Sprecher Brewing and Bard’s Brewing Gluten-Free Beers By: Chris Wise
It is estimated that over 3 million Americans, or 1 in every 105 Americans, suffer from an autoimmune disorder known as Celiac Disease. The disease wrecks havoc on the intestinal system, causing an inflammatory reaction whenever the patient ingests the gluten protein found in wheat or other comparable grains, such as barley or rye. Symptoms include pain during digestion, anemia and fatigue, and it is estimated that only 5% of those that suffer from Celiac Disease are correctly diagnosed. Thankfully, if the disorder is identified the patient can treat the disease by adhering to a strict gluten-free diet. While this solves the treating the disease, it creates an entirely new problem for the patient: many of the most popular beers in America are brewed with wheat, barley or rye, and therefore cannot be consumed by those suffering from Celiac Disease.
The idea of going through life without having another sip of beer is a terrifying thought for most of us, even if it means saving you from intense intestinal discomfort. Thankfully, as awareness of the disease and how many Americans are affected by it rises, so too do the number of companies catering to the specific needs of a gluten-free diet. Just as the food market has exploded in the past years with options like all organic, free-range raised animals, and gluten-free foods, the beer market has begun to keep pace with the national craze. Craft breweries take pride in showing off their all-natural ingredients, green brewing processes. Sprecher Brewing and Bard’s Brewing take great pride satisfying a smaller audience than the large national brewing corporations. It only makes sense then that craft beer companies have begun creating gluten-free beers in an attempt to reach the millions of American’s that suffer from Celiac’s Disease.
Sprecher Brewing Company was started in 1985 by Randall Sprecher in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point area. Milwaukee has long been a hot bed of beer making, and Randall Sprecher knows this very well. Sprecher served as a brewing supervisor for Pabst Blue Ribbon brewing company in Milwaukee, one of America’s oldest and most storied breweries. Randall Sprecher decided to go out on his own and craft a unique line of beers, moving away from the simpler recipes used at national brands to the more specialized craft beers.
Sprecher Brewing enjoyed success from the start by focusing on producing great tasting beers, and in 1994 were forced to relocate to a larger facility to handle the increased demand for their great products. Sprecher explains why Americans responded so enthusiastically to their craft beers: “Like the biggest selling wines, many mass market beers are made to appeal to as broad of an audience as possible. This means they have to be produced at a highly competitive price and that they must offend no one. Much of the distinctive qualities of the traditional regional type brews is lost.” Comparing millions of barrels produced a year by the major brewery corporations to the thousands of barrels produced by craft breweries yearly, it is easy to see that craft breweries can keep their eye on the quality of the beer much better than their larger competitors. By moving away from mass produced products to artfully crafting fine products, Sprecher anticipated the boom craft breweries have experienced in the past years.
Sprecher has produced quality beers since their inception back in 1985. Their Black Bavarian brew has been a mainstay since 1985, an intensely dark lager with superb malt complexity. The Special Amber has been their best selling brew since 1985 with its creamy head, impressive hop bouquet and deep golden color. Coming out with Sprecher Light in 2005, Sprecher was beginning to branch out from their original brew line to meet more specialized demands. In 2006, by stubbornly adhering to traditional brewing methods and eschewing modern advances, Sprecher filled a gaping hole in the beer market.
Looking to come up with some recipes in honor of Milwaukee’s African World Festival, the company introduced Sprecher Shakparo, building off traditional African recipes. While the original recipes contained small amounts of gluten, Sprecher responded to outpouring of customers wondering if their Shakparo was gluten-free by updating the recipe to remove the gluten, and in effect taking the beer closer the original African recipe. Because barley and wheat are not grown in large quantities in sub-Saharan Africa, traditional Shakparos is brewed with sorghum and millet and are therefore able to be brewed gluten-free since neither sorghum nor millet contain gluten. So in 2006, Sprecher accidently created a delicious gluten-free brew, answering the prayers of beer aficionados suffering from Celiac Disease.
Sprecher’s gluten-free Shakparo Ale is a West African Shakparo-style beer brewed from sorghum and millet. An unfiltered, light, crisp ale with a cider or fruit profile and a dry vinous aftertaste, it is best characterized as an easy-drinking or session beer perfect for summer gatherings. Coming in at 5.7% ABV and 9 IBUs, the Sprecher Shakparo has been a hit since its inception in 2006. This beer pairs nicely with lighter fare such as sandwiches, salads, chicken, fish, and spicier foods.
Sprecher Brewing is currently in the middle of a big brewery expansion adding new bottling lines and 9 new fermentation tanks. All because of their hard root beer and growing their brands nationally like their Shakparo beer.
While Sprecher Brewing may have gotten into the gluten-free market by accident, the story behind Bard’s Brewing is more deliberate if somewhat more improbable. While many stories behind craft breweries start along the lines of “Late one night I was having a beer with some friends and thought…” but for Kevin Seplowitz and Craig Belser this wasn’t really an option. Both suffered from Celiac’s Disease, but were suffering more from the fact this kept them from one of their favorite past times: enjoying a tasty brew.
Spotting a gap in the market, Kevin Seplowitz contacted Craig Belser when he found a gluten-free beer recipe of his online, and they set about to create a delicious brew that was still gluten-free. Founding Bard’s Tale Brewing in 2004, Seplowitz and Belser began looking at recipes using only the grain Sorghum, which does not contain gluten. The result was Bard’s Gold Sorghum Beer, the first gluten-free beer to use nothing but malted grains of sorghum, released in November 2004 and met with universal praise from the gluten-free community. While Bard’s Gold Sorghum Beer was the third gluten-free beer to be brewed in America, it was one of the first successful gluten-free recipes because the founder’s lived by one simple rule: if it doesn’t taste like a real beer, they wouldn’t sell it. So after perfecting the recipe and releasing it on an eager market, Bard’s Tale quickly hit their production capacity and had to expand, and has been enjoying continued success ever since. Bard’s was the first sorghum beer; they created and set the standard currently followed in the market today. Bard’s are the only brewer that malts the sorghum just like barley is malted in traditional beer for traditional beer flavor, aroma and color. Sorghum malt is not commercially available so they had to do it themselves. However, the flavor is worth the extra effort and expense. By focusing on producing a high quality gluten-free brew, Bard’s Tale has even been able to win over beer drinkers not suffering from Celiac’s Disease.
Bard’s Tale Gold Sorghum Beer
Crisp golden colors strike the eye first, followed by a light foam head on the top, which quickly dissipates, giving way to the beer aroma with a hint of honey. Fresh apple flavors and earthy tones mingle with the strong taste of honey, which is front and center in this 4.6% ABV, 20.5 IBUs brew. This solid and dependable Amber Lager will satisfy the approximately 2 million Americans of drinking age that suffer from Celiac’s disease, as well as those looking for a tasty but simple brew.
Sprecher and Bard’s Gluten-Free beers are proudly distributed locally by Galli Distributing.