When was the last time you enjoyed a really GREAT beer? In fact, when was the last time you had YOUR CHOICE of several great beers??? Ever? Since before you were diagnosed with Celiac, or gluten-intolerance, or a gluten-allergy? For me it’s been 16 years…. Yes, 16 years of being in a gluten-free beer desert.
Now there have been tiny oases over the years…Harvester Brewing in Portland OR, comes to mind- they are brewing quite possibly the best gluten free (meaning brewed with gluten free grains) beer in the country. (They ship outside of Portland, and if you want a treat- I highly recommend their St. Denny Dubbel) Then there’s New Planet Beer in Boulder- also using gluten free grains and I can buy them at my neighborhood liquor store. They sell a fantastic Raspberry that’s perfect for our hot, humid summers, and a Brown that is out of this world. They rock the Brown..
Then there’s Brewery Rickoli, a nano-brewery located in Wheatridge, Colorado, which has been on my radar for about a year. My friend Elke sent me a link to their website exited that they were brewing ALL their beers with the gluten-reducing enzyme Clarex (Clarity Ferm). Originally used to stabilize beers and prevent chill-haze, it turns out the secondary application is denaturing the gluten molecule in a way that the beers are consumable by many celiacs and test- with current testing methods- at less than 20ppm. However, this process is not without controversy. Very heated controversy.
Check out the links above here and read about it yourself if you don’t believe me. In a nutshell the ‘gluten-free grain’ brewers claim their products are better and safer for celiacs than the ‘gluten-reduced’ brewers. The ‘gluten-reduced’ brewers respond that you just don’t get great beer flavor without barley. I think they’re both right. I mean- where’s the ‘gluten-free grain’ Guinness equivalent? Or the whiskey barrel aged stout? The Vanilla Porter? Right now the ‘gluten-free grain brewers’ haven’t figured it out. And thankfully, there are more traditional brewers who are realizing every day that adding an enzyme to bust up a gluten molecule doesn’t hurt the quality of the beer, and gains them entry into a previously closed market.
I do appreciate that for now the FDA and Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) are very clear on differentiating between ‘gluten-free’ and ‘gluten-reduced’. I want to know exactly what’s going in my body. Anecdotally, some folks have had no problems with ‘gluten-reduced’ and others have. If it’s labeled clearly, then you get to decide. Ultimately, I think the market will support good taste- for the same reason craft beer sales have been skyrocketing and Budweiser sales have been slipping. Everyone loves a good story, and everyone loves a good locally produced hand-crafted beer. Which brings me back to Rickoli..
These guys make some seriously good beer. And so much of it, that I was informed if I ordered a tasting portion of everything they had on tap that I would be consuming over 93oz of beer!! (That’s well over a 6pack for those of you interested in the math) However, Brewmaster Rick Abitbol was happy to pour me tiny sips so that I could at least taste most of what was on tap when we visited.
In some ways, I was like a kid in a candy shop. When you have that much selection, you don’t know where to start. Like wine tasting, I decided to start at the light end and work my way up. Really it’s all great, and if there’s a specific style of beer you love, Rickoli is sure to either have it on tap or be brewing it soon. Their line-up is constantly changing- all the more reason to make this a regular hang-out if you live in the Denver Metro Area. Plus, Rick is just so darned cool and knowledgeable!
Of special note the day we were there was the Double Cream Ale- a rich, creamy ale with a whopping 8.6%ABV, The Social Lubricant Scotch Ale 8%ABV..it’s so good even the shyest among you will start chatting with your neighbor! The Elke Brown- named after my good friend Elke, and while I loved so many, this was the one I purchased a growler of to take on the road.
To me this is the Holy Grail of Gluten-Free/Reduced beers. For 16 years I have been crying for a stout that wouldn’t wreck my insides. When the time finally came to try the stouts I was actually a little…nervous… Like going to a High School Reunion (which I have successfully avoided for 20-something years) nervous. Or meeting your college sweetheart years later…Would I still like stout? What if I’d been waiting for this magic experience for 16 years and it turned out I didn’t even like stout anymore? I was worried my tastebuds had changed…
So what was it like? Unexpected. Rich. Different…Delicious.
We were lucky enough to be at the brewery the weekend they were tapping 3 versions of their Monolith- an American Imperial Stout. On tap that day was the traditional Monolith, Monolith aged in locally produced merlot barrels, and Monolith aged in bourbon barrels.
The Merlot Monolith was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. One doesn’t usually consider two-fisting dark beer and red wine. First off, you could really taste the merlot in the beer. Second- it rounded out and added a mildly fruity note to the beer. It was creative, definitely unexpected, and really good!
My favorite had to be the bourbon barrel aged Monolith. For years, I have inhaled the tantalizing aroma of Mr. Kitchen Diva’s bourbon barrel stouts from places like Goose Island & Stone Brewing. The idea of getting to drink one made me positively giddy. Did it live up to my expectations? Well, yes. What was interesting to me was that my overall impression was that it was delicious, and far richer than I had remembered. I think my tastebuds have definitely suffered during the 16 year drought. I didn’t have much because I felt like I could easily overwhelm my body. I recommend enjoying it in small amounts if it’s been awhile since you’ve had a thick, rich, beer.
Since Rickoli is so small, they don’t have much food on hand to accompany their beers. They have hummus & veggie cups for the gluten free, and a few gluten-bombs for those who prefer. However..they do allow you to bring in your own food, and there just happens to be a pizza joint (Infinitus Pie– with quite possibly some of the cleverest graphic design I’ve seen for a pizza company)around the corner that makes a really good gluten free pizza crust. And they deliver.. Did I mention they were delicious??
Lastly, Rick mentioned that Rickoli is hoping to get bottling capacity soon… and while I recognize it may still be some time before those bottles make their way to Kansas City, one can always hope!