"There is a Gluten-Free Beer category at the (Great American Beer Fest in Colorado). Imagine if the quality of gluten beer was so good that we could compete against the other beers in all of the other categories, instead of having our own category. I hope that happens someday."
Can you imagine losing the ability to do something that you had enjoyed doing your entire adult life?
That happened to Pedro Gonzalez eight years ago when he was diagnosed with celiac disease. He had to give up all foods with gluten, including beer.
But Gonzalez did not lose his love of beer, and he and his wife, Seneca Murley, created New Planet Beer to brew gluten-free beers.
"It's a very personal experience to be able to enjoy a product that you haven't been able to enjoy for a long time because, for the longest time, there wasn't anything out there," said Gonzalez. "Recently, I had a hot dog with a gluten-free bun. I was basically teary-eyed. I was sitting there with a beer and eating a hot dog on a bun, and I was happy."
After years of sickness, Gonzalez, of Colorado, was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder of intolerance to gluten that causes damage to the small intestines and doesn't allow food to be properly absorbed.
Although he was happy to find out what was causing his medical problems, he had to give up anything that contained barley, wheat, rye and other cereal grains to remain healthy, which includes most breads, crackers, beer and other items.
A few years ago, Gonzalez was at a cookout, and inside the cooler, he found a bottle of gluten-free beer.
"It was such a let down; it didn't taste like a beer," he said.
Gonzalez then contacted his friend, Roy Emmons, a former brewer for the Rock Bottom chain of brewpubs, and he asked him to help make a gluten-free beer that tastes like a real beer.
The problem with that is you're brewing a beer without a key ingredient: barley. Gluten-free beers instead use a lesser-known cereal grain called sorghum.
"We're trying to craft traditional characters out of untraditional grains," he said.
To help give the beers some body, New Planet also uses other ingredients, such as brown rice extract, tapioca, orange peel, corn and molasses, in its beers to help give a little more body.
In 2009, New Planet Beer started selling its beers, and although they do not taste like traditional beers, they are closer than any other of the gluten-free beers on the market.
Currently, the company brews three beers: 3R Raspberry Ale, Off Grid Pale Ale and Tread Lightly Ale. All three beers are 5 percent alcohol by volume.
The 3R Raspberry Ale is just that: a raspberry ale. It is light, and the raspberry flavors really do a good job of hiding the different taste sorghum gives a beer than traditional malts.
"If you're a raspberry beer type of person, you can drink two or three of these," said Gonzalez. "That's kind of our standard. We're trying to make beer where people want a few of these."
The Off Grid Pale Ale is brewed to be a classic pale ale, with a little hop kick to it.
"The Pale Ale is the closest one to a traditional tasting beer," Gonzalez said.
Tread Lightly Blonde Ale is a light and refreshing blonde ale. Although brewed with sorghum, it is still easy to drink.
Gonzalez said his goal is to someday have gluten-free beers to become as accepted as regular beer and to have there be no differences in flavors.
"We want to give a real traditional experience for someone," he said. "There is a Gluten-Free Beer category at the (Great American Beer Fest in Colorado). Imagine if the quality of gluten beer was so good that we could compete against the other beers in all of the other categories, instead of having our own category. I hope that happens someday."
Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out The Beer Nut blog at http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/beernut/ or follow the Beer Nut at his Twitter page at www.twitter.com/realbeernut.