The nationally recognized Philly Beer Week kicks off next week, and while there are no gluten-free breweries participating this time out, next year could well be different. Two area brewers are busy finalizing plans to slake the thirst of gluten-free beer drinkers.
5 O’Clock Brew Co. ("It's quitting time," he says of the name), thought about developing gluten-free beer almost immediately after starting his brewery five years ago. His father, who is his best friend and drinking buddy, was diagnosed with celiac disease a decade ago.
Using the right hops properly is an important part of McDonald’s brewing process. “If you’re using the wrong hops, you’ll end up with serious bitterness,” he warns. “I’m trying to stay away from bitter.” 5 O’Clock Brewery’s gluten-free beers will be made with grains such as quinoa, amaranth, gluten-free oats and whole sorghum. According to McDonald, this will allow the gluten-free beers to resemble their traditional counterparts in body and color. “You want to be able to enjoy the same India pale ale or stout your friends are having,” he says.
McDonald claims his beers will be different from other gluten-free brews on the market primarily because of the on-site roasting process. His method will also depart from traditional techniques in the way ingredients are combined. McDonald says that many gluten-free beers taste too much like sorghum, and his beers will use more roasted grains instead of relying principally on sorghum and hops for taste. The grains will be roasted on-site and added to the mash later - after the sorghum and brown rice syrup. He says that this process allows the brewer to “extract what you want” from the grains before adding them to the mash.
Although McDonald also plans on having a line of traditional brews, he won’t skimp on his gluten-free offerings and will look to have a certified gluten-free facility. The gluten-free brewhouse will be located on its own floor, and he intends to distribute the product to bars exclusively in bottles, rather than in kegs, to avoid accidental use of non-gluten-free tap lines. Both the gluten-free and traditional lines will include an IPA, a stout and a flagship Belgian white called "Elvis."
For Kulbacki, the decision to make gluten-free beer is personal. He resolved to make gluten-free beer two years ago after he lost his best friend, who had celiac disease, in a car accident. “As a home brewer, I promised I would make good gluten-free beer for him, as we had always joked about starting our own brew pub. After his passing, I became dedicated to the mission of making ‘his’ beer available for everyone that walked in similar shoes.”
Kulbacki is currently scouting locations in the Garden State and plans on making only gluten-free beer at his brewery. He's guarding his recipes, adding some "secret ingredients” throughout the process. His sorghum-based IPA – which Kulbacki describes as his “baby” - recently won the specialty category and placed third in the Best of Show category in the New York City Homebrewers Guild annual competition.
“There are a lot of challenges with gluten-free beer - not only in sourcing the ingredients, but their cost to acquire, consistency, and really the existence of the ingredients,” Kulbacki says. “Most gluten-free beer is extract-based and a lot of brewers don't like that.”
In addition to settling on a location, Kulbacki is focused on perfecting a pale blonde, a dark porter and Blue Moon-like witbier. “The fun of craft beer is that every one should be different," he says, "and every one will appeal to different consumers."