Gluten-Free Beer: Omission Pale Ale is So Good, You Can't Tell
Zachary Fowle Omission Pale Ale.
Beer: Pale Ale
Style: Gluten-free beer
ABV: 5.8 percent
The world has no shortage of really terrifying diseases you can catch. Necrotizing Fasciitis -- often referred to as "flesh-eating disease" -- is a bacterial infection that causes body tissue to dissolve like a wet napkin. Prion Disease can give you a fatal case of insomnia, keeping you awake until you die. Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva causes bones to grow in places they don't belong -- like muscles, tissue and connective fiber. As bones form across joints, you become increasingly unable to move until you're completely immobile -- a living statue. But none of these are as terrifying to me as the beer-lover's death note: Celiac disease.
Celiac disease is a disorder of the small intestine, making the afflicted person unable to process gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley -- the three most common malts in beer. It's estimated that more than 3 million people in the U.S. are gluten intolerant, but there are surprisingly few options for Celiac beer drinkers, and what options there are taste pretty gross. Enter Omission, a new gluten-free line brewed by Oregon's Widmer Brothers Brewing.
It looks like a normal beer, anyway. The liquid, cranberry-copper, is capped by an inch of tan sea foam that recedes only after a few minutes of waiting. The hops, too, are what you'd expect -- spicy, like grass and herbs. A touch of lime and orange peel meet a sugary, honey-like malt backbone.
But appearance and aroma can be faked -- what about the flavor? The problem is that gluten is the natural byproduct of brewing with barley and wheat, and most attempts to make a beer without those malts taste like crap.
Most gluten-free beers use sorghum as a malt substitute, but Omission Pale Ale is made with Pale, Carapils, Caramel 10 and Dark Munich malts -- the same used in many standard pale ales. The gluten in Omission removed via a proprietary process -- the flavor remains, the gluten doesn't. Skeptics can use the code printed on bottles of Omission to check the gluten level of each batch online. The beers I sampled had fewer than 10 parts of gluten per million -- see for yourself.
Even without gluten, the flavor of this pale ale stays strong. There's not a ton of malt complexity, but the honeyed sweetness deftly balances the grass, orange peel and rose petals of Cascade hops. Moderate bitterness sits on the sides of the tongue while mild carbonation prickles a body that's like 2 percent milk. Nice thickness, with just enough alcohol to numb the tongue and let you know you're drinking real beer.
And it is real beer. If you served this blind, there'd be no telling it was gluten-free. That's all any Celiac can ask for. Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva however, is still out there.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.