Celiac Disease, Beer, and Me: A Tale of Irony

Irony: a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.

Kinda like a beer blogger that can’t drink beer anymore.

After many months of suffering, multiple tests, the opinions of two different doctors, six weeks on a gluten-free diet, and finally starting to feel good again, I have no choice but to accept that fact that I have Celiac disease and can never, ever, have beer again.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where gluten damages the lining of the small intestine. Gluten is a protein in certain grains like barley, wheat, and rye. After having gluten you experience symptoms like diarrhea, painful bloating, gas, nausea, and 200 other symptoms. If not treated, you might eventually develop osteoporosis and will have an increased risk of cancer.

There is no medicine to take for Celiac disease. The only option to prevent these symptoms is to avoid all gluten. If you succeed in completely and totally avoiding gluten then the symptoms will go away.

How’d this happen all the sudden? Celiac disease is genetic but it only activates in certain people with the genes. I’ve been trying to look into this and there just isn’t too much known about why, how, or when Celiac disease activates in peoples. But for me it decided to kick on sometime last September, I’d love to know exactly why.

Gluten-Free and gluten-reduced beer

All beer has four ingredients; barley, hops, water, and yeast. Without those four things, you don’t have beer anymore, at least as far as I’m concerned. Some breweries and homebrewers have created alcohol using sorghum, rice, millet, or buckwheat in place of the barley. Every one of those that I’ve had has not tasted like beer or anything I want to drink. There are a few sorghum-based beers available wherever better beer is sold, but I do not believe anyone local is brewing with sorghum. Rolling Mill recently opened in Middletown using a blend of rice, millet, and buckwheat for their fermentable sugars.

There’s also gluten reduced beer out there. Brewers can use Brewer Clarex (called Clarity Ferm for homebrewers), an enzyme that helps clarify beer and breaks down gluten to make it below 20 ppm which is the FDA’s limit for saying gluten-free. The verdict is out if people with Celiac can drink gluten reduced beer. Some can drink it without a problem while others have severe reactions. I have yet to find out for myself and I’m not sure how willing I am to take the risk.

Omission Brewery makes a line of gluten reduced beers and Stone has their gluten reduced Delicious IPA. Locally, MadTree also uses Clarity Ferm in all their beers, however, they do have a note of caution:

To begin, all MadTree beers are formulated to be gluten-reduced ales based on the fining agent that we use, Clarity Ferm. But, we cannot declare them to be gluten free.

MadTree Happy Amber Poster Gluten ReducedWe have not done exhaustive testing on all of Madtree beers, nor do we test every batch, but the fining agent should reduce the gluten below 20 PPM. Overall, Happy Amber’s base recipe has the lowest gluten content to begin with and has tested in the past below 10 PPM. That being said, please consume at your own risk it is always possible small changes in production could affect the levels.

Bourbon, Cider, and Wine

Cider, mead, and wine, lacking barley or wheat, are naturally gluten-free and are the most common choices for Celiac sufferers. I’ve never been too big a fan of wine, though I do enjoy the occasional Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve also never been big on cider, though I’ve never spent too much time thinking about them. That has changed drastically this year. I thought all cider was cloyingly sweet alcoholic apple juice. Since receiving my diagnosis I’ve learned more about cider and have discovered some very exciting ciders. Apparently, Spanish ciders are very tart and funky due to a natural wild fermentation process, like traditional sour beer. If you’re curious about funky ciders then head to Party Source and look for Shacksbury cider.

Bourbon and whiskey, while not gluten-free, are considered safe for those with Celiac disease. The distillation process removes the gluten from the finished product. This is fantastic for me because I thoroughly enjoy bourbon. I’ve never got too into it because I’d always spend money on beer instead of bourbon. That’s different now and I’m excited to try a lot more bourbons. As of this writing, Watershed and Eagle Rare are my two “easily” available favorites, Weller 12 is my nearly unobtainable love.

The Future of this Blog

I wrote my first post here just under six years ago, March 30th, 2012. This isn’t my last post, but there probably won’t be too many left after this. I’ve signed on for a very interesting project that I’m extremely excited to take part in and I can see some of the extras from that ending up here. I don’t think I can say much about it now, and there isn’t much to say anyway, but when I can say something, I will. Jesse also suggested I write a kind of retrospective on what I’ve realized about the beer industry and beer drinkers over the past 8 years. I have most of it written, just need to polish it up and post it.

As for the videos, Jesse and I are gonna go on hiatus for a while and think about if we want to keep things the same or change course.

So we’re gonna go quiet for a while, but I doubt this will be the last you’ll hear from Brew Minds.

Thanks for all the fun over the years,

-Tom

3 thoughts on “Celiac Disease, Beer, and Me: A Tale of Irony”

  1. Tom,
    Life is a adventure, the twists & turns it takes can be sudden & unexpected. I personally know that only too well. I’m glad you put this out there as some folks unfortunately make up their own narrative, embellish or judge without a accurate understanding. We have seen that in & out of the brewing world. Leave as little to chance as possible.

    I see the irony in your situation, but it isn’t one I find amusing. You bought a honesty to the craft beer & homebrewing community that it sometimes lacks & desperately needs. Though I might not always agree with you, I always respected you because your have been relentless in your pursuit of understanding about all things beer. Immersed in beer & brewing culture has been a understatement when it comes to you. Kudos for your passion & your work. I know there have been more than a few time you took heat because of a honest opinion or thought that ran contrary to politically correct sensibilities & thinking.

    Some people sacrifice their health for career & income, only to find themselves sacrificing their career & income in a attempt to regain their health. I’m glad you are thinking with your head, as well as your heart. Good beer is a wonderful thing, but not at the expense of your health & well being. I wish you continued health, peace & prosperity on your new path, wherever it may take you. Be well my friend.

    See you on the disc golf course sometime? And if you’re every looking to go on a hike or take a bicycle ride with some other good folks, let me know. Meanwhile, enjoy some good cider!

    Like

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