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Brewing Gluten Free Beer Isn’t Without Risk

It’s no exaggeration to say that we’re in a boom of small, niche or independent breweries! The number of micro-brewers currently trying different recipes, styles, hops and even yeasts is amazing; it’s interesting to see lots giving gluten free beer a go and we’re certainly seeing more beers labelled as ‘Gluten Free’ on the shelves.

There are, predictably, a lot of people asking if gluten free brewing is sustainable. The problem isn’t demand – all predictions show gluten free beer will carry on rising – but whether they can reliably supply the beer.

Lots of small breweries will have decided to give gluten free a go by researching gluten removal. There’s an enzyme that can break up long gluten strands, theoretically meaning the body doesn’t respond to them but these beers are more ‘gluten removed’ than gluten free, even though they can be sold as gluten free in the UK.

The problem comes if the entire process hinges on one enzyme process. Gluten free products in Europe can’t contain more than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten; if the enzyme process doesn’t work fully, then the beer fails the test and can’t be sold as GF Beer. We recently heard of one brewery whose gluten free enzyme failure was up to one batch in eight, leaving them with thousands of litres of unsellable beer. Some breweries run on tiny margins, meaning a loss of this nature before you even start is catastrophic. They could test the beer further, but it won’t tell them why the beer failed and the laboratory work is extremely expensive and won’t change the fact it can’t be sold as gluten free.

Into the world of Big Breweries. You’ll have noticed the Free From aisle has many big names with a little “GF” logo, mainly gluten removed versions of popular beers. Some might say it’s just market demand, they’ve noticed an “uplift in gluten free lifestyles” and want a share of it – because for them it’s no risk.  For small brewers, maybe willing to experiment a little more, the risk is much greater, especially if the margins are tight and they only brew gluten removed beer.

For Green’s, brewing gluten free beer is as much about experimenting with a different way of doing things as much as it is about serving a particular need. Using Ancient Grains changes the texture and taste of the final beer, seeing how this affected everything from our Dry Hopped Lager to our Tripel has been fascinating We also have a range of five gluten removed beers, but we use a multi-stage gluten removal system, which starts in the mashing in before brewing begins and runs right to the end. All the beers from Ancient Grains and gluten removed are available to purchase as an experimental pack

Predictions about gluten free beer being unsustainable are already quite old. Whether it’s that gluten free is a fad, the Big Brewers will muscle out the small makers or that it’s too complicated to make a reliable gluten removed beer and that people will just give up on it, it’s been said before. We don’t want to see a stage where the number of gluten free beers around goes down – what we want is for ‘Gluten Free’ on a label to be something exciting and a chance to taste something truly experimental and unique!