Ask Mr. Wizard

What are some tips for making gluten-free beer?


Mike Dellemann • Stevens Point, Wisconsin asks,

My good friend is gluten free and I have been brewing for some time now and we have talked about making a gluten-free beer for him to enjoy. My local homebrew shop sells gluten-free extract but I am looking for more to add. He once tasted a black IPA and enjoyed it a lot. What are things I can add to make a better beer? Would soaking uncrushed black or chocolate malt in cold water result in glutens? Is lactose sugar okay to use or will there be glutens left? What are some other grains to add or roast myself to add some complexity?


Celiac Disease is an immune reaction to certain gluten proteins
found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. This means that when a brewery
brews a beverage specifically for this group of people great caution
must be taken to prevent these special gluten-free beers from being
contaminated by the normal brewery environment. This is not an easy
thing to do in a commercial brewery since malt conveyors, mills and
hoppers are not typically cleaned like other brewing equipment because
dry handling equipment has different cleaning requirements than
equipment used to handle liquids. At home things are much easier to

And this begins with yeast. If you buy liquid yeast starters there is a
chance that the starter could contain gluten proteins because wort is a
great growth media and brewers like pitching yeast grown in wort. Even
dried yeast can be an issue since it is also grown in some media. In
order to be sure you begin with gluten-free yeast, talk to your yeast
supplier to be sure that it is gluten free. Or, you can grow your own
yeast by beginning with microbiological plating, followed by propagation
in gluten-free wort.

Gluten-free extract is a great way to make your wort since the suppliers
of these extracts have really done the hard part. The most common grain
used for gluten-free beer is sorghum and the gluten-free extracts I
have seen are predominately made from sorghum. Other common gluten-free
ingredients include honey, sugar, rice and maize.

The challenge that is often faced is adding colors and flavors to
sorghum malt for specialty beers. All special grains made from wheat,
barley, rye and oats are off-limits, and cold extraction methods like
you describe do not make them okay to use.

Ingredients like coffee, chocolate, fruit, peppers, spices, molasses,
roasted pumpkin and oak would be easy to use to augment a relatively
bland sorghum extract base. A chipotle porter could be made using
ingredients like chicory and cocoa as a substitute for roasted
malt/barley and the beer further flavored with chipotle peppers for
richness. You could also try brewing some sort of high gravity beer,
darken it using black treacle, gently spicing with something like black
cardamom powder and then age it on oak (or with oak chips) to add
another layer of complexity.

Response by Ashton Lewis.