The brewing industry has responded to Celiac disease and gluten intolerance with a number of different approaches to making beer without gluten. The trouble is that most gluten-free beers are, frankly, terrible. The drinkable minority—some of which are pretty terrific‐just don't taste like beer. Beer tastes like barley, and barley is chock full of gluten. Gluten-free beers that are brewed with buckwheat, millet, and sorghum as alternatives to barley and other gluten-filled grains often have a harsh twang that hangs on the palate and clashes with hop flavor and bitterness (other things that make beer taste like beer).
Earlier this year, Craft Brew Alliance announced that Widmer Brothers would be rolling out Omission beers, a line of gluten-free beers made from barley. They didn't indicate how they were made at the time, which made it all sound a bit magical or mad scientist. Certainly too good to be true (or tasty).
After an initial launch in Oregon, Widmer Brothers pulled back the curtain a bit on the proprietary process behind Omission beers, which involves low-protein grain and a product called Brewers Clarex. Brewers Clarex has been used for the past several years to prevent chill haze by breaking down proteins in beer (including gluten), keeping beer brilliantly clear when ice cold.
The Omission Pale Ale (5.8% ABV) pours a brilliant copper with an off-white head. It leans more toward the malty side, with caramel and toffee creating a base for the citrusy Cascade hops. It's smooth and medium bodied. The hops could be a bit brighter and the beer a bit more bitter, but this is still a pretty good pale ale.
The Omission lager (4.6% ABV) is the standout here. It's pale straw colored with aromas of grainy Pilsner malt and spicy hops, similar to a Munich Helles. It's clean on the palate, without any of the tartness that mars other lighter gluten-free beers I've tried. The lager could finish a bit drier, but that's just me being nitpicky. The fact is, this is better than "good for gluten-free" beer. I'd happily add this into the summer lager rotation, and gluten and I get along just fine.
Each batch of Omission is independently tested by an outside company to ensure that any remaining gluten in the beer falls well below the internationally accepted gluten-free standard of less than 20 parts per million. The bottles we tried each contained less than 5 ppm gluten, according to their website. Omission is also only sold in bottles, to prevent any chance of cross-contamination in draft lines.
Omission is currently available on the West Coast and should make its way east later this month.
Samples provided for review.