My friend Heidi, upon hearing that I’m now working for beer expert, Crystal Luxmore, asked for some gluten-free recommendations. I turned to my boss who invited me over to her place to taste the only six options available in the LCBO, Ontario’s liquor store. Here is what we (mostly Crystal) came up with:
These days, more and more people are opting to go gluten-free, whether they need to or not. As a result, demand for gluten-free products is soaring. And now, alongside gluten-free aisles sections in grocery stores, most LCBOs stock a tiny selection of six, gluten-free brews. Unfortunately it’s a sad little collection; the best gluten-free beers in Ontario can be found at better beer bars, we’ve listed our favourites at the end of this post.
Before we get to the beers, let me preface this review by saying that Crystal, as a Certified Cicerone, does not recommend them to fellow beer (and gluten) lovers. If you’ve cut out the glu-stuff, her big tip is to drink a good craft cider instead.
But for those G-free peeps who still crave some beer-y goodness in their lives, we ranked the G-Free brews from best to worst:
Luxy’s 5-Star Rating System
5 stars—Superb! Buy now, drink often.
4 stars—Great! Pick up a six pack.
3 stars—Above average.
2 stars—Meh. There’s better beer to be had, don’t waste the calories.
1 star—Unimpressive. Not recommended.
0 stars. Yuck. Skip it and tell your friends to skip it too.
#1 New Grist
Lakefront Brewery, Wisconsin, USA
$2.30/355 ml bottle
The overall winner by a mile. From its fruity, citrusy aroma that’s reminiscent of a Belgian wit beer, to the sweet, grainy apple cider-like flavour, with hints of grapefruit peel-like hops, this is great for summertime drinking.
VERDICT: A nice hybrid between cider and beer. Highly recommended for wheat and fruit beer lovers.
Gluten-free rating: ****
Beer rating: **
#2 Nickel Brook Gluten Free
Better Bitters Brewing Co., ON
$2.95/473 ml can
The hoppiest of the bunch, this pale ale is golden and bubbly with aromas of lemon and grapefruit. The piney bitter hop flavour is a bit harsh with a metallic finish—especially on such a light body. It feels a little thin but it’s bubbly and quite refreshing.
VERDICT: If you’re a celiac hophead, this beer’s for you.
Gluten-free rating: ***½
Beer rating: *1/2
#3 St. Peter’s G-Free
St. Peter’s Brewery, UK
$3.95/500 ml bottle
Made with sorghum, a popular African grain, this ale has the aroma of bread dough with honey and a hint of butterscotch. And, miraculously for a gluten-free beer, you can taste the hops—they’re lovely and earthy with a bitter finish that has staying power. As pretty as the bottle may be, the fact that it’s made with green glass and imported from the UK means the beer is prone to go “skunky” if it sits too long on the LCBO’s well-lit shelves.
VERDICT: Not the best but not the worst of the bunch, give this a try if you’re looking for a pale ale or an IPA.
Gluten-free rating: ***
Beer rating: *1/2
#4 La Messagère Red Ale
Les Bières de la Nouvelle-France, QC
$15.75/6 x 341 ml bottle
A definite improvement from the original version (see #6), this “rousse” or red ale has hints of pumpernickel and cherry in the aroma and is a very pretty chestnut colour. Hop flavours and aromas are nowhere to be found— it’s mostly cheap sake with cherry undertones. It does have a nice body and good carbonation.
VERDICT: If you love Flanders Reds, sake, or sour beers this might be in your wheelhouse as a desperate gluten-free drinker. Give it a try and decide for yourself.
Gluten-free rating: ** ½
Beer rating: *
#5 Bard’s Gold
Bard’s Tale Beer Company, Minnesota, USA
$2.15/355 ml bottle
Marketed as the only beer brewed with 100% malted sorghum, Bard’s aroma has a sweet caramel maltiness with a slightly buttery quality. With light tones of pear and apple, it’s flavour is so mild it’s nearly non-existent. Not reminiscent of a beer but more of a cider, thanks to the hint of acidity. There’s a touch of hop bitterness in the finish yet the overall feel is almost watery.
VERDICT: Looking for an easy drinking, inoffensive summer beer? We like New Grist better, but Bud Light fans might prefer this.
Gluten-free rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Beer rating: ½ out of 5 stars
#6 La Messagère
Les Bières de la Nouvelle-France, QC
$16.15/6 x 341 ml bottle
The only positive thing about this “beer” is that it tastes better than it smells—which isn’t saying a lot. It’s aroma is sickly sweet, reminiscent of an overripe pear and cheap rice wine. As for the flavour: there are no beer characteristics, no hops, no citrus, no malt complexity.
VERDICT: Made with rice, it tastes and smells more like cheap sake than beer—except it’s $16 for a six-pack! Outrageous. Avoid.
Gluten-free rating: *
Beer rating: 0
CONSENSUS: Ontario’s best gluten-free beer is at the bar.
The fact that the top-rated gluten-free brewery in the world is based out of Montreal, and yet the LCBO does not carry their beer is another reason why I want to scream out in rage whenever I think of their beer-buying program.
For now, at least, the best options for celiac beer lovers in Toronto can be found at the bar. Mongozo, an organic, South-African pilsner made by removing the gluten from barley malt tastes remarkably like a Labatt Blue (Yeah! Beer-like!); it’s on tap at The Rhino and West 50 in Mississauga. And Montreal’s BSG Glutenberg, which swept the gluten-free category at the World Brewing Awards this year, makes four delicious ales with a combination of grains like millet, buckwheat, corn and quinoa. The Pale Ale and Blonde are sold by the bottle at better beer spots in the city like Bar Volo, Thirsty & Miserable, and Richmond Station; cases can be ordered privately from Keep 6 Imports.
If you’re going to the Toronto Festival of Beer this year, you can check out Toronto’s Gluten-Free Craft Brewery, Snowman Brewing. They’re a two-man outfit, who after six years of experimentation, are scaling up — even malting their own grains, mainly millet, with a custom-made machine. Malting lets them toast the grains so they can make everything from blondes to stouts, and become grain suppliers as well as brewers. Their beers are highly experimental with mixed results—subscribe to their newsletter to follow their progress and see where their beer is on tap.
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