Judging gluten free beer at the FreeFrom Food Awards

As you can imagine, judging the FreeFrom Food Awards Gluten Free beer category is quite a popular session. I’ve had my eye on judging the beer for some time and this year my dream came true. Everyone wants to judge the gluten free beer, or is that just me? I know it can be an acquired taste but it’s definitely one I discovered many years ago.

Due to my challenging multiple food allergies it’s probably the only section in the FreeFrom Food Awards where I could pretty much guarantee to be able to sample EVERY entry, that is unless someone brews a nut beer which is unlikely though not unheard of in some countries.

When judging the other FreeFrom sections I need to be on my guard and scrutinise every product sheet, all carefully and clearly labelled for allergens present or ‘may contain’. I’ve got pretty good at this now and the FoodsMatter team are always really helpful, making sure that where possible, no unnecessary soya, dairy or other allergens are used in preparation when I’m there, for which I am eternally grateful.

It’s such a privilege to be involved in such a fun process, and one that does a great deal to raise the profile for freefrom foods and drink. Let’s not forget the drink, which is, after all, what we’re here to discuss today.


What do I know about gluten free beer?

Now I’m no expert on beer but I do enjoy a proper real ale. My best friend and I got into real ale when we were at uni, we soon realised that the piddly shorts and head ache inducing wine were leaving us short changed as students and our already superiour tastes left us wanting more after gassy flavourless lagers.

We discovered real ale and became quite the little experts in the local tiples. Whether my over consumption of real ale was to blame or just one of those things, my wheat intolerance came to visit me and it became impossible for me to continue drinking real ale – not in such student like quantities anyway.

It was a sad day, but the constant pain and… I’ll say no more, saw an end to my real ale days, for a while, and cider won out.

Over the years I’ve managed to enjoy the odd half and have tried some very nice freefrom lagers and real ales but I don’t find them in shops often and never in pubs. They are also always higher priced. They are rarely on offer in pubs and I’ve missed my real ale so it was with much excitment that I travelled to London for the real ale tasting. Mr What Allergy was a little jealous at not being invited too – he is a passionate real ale lover himself so is very interested to see which beer wins this category. Even he does not know – What goes on at the judging stays at the judging!

Let the judging commence – pass the spittoon

Together with gluten free beer expert Sue Cane, a chap from CAMRA, a brewer, some non beer drinkers and some normal beer lovers, we lined up our numbered glasses and our comment sheets and began the process.
Gluten Beer Tasting 2013

Which one was the best?

You might think this would be an easy decision, and for obvious reasons I can’t share with you which were actually mine and the groups favourites, but there were some very interesting drinks to taste.

I worked out my own system, to try one sample and keep most of it, lining them up in number order in front of me.

This meant that when I could no longer tell the difference I could go back and try a sip of number three again, or remind myself of just what number six was like and why I voted that one so highly…

After just two or three sips of different beers I was already feeling tipsy, how was that even possible?

And don’t imagine that because these beers were gluten free they are taste free or alcohol free; one or two had quite impressive alcohol content too at 5 and 6.5%. Hic! *£@~

Can some beer be naturally gluten free? Yes!

Some of them were delicious and amazingly, some normal real ale that has been tested for levels of gluten is actually gluten free by mistake. So many of the beer we see on tap in the pubs may be very low or low enough to be classified as gluten free. After the beer making process and depending on ingredients used, it seems that beer makers have accidentally stumbled upon gluten free beer – how lovely! e.g. HopBack Crop Circle which I have definitely seen Mr What Allergy drinking – now I know I can risk more than a half I can’t wait to find it in a pub soon.

This explains my confusion, when drinking real ale, that sometimes I’m fine and others not. I hope beer makers will start to share this data with us if they do find out their beer tests as gluten free, especially if they are available in pubs and supermarkets!

It was that one, no that one – choosing a winner was tough!

I soon realised that my favourite often changed as I tried another one which was far superior, so votes were scratched out and comments graded up or down.

I also soon realised that the more beer I tasted the better they all tasted – ha ha! Only joking, honest.

This category could easily descend into anarchy but we were very sensible on the whole and all disagreements were polite with only a bit of slurring.

Little sips, and proper constructive comments. Lots of water and nibbles of oat cakes in between… oh alright, the group did end up down the pub after.

Everything I tasted was really good, I enjoyed them all, but some were very hard to compare as the products were so very different, and you could see them finding niche categories in the future – I can say no more at this point in time.

We had some heated discussions and the favourite of the CAMRA representative was often different to those of us with less discerning beer palates. We did have some disagreements… one that we thought was not so nice, the beer expert from CAMRA voted as his favourite. We then opened a fresh bottle and we all changed our minds… we loved it!

Just shows what we knew about real ale and how hard it is to judge this category. Taste is so subjective but in the end, we were all pretty conclusive about which we thought were the clear winners.

Gluten-free beer shortlist – sponsored by Orgran

And here, in alphabetical order, are the shortlisted gluten free beers…

You can also read Sue Cane’s official write up of the FreeFrom Food Awards gluten free beer judging 2013 here. That’s me in pictures two and three of Sue’s brilliant review which will give you more of an insight into the background of gluten free beer – she is the resident Foods Matter GF beer expert – lucky woman!

Has anyone tasted any of these beers? Do you have a favourite gluten free real ale? How many more real ale’s are naturally gluten free? It’s really exciting and I hope we discover many more ales that we coeliacs, wheat allergy and gluten intolerant people can enjoy.

PS. I did not spot much use of the spittoon… it was too good to spit out!

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About Ruth

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. http://www.whatallergy.com was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She also won the Foods You Can People's choice Best FreeFrom blogger award 2014.


  1. DodgyDeb says:

    On a recent trip to Rome gluten free lager and beer were available in a lot of restaurants, bars and in both of the supermarkets I visited 🙂
    About time it was more widely available over here

    • Hoorah! I have heard Italy are very good for gluten free. That’s great to hear, thanks for sharing Deb.

      • DodgyDeb says:

        Was very impressed to be honest. Loads of restaurants did gluten free pasta and pizzas too, and some were very helpful with my other allergies 😉

        A couple of phrases that might be useful:
        Sono allergico alla… ( I am allergic to…)
        Avete senza glutine birra (do you have gluten free beer)
        È senza glutine? (Is it gluten-free?)


  1. […] experience with gluten free beer has been mixed. I enjoy them all and had a wonderful time at the FreeFrom Food Awards judging the gluten free beer section, but too much of any beer still seemed to be causing me wheaty symptoms. I won’t go into […]

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