Is Gluten-Free Beer Really Gluten-Free?

Controversy arises over beers that contain gluten but are marketed as 'gluten-free'

Until the FDA releases the standards for gluten-free product labeling, millions of Americans suffering from celiac disease, or gluten intolerance, are forced to rely on inconsistent product information from different companies. And that includes beer companies, too. 

Oregon brewing company Widmer Bros. has stirred up some controversy regarding its new gluten-free brew. The ninth-largest brewing company in the nation recently released two new gluten-free beers, Omission Gluten Free Lager and Omission Guten Free Pale Ale. But the Treasury Alcohol and Tobbaco Tax and Trade Bureau has called out Widmer on its brewing methods, which may not be completely gluten-free.

Because most gluten-free beers are brewed from sorghum, they do not taste like traditional beers; but Widmer’s gluten-free brews are made with barley, which contains gluten, in order to achieve a beer-like taste. Enzymes are utilized to reduce the gluten levels in beer to below the 20 ppm standard set by the World Health Organization, which the FDA will likely accept as well. This standard is commonly accepted in Europe, meaning that many so-called gluten-free products still contain traceable amounts of gluten.

The gluten-levels in the finished product are not the issue, however. The TTB argues that beer made from ingredients that contain gluten can technically not be labeled as "gluten-free." And because this beer is supposedly far superior in taste to its truly gluten-free counterparts, this could mean Widmer gets an unfair advantage against its competition.

Therefore, the argument truly arises when it comes to classifying and labeling this product as "gluten-free." Should this classification be based on the ingredients used to make the product, or the gluten levels of the finished product? Until the FDA decides, gluten-intolerant Americans will just have to do a bit more research on their brews.