenberg – India Pale Ale
Ingredients: Water, Millet, Buckwheat, Corn, Black Rice, Candi Sugar, Corn Maltodextrin, Hops, Yeast.
Let’s start with the IPA. It pours out a pretty typical pale ale orangy amber colour with a nice bone-white head. It’s potently sweet on the nose, with layers of candy corn, caramel, and cotton candy at the front. These sugary aromas are mixed with a lot of delicious citrusy hops, and some strawberries. This is certainly an aromatic IPA, and it’s pretty inviting.
Tastewise, there is a caramel vanilla thing going on with lots of hoppy goodness. It’s a bit buttery, and seems slightly sticky and slick for the style. Like the nose, the hops provide some nice citrus forward flavours with subtle strawberries lingering as well. It has this potent fruity/bitter combo that is kind of like spooning sugarcoated grapefruit into your mouth. I’m not thrilled about the aftertaste, it’s got a bit of an acrid effect on my palate. Don’t get me wrong though, I am enjoying this, it is quite drinkable, and the fresh hop presence balances against the malt base quite well. I would however make sure to drink this as fresh a possible.
Glutenberg – Belge de Saison
Ingredients: Water, Millet, Buckwheat, Buckwheat Honey, Meyer Lemon, Hops, Pink Peppercorn, Yeast.
This saison pours out a cloudy bright yellow colour with a big fluffy bone-white head. The nose consists mainly of rich aromatic honey and candied lemon, with some Belgian yeast characteristics in the background. I don’t get any of the usual Saison fruity yeast esters, instead I’m getting more Belgian blond ale or tripel aromas, like cloves and other spices. It is quite inviting.
On the flavour front this is more bitter than I expected (not a bad thing). It’s also quite dry. You definitely get the Meyer lemon in the finish, which works quite well, adding a nice zesty element to the beer. I’m enjoying this, but again I don’t get any typical Saison characteristics beyond a lingering tart finish. It has a potent spiciness that doesn’t so much remind me of pink peppercorns, but more like pine or cloves, which works well with the lemon essence. In some ways this doesn’t taste like beer to me, but I still quite enjoyed it. It has elements similar to kombucha (which I love), minus the funk.
Glutenberg – Série Gastronomie – Imperial Sotolon
Ingredients: Millet, roasted buckwheat, demerara sugar, molasses, maple syrup, grilled fenugreek, coffee, hops, yeast (It is also aged in Rum Casks).
I’m particularly excited about this beer. It’s the brainchild of a collaboration between the guys at Brasseurs Sans Gluten and François Chartier (Chartier Créateur d’harmonies), an award wining Quebec based sommelier and author. It is their first in a new line of gastronomic beers called “Série Gastronomie,” which will have seasonal releases, all with particular food parings in mind. Imperial Sotolon is designed around an aroma compound called “Sotolon,” which exists in things like Maple Syrup, Caramel, and Fenugreek.
Because this beer was specifically designed to pair with food, I’m going to do just that. Their website has some recommendations on pairing possibilities, so if you are interested in trying this yourself, you can peruse the options. I generally don’t like following recipes, so I’m doing a variation on some of the suggestions given. They suggest pairing this beer with maple, curry, balsamic vinegar, soya sauce, nuts, apricots, peach, and grilled/roasted meats. I found the last flank steak at my crappy local grocery store, and thought it would be good to marinate it in soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and (real) maple syrup. I threw in some thinly sliced French shallots as well. I also grabbed some green beans, which I’ll blanch and then pan sear with sesame oil, sesame seeds, soy sauce and some szechuan peppercorns.
Before getting to work, I think I need to drink some of this sexy looking beer. It pours out a beautiful copper orange colour with a frothy and soapy head that dissipates pretty quickly. Holy maple! The nose is a maple bomb with loads of rum and coffee mixed in there as well. Also, there is a ton of oak, which gives off some great complex earthy aromas and blends well with the coffee. I’m getting some brown sugar as well, and virtually no hop characteristics. It smells incredibly sweet, which worries me a tad.
After the first sip, this is clearly the best beer of the three by far. Like the nose, I get lots of maple, fenugreek, coffee and even more of the rum. The body is much lighter than I thought, and I had heard criticism that this beer was too sweet – in my opinion, this is inaccurate. I think people mistake the essence of sweet things with actual sugar. It certainly has very potent maple flavours (along with fenugreek, which can be used as maple substitute), but the beer itself isn’t overly sweet by any means. Most barleywines and some imperial stouts have more sweetness than this does (in my opinion). The woody rum barrels mixed with the earthy roasted coffee flavour is a really amazing combination. It helps cut the very predominant maple flavours a bit. This is unlike any beer I’ve had. It’s by far the best maple beer I’ve tasted, and a pleasure to drink. You might not think it, but this beer is actually quite refreshing to me, it isn’t viscous in the least.
So let’s see how the beer and the meal go together. The soy sauce marinade works very well with the beer. It helps marry the two, and really makes the rum pop. In the opposite direction, the beer helps bring out the the sweetness of the marinade, with the maple and brown sugar coming alive. I quite enjoy the effect of the sesame oil from the beans as well, adding a nutty component to the maple forward flavours. The beer does a great job of bringing out the beefy umami flavours of the steak, which provide a gamey element to the whole thing. The szechuan peppers give a nice zesty twist, adding an almost citrus quality to the dish, while at the same time brightening up the beer. As well, there is an earthy pungeant complexity from the peppers which mix perfectly with the earthy coffee and barrel oak flavours.
Overall I loved this pairing and might pick up another bottle. I’m very much looking forward to trying the next in their gastro lineup. Whatever one may think about gluten free beer, Brasseurs Sans Gluten are not only pushing the limits of what gluten free beer can be, but they are also pushing the limits of what beer can actually be. I think they need to be commended for that.