March 5, 2009

On Living Without

Today's Sun-Sentinel carries a story dear to my heart - and my health:

Gluten-free beer taps new market

I was born with Celiac disease, and was diagnosed before I was a year old; but back in the day, doctors believed it was an infantile illness that one outgrew.

Celiac Disease is actually a congenital condition; and it has several effects;
  • Celiacs do not produce an enzyme needed to break down the glutens in wheat, barley or rye.
  • Our immune system reacts to the presence of gluten by attacking the walls of our intestines.
  • That immune response also may result in muscle cramps, joint pain, skin conditions, mood swings and a long list of other symptoms. Including, yes, diarrhea.

In 2002, I was diagnosed with it again. Doctors now believe that as many as one in every one hundred and fifty Americans suffer the disease. The only treatment for celiac disease is to go on a diet that is free of gluten; no wheat, barley, or rye. And nothing made with products derived from them.

But it also means no foods that have come in contact with gluten: I can't eat eggs that are fried on the same griddle as pancakes, or eat french-fries that were cooked in oil with batter-dipped onion rings. If you've put bread stuffing into the turkey, it's the same as eating the bread directly.

It's been inconvenient not to be able to swing through a drive-through for a burger, but no big deal. I sometimes miss delivery pizza; I can get frozen rice-flour crusts, but it's not the same. And though Pizza Fusion now delivers where I live, it's twice as much and the crust just isn't the same. But I don't miss the reaction to the flour. And with rice pastas, I can get my tomato-and-garlic fix quite readily.

But living without beer was dire.
Anheuser Busch Introduces Wheat-Free Beer
Nothing hits the spot after a long, hard day, like a cold crisp, beer.

I tried to find substitutes; wine is fine, but it just doesn't hit the right flavor keys. Hard Cider is like soda, far too sweet. Liquor just got me too dang drunk. I experimented with wine spritzers, various cocktail combinations, but nothing comes close to the comfortable tang of a good brew.

I learned through research that several microbreweries made gluten free beers. None were as close as a thousand miles. I'd comb the shelves of those shops that boasted huge beer selections; no dice.

Then, Whole Foods started carrying a beer from Wisconsin: New Grist, produced by the Lakefront Brewery. It wasn't the best beer I'd ever tasted, but it was BEER! So, beer was back in my life.


Only one distributor carried it, and South Florida is the extreme far end of its range. Deliveries weren't frequent. And sometimes they didn't recieve any in from Lakefront.

Then Annheuser-Busch stepped up to the plate. They created Redbridge, a sorghum based brew that is not only gluten-free, but really, really good. It brings to mind Sierra Pale Ale, which had always been a favorite.

I can get Redbridge at Public's. I even got one bar to carry it for me. Heaven!

I've moved, so I don't get back to my old hangout. But if you carry Redbridge, I will come drink at your establishment (hint hint). I'll bring thirsty friends. (hint hint).

But the Sun-Sentinel article does make misleading statement:
Gluten-free beers are made without the wheat or barley used in traditional brews. Most U.S. breweries make gluten-free varieties with sorghum. Other brews, like Japan's Sapporo, use rice as the chief grain.
While it does use rice as a primary grain, Sapporo is not a gluten-free beer. From their website:
Q. I have heard that Sapporo is gluten free. Is it true?

No, our brewing process is traditional and uses malt. All beer brewed from malt contains amino acids, peptides and proteins. Therefore Sapporo is not 100% gluten free.

New to Celiac Disease? Here are some links I've found useful:
Gluten Free Living
Celiac Chicks
Celiac Handbook
Gluten-Free Blog

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