Gluten Is My Bitch & Omission
I had the pleasure of being one of the three media members that turned out last Thursday evening to an exclusive roundtable interview with April Peveteaux, author of the new book Gluten Is My Bitch and the blog of the same name. Normally, a gluten-free event probably would not invite beer bloggers, as we are usually pushing gluten in all its glory. However, this particular event that April had as part of her book promotion tour was hosted by Widmer Brothers at the brewery in North Portland. To sweeten the pot, the round table included Widmer Brewmaster Joe Casey (the 'brains behind Omission') and Terry Michaelson (celiac and CEO of Widmer's parent company, Craft Brew Alliance Inc.), plus plenty of free Omission beers available for enjoying.
For those out of the loop, Omission is CBA's newest brand and they make a lager, pale ale and IPA that are all made with traditional brewing ingredients (i.e. gluten-rich malted barley), but then go through a process to remove virtually all of the gluten from the finished product. This is an important distinction because other 'gluten-free' (I use quotes because the federal government is still debating whether Omission can be called gluten-free as the product still contains gluten fragments, although at counts well below the recognized international standard for gluten-free labeling) beers are made with alternative ingredients such as sorghum or chestnuts. Although these beers, such as Portland's own Harvester Brewing, can be a delicious alternative to a regular craft beer with gluten, they still have a different flavor profile. Omission aims to make as close to a similar product as possible, just without the gluten. I was able to try Omission's newest beer, the IPA, during the event. I had previously had the lager and the pale ale which are both solid beers, but they are both styles that I do not find myself reaching for very often. On the other hand, I am always hunting down IPAs to try and an IPA is always my fall back option at a pub or restaurant when I am being indecisive. Therefore, I was quite excited to try the IPA and I have to say that Omission has made another solid beer. The IPA is not going to stand out in a Northwest crowd with hop showcases like Boneyard RPM or Fort George Vortex as I would compare more to the IPAs of old (meaning 10 or more years ago). The closest beer that came to mind when I was drinking it was Harpoon IPA out of Boston, but a Portland reference might be Bridgeport IPA.
During the roundtable, some interesting things came up around Omission. When asked about the recent press (see here) related to some folks complaining about the gluten fragments in Omission making them sick, Joe and Terry said they take those issues very seriously. Terry himself has responded directly to anyone who has complained about this potential issue. April said she had not heard of anyone having problems with Omission, but all three stated it is very hard to avoid gluten in the modern world as it has found its way into all sorts of everyday products. They did not want to discount these people's experiences, but they said it is often hard to pinpoint exactly what may have caused a reaction because of the prevalence of gluten. In response to a question about beer recipes that Omission beers could be used in, April suggested beer battered fish & chips or chili. However, the one request she had was for a dark beer such as a porter or stout because there are many recipes out there that call for this type of beer that she can no longer make because of her celiac disease. Joe responded by saying that during the Omission development process, they made all sorts of different kinds of beer and the process would work even on dark beers. They started with the lager and pale ale because they suspected their target market may not currently be drinking beer, so they wanted to start with some lighter options. The IPA was next because it is the most popular craft beer style. However, he stated they have no current plans to expand the Omission line further as they are focusing on growing the market with the current line-up.
If you have stuck with me this long, you are are either gluten intolerant yourself or you may be asking what the big deal is with gluten. April stated that there are 3 million people in the US alone that have been diagnosed with celiac disease with an additional 2 million suspected that have not been diagnosed. On top of that, an estimated 20 million could be classified as gluten intolerant. I do not fall into either category, but I do believe the human body is not naturally designed to run on grains (for more information, I would recommend Mark's Daily Apple). I do not let this stop me from enjoying beer, but I have changed my consumption habits to only drink a beer when that beer is worth drinking. For example, when I am travelling I generally will not drink a complimentary beer in first class because Blue Moon is generally the most unusual thing available. I am not ready to make the switch to Omission, but if they are able to prove this concept and grow the market then I will look forward to others following them and potentially pushing the envelope further. In the meantime, I will probably always have Omission IPA in my fridge for my visitors that cannot have gluten. It certainly beats seeing them show up with a sixer of Red Bridge which has happened more than I would like to admit.
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