TASTE

Taste Test: The Best (And Absolute Worst) Gluten-Free Beers

04/01/2015 05:49 pm ET
Joe Satran/The Huffington Post

There may have been a time when "gluten-free beer" was an oxymoron -- when the only option for someone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity who had a hankering for a moderately alcoholic carbonated beverage was hard cider -- but that time is not 2015. At least a third of Americans are now trying to avoid gluten, and beer companies, not wanting to lose out on a huge share of their customer base, have rushed to develop a host of gluten-free beers, across all styles, over the past few years. So at this point, "gluten-free beer" is almost as well established a category as "decaf coffee" or "diet soda."

But among beer aficionados, gluten-free beers still get a pretty bad rap. When asked for a recommendation for a good beer for someone trying to avoid gluten, many of them would still recommend cider.

With that in mind, we decided to give gluten-free beer a chance by conducting a taste test of as many brands as we could find (in southern California) in an effort to identify at least one that actually tastes great.

We tried a dozen beers -- and, sadly, that experience mostly reinforced our negative impressions of gluten-free beer. Almost all the beers we tried had strange textures: fizzier and less substantial than you'd expect from a beer. And many also had flavor profiles that were, in one respect or another, seriously flawed. There was a preponderance of unpleasant piney, honey-like and tropical fruit flavor notes, and few of the beers struck the right balance between bitterness and sweetness.

Still, we found several beers that, even if they won't make our personal lists of favorite beers anytime soon, were completely acceptable. Even good! Scroll down to see which ones we liked -- and which ones we completely hated.

As always, the brands included did not in any way sponsor or influence the outcome of this taste test.

  • The Contenders
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    From left to right: Unity Vibration Bourbon Peach American Wild Ale, Omission Lager, New Planet Pale Ale, Lakefront New Grist, Glutenberg IPA, Green's Enterprise Dry-Hopped Lager, Brunehaut Organic Belgian Amber Ale, Joseph James Fox Tail Ale, Redbridge Gluten-Free Beer, Stone Delicious IPA, Bard's Original Sorghum Malt Ale, Epic Glutenator
  • 1. Brunehaut Organic Amber Ale: Best In Show
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    ABV: 6.5 percent
    Cost: $14 per four-pack
    Tasters Said: "That's really good. Reminds me of non-gluten-free beer. The texture is a little light and fizzy but the flavor is spot-on." "Refreshing and summery. Could sit on a porch with this baby. A bit sour but I like it." "Sweet, mild." "Tastes a little like coffee. Sort of a lighter dark beer taste. I could drink this if I were celiac."
  • 2. Redbridge Gluten-Free Sorghum Beer: Highly Recommended, Great Value
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    ABV: 4 percent
    Cost: $7 per six-pack
    Tasters Said: "This tastes like grapefruit juice. I want to drink it outside. I'm into it." "Drinkable, pretty middle of the road. Light on the bubbles." "Decent. Not too sweet or sour. Somewhere in the middle." "Tastes like a typical beer -- no special taste -- a little sweet at the finish."
  • 3. Joseph James Fox Tail Ale: Highly Recommended
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    ABV: 5 percent
    Cost: $9 per six-pack
    Tasters Said: "Tastes like strawberry! Bizarrely fruity. But pleasant." "OK for hot summer parties. You'd have to drink it cold." "Not great but passable." "Sort of like a cider. Sweet -- but a little medicinal." "A little too sweet. Vaguely reminds me of champagne. Nice and crisp, though!"
  • 4. Epic Glutenator: Highly Recommended
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    ABV: 6.9 percent
    Cost: $7 per 22 oz. bottle
    Tasters Said: "This is all right. It has kind of a spicy thing going on. At least it tastes like something. Kind of like beer even, maybe." "Reminds me of raspberry soda, but with a bitter finish. Pretty good." "Flavorful, citrusy. Kinda nice and summery." "Not bad. Aftertaste is a bit strange -- but I wouldn't spit it out. It is refreshing."
  • 5. Glutenberg IPA: Recommended
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    ABV: 6 percent
    Cost: $11 per four-pack
    Tasters Said: "Very tasty IPA. Nice spice, not too strong." "So, so bitter." "Would be OK for any hop-head." "Quite bitter, with lots of aromatics. Heavy orange peel. Some coriander." "Hoppy, standard-ish IPA. Best of the bunch for sure. Still a bit odd."
  • 6. Stone Delicious IPA: Recommended, But Not Celiac-Friendly
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    Editor's Note: According to Stone, Delicious IPA has been crafted to reduce gluten to levels less than 20 parts per million, but it is not technically gluten-free, and so may not be appropriate for those with celiac disease or severe gluten sensitivity.
    ABV: 7.7 percent
    Cost: $9 per six-pack
    Tasters Said: "Ooh. I kind of like this one. It has a little bit of a ginger thing going on, and it tastes like real beer." "Not my type of beer, but I think people could like this one." "Bitter. Drinkable though." "Lots of clove and orange peel. Nice thick mouthfeel."
  • 7. Lakefront New Grist: Recommended With Reservations
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    ABV: 5.75 percent
    Cost: $9 per six-pack
    Tasters Said: "Vanilla, smooth." "Very sweet, lots of tropical fruit notes. Too much. Treacly. Not revolting, but I don't like it." "This is coconut-pineapple suntan lotion, not beer. Frosting too." "Tastes like juice or cider. Doesn't really feel like a beer to me. But OK for a sweeter option, I suppose."
  • 8. Bard's Original Sorghum Malt Beer: Recommended With Reservations
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    ABV: 4.6 percent
    Cost: $10 per six-pack
    Tasters Said: "Not sure what this wants to be. Not bad, but strange." "Funky, bitter, weird honey notes." "Could drink this all day on a patio -- sunny, citrusy." "Light and drinkable." "Tastes like a wet cardboard box." "It's not offensive, but like, why? I don't know, I guess it's fine."
  • 9. Green's Enterprise Dry Hopped Lager: Recommended With Reservations
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    ABV: 4.1 percent
    Cost: $7 per 16.9 oz. bottle
    Tasters Said: "Gross, like bad pineapple juice." "Weirdly mango-ish on the nose, but pretty flat in the mouth." "A little bitter, some apricot." "Unremarkable. Meh." "Uptown funk. Not in a good way. What are these flavors? No, thank you."
  • 10. Omission Lager: Recommended With Reservations
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    ABV: 4.6 percent
    Cost: $9 per six-pack
    Tasters Said: "Hoppy, lighter body, effervescent." "Celiac-friendly frat house beer." "Drinkable, but too light and boring. Thin, thin, thin." "Tastes like shitty, cheap college beer. Not a compliment." "Very light, almost on Bud Light level. No bueno, unless it's chug-o-clock."
  • 11. Unity Vibration Bourbon Peach American Wild Ale: Not Recommended
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    ABV: 7 percent
    Cost: $10 per 22 oz. bottle
    Tasters Said: "This is basically kombucha, for better or worse." "It smells bad but tastes like lemonade. But like … sort of bad, rotten lemonade." "Tastes like a funky warhead, and not in a good way." "Tastes like rotten fruit juice." "Kombucha-like/sour, but also honey-ish and cloying. At least it feels intentional, not accidentally bad." "Well the smell alone is terrifying. The taste wasn't as bad, but I would definitely say it was sour and confusing."
  • 12. New Planet Pale Ale: Worst In Show
    Joe Satran/The Huffington Post
    ABV: 6.4 percent
    Cost: $8 per four-pack
    Tasters Said: "Disgusting. Literally made me gag." "Gross! Tastes like something went wrong." "Smells like vinegar. Gross! I nearly gagged at first. My least favorite by far." "An atrocity."

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