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Gluten-Free Beer Tastes Great, Makes Money

September 6, 2013

As brewing giants struggle to sell suds in the U.S., Craft Brew Alliance (BREW), the company behind Kona, Red Hook, and Widmer, said its sales by volume increased by 9 percent in the last quarter and net income almost doubled to $1.1 million, thanks in a large part to its new, gluten-free brand.
In the year-earlier period, the beer, called Omission (get it?), wasn’t widely available, though it now accounts for 3 percent of Craft Brew’s output. The company gave the beer a hearty cheers in its earnings announcement this morning.
The gluten-free market is approaching $5 billion, according to a recent study, with almost one in five adults buying products that specifically aren’t made with wheat or related grains. None of this has been lost on beer makers; they’ve cooked up a number of batches for the gluten-averse, including AB InBev’s “Redbridge” brand.
Craft Brew, however, is particularly sensitive to demand. Its chief executive officer, Terry Michaelson, has been diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder aggravated by gluten. (Imagine if Hamdi Ulakaya were lactose-intolerant.) The wife of Brewmaster Joe Casey has the same affliction. Michaelson and Casey went out of their way to make Omission with barley, the traditional grain of choice, instead of such typical substitutes as sorghum and rice. Omission can’t legally be labeled “gluten-free” (at least not yet) because of the barley, but the company promises that virtually all gluten is stripped out in a proprietary process that gets the beer well under new federal thresholds.
So how does it taste? Omission’s pale ale version earned a score of 80 on BeerAdvocate, an online reviewing site, while the lager rated a 74. A Tennessee drinker under the tag Lexan66 wrote: “It actually tastes like beer!”
That’s better than lots of traditional made-with-wheat beers and almost equal to Fat Tire, a craft beer favorite, which scored an 82. InBev’s Redbridge drewa harsh 64—slightly higher than the 55 critics gave Bud Light Platinum.

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