Thursday, May 05, 2005

Three cheers: Bard's Tale brings beer back to the Celiacs.

Sorghum is a tropical cereal grass. Buckwheat is an Asian fruit occasionally used by craft brewers, as in Rogue Buckwheat Ale. Corn and rice are brewing adjuncts with bad reputations in beer aficionado circles owing to their frequent use in insipid mass-market lagers

Such substances would not be expected to inspire reverence on the part of microbrew fans who espouse the “barley, hops, water and yeast” mantra of the German beer purity law, but for those suffering from Celiac Disease, barley is the ultimate in deal-breakers.

The same is true for rye, wheat, oats and spelt – precisely the ingredients, along with barley, that are used to brew “beer” as we know it, almost all of which contain gluten … and gluten is the problem for Celiacs.

I didn’t know the first thing about Celiac Disease until two years ago, when Kelly Vogt, a longtime Rich O’s customer and lover of German wheat ale, disclosed that he could no longer drink beer owing to his recently diagnosed condition.

We discussed the prospect of the New Albanian Brewing Company brewing a beer without gluten, but concluded that even if we could determine how to do it, there would be no guarantee that a brewhouse as small as ours could be made free of barley residue, and besides, we had no plans to bottle.

Later, Kelly made me aware of a company formed by two Celiacs for the express purpose of devising recipes and brewing gluten-free beer. It took Bard’s Tale a few years to research, develop and capitalize, but the brewery’s first product now is on the market: Bard’s Tale Dragon’s Gold. Next up will be Bard's Tale Tavern Ale.

Cavalier Distributing in Indianapolis has just started carrying Bard’s Tale for the Indiana market. Surely a Kentucky distributor will be soon to follow.

In order to best test the brewer’s decision to use light lager style as a point of comparison, for Dragon’s Gold, I subjected the 12-oz bottle to the freezer, and ice crystals had formed when I popped the cap and poured aggressively into an Imperial pint glass.

An excellent and long-lasting head was created, and noticeable lace clung to the glass throughout.

The aroma is unique and not entirely “clean” in the lager sense, striking me as reminiscent of mild “butter rum” character, as in the Lifesaver candies of youth.

The beer is slightly fuller than expected, approaching medium-bodied, and the flavor, though cleaner than the aroma, has sweetness similar to that associated with the use of corn. There is a hint of nuttiness. The palate is balanced by what tastes like continental hops -- it could use a few more.

I permitted it to warm, tasted the remainder, and found it much the same as before. Overall, the brewery’s claim that Dragon’s Gold is comparable but not necessarily superior to craft beers in general seems reasonable. There's more classic ale character than lager, but I'm sure that "lager" helps with the marketing effort.

When it comes to serving beer to the 1.5 million Americans who have Celiac Disease, Dragon's Gold is a place to start, and a good one; it is better than I been led to anticipate, given that the light lager style is not my preference.

Furthermoe, it’s fun to consider the unique flavor profile provided by these gluten-free ingredients and to project other styles that might lend themselves to the product line. A citrusy, hoppy pale ale, perhaps?

I bought three cases and will have Bard's Tale Dragon's Gold stocked and priced by opening on Friday, May 6. The next delivery from Cavalier will be two weeks from now, and I'd be happy to consult with anyone on a pre-order basis.

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