Celiac disease is a toxic reaction in the small intestine to gluten in cereal grains, especially wheat, barley and rye. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, it affects one of every 133 people in the United States. It can cause weight loss, weight gain, skin rashes, depression and it can strike at any age.
Beer is made with cereal grains, all containing gluten. Ergo no beer. Over the last few years, there have been attempts to make beer without grain: honey beers, weird rice beers. Yuck.
Well, if you're a celiac and even if you aren't, there's a real beer being brewed in San Jose that's just beginning to arrive in markets around the Bay Area. It's Dragon's Gold from the Bard's Tale Beer Co., Lees Summit, Mo. It's made with malted sorghum, a grain that as far as a laboratory can detect contains no measurable gluten.
What's more, the beer is delicious. It's a dusty gold, fine, beery aroma and a lively head of crisp, white foam. The taste is dry with an unusual, but not off-putting, grainy, nutlike sweetness in the background that lasts into a fine, aromatic Hallertau hop finish.
You don't have to be a celiac to like this beer. It's going to be a regular in my beer fridge.
Here's the story. The beer is being brewed at Gordon-Biersch in San Jose under contract for Bard's Tale Beer Co., which was founded by Craig Belser and Kevin Seplowitz.
Belser, who was a computer system analyst before he founded his beer company, explains he suffered from a wheat allergy as a child, but grew out of it.
"Then when I was 35, it hit me again. They told me, 'You can't have any beer.'
"Well," he says, "it's not that I drink a case of beer a week, but not being able to drink beer had an impact on my lifestyle."
So he became a home brewer, experimenting with various grains. He lives in the Kansas City area where there's lots of grain. He also began analyzing beer and grain using his computer system. Eventually, he settled on a kind of sorghum.
"I made a beer that tasted like beer. It wasn't a great beer, because I'm not a great brewer," he said in a telephone interview. He hooked up with Seplowitz, who handles the business side of the company. They hired a brewer and spent months perfecting the recipe and learning about malting sorghum.
They contracted with a small New York brewery to make the beer commercially, but the attempt failed, according to Belser.
"We made beer grenades," he says.
After more research, they signed on with Gordon-Biersch. Co-founder Dan Gordon took on the project, and after months learning about brewing sorghum and finding a proper recipe that the yeast would like, they began cranking out the beer.
It apparently begins with a lager yeast, but fermentation is different, so the beer is actually a hybrid, both ale and lager. The little company has big plans.
"We're in 19 states and I could be national in six months," Belser says.
I believe he may be right. This is a fine beer.
Sorghum beer, by the way, is extremely popular in Africa. Sorghum is a tropical grass that originated there. SABMiller makes the leading sorghum beer in Africa. But most is made by small brewers using wild yeast, is dark and sour and meant to be consumed within a few days of brewing. It's immensely popular among Zulus.
-More information on celiac disease can be found at http://www.celiac.org/cd-main.php. Information about Bard's Tale Beer is at http://www.bardsbeer.com. I've also posted some notes on sorghum beer in Africa on my blogs: http://www.beernewsletter.com and http://www.ibabuzz.com/beerblog.
Calendar: There are a couple of spectacular beer events coming up this weekend:
-Dinner with the Brewmaster, 6:30 p.m. Friday, Cathedral Hill Hotel, San Francisco, will feature the unusual and extreme beers of Dogfish Head Brewing, Milton, Del. Brewery founder Sam Calagione will be present. A typical course: Poached foie gras with Osetra caviar, paired with Dogfish Head Midas Touch Golden Elixir. $80. Reservations to: Bruce Paton, (415) 674-3406.
-The Bistro Barrel Aged Beer Fest, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 1001 B St., Hayward. More than 50 beers on tap, each aged in wine or whiskey barrels. This is a first-of-its-kind event. Admission $25, includes a commemorative glass and 10 two-ounce tastes. Barbeque, live music as well. Info: (510) 886-8525, http://www.the-bistro.com.
Beer ratings are based on a star system. world classic; outstanding; excellent; good; average.
Staff writer William Brand publishes What's On Tap, a consumer craft beer and hard cider newsletter. He can be reached at (510) 915-1180. Fax: (510) 841-6023. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.