Sunday, January 13, 2013

Losin' the Gluten - Harvester Brewing

As I continue to explore and highlight gluten-free products (particularly beer), I want to share with you the beers of Harvester Brewing. This is not just a story of beer, but of the amazing experiences of overcoming Celiac disease and gluten intolerance. I will say that as I explore and learn about gluten-free products of all kinds, there are always stories of health and empowerment that I find inspiring. This time, I had the opportunity to learn the stories of James Neumeister, one of the owners of Harvester, and how making a gluten-free craft beer has changed both his life and the lives of others.

James first came to the making of gluten-free beer when a friend was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. If you don't know, Celiac is an autoimmune disease that can cause a wide variety of symptoms ranging from gastro-intesitnal, to endocrine, to reproductive, dermatological, and many, many, others. What is challenging about diagnosing Celiac as well as other gluten-related issues is that the symptoms show up differently in different people - and often the issues seem unrelated and are treated separately. When James' friend went gluten-free, and she started seeing an increase in health, she shared with James the beers that were out there and available to her. James thought that perhaps he could do better...which spurred on his quest.

Of course, making a beer that is gluten-free AND tastes positively and similarly to traditional beer is a major challenge. James took that challenge head on, and while doing so learned a lot about gluten-related issues. Over that time it seemed that his wife would benefit from a GF diet, and she mused that she would go gluten-free if he made up a good beer. When she cut gluten from her diet, most of the health issues she had been struggling with for years all but disappeared. Today the couple is enjoying the benefits of this health, including having welcomed a lovely daughter into their lives 2 years ago.

These experiences fuel James' passion for making gluten-free beers - something that Harvester has been doing since 2011. The facility is completely gluten-free, and they use chestnuts, hops, sorghum, and gluten-free oats as their primary ingredients. They have put out 7 beers, including 3 experimentals. Their mainstays are a Pale Ale, IPA, Red Ale, and Dark Ale. I was able to sample all of these recently.

I would have to say that the Pale Ale was my favorite. I found it appropriately hoppy with a hint of sweetness at the start. One of the things that most impressed me about this beer was that though it is made with sorghum, there was little of the aftertaste I have found in GF beers that include this ingredient. I gave it to my roommate who was not able to distinguish this beer from one that is not gluten-free.

The IPA was also wonderfully hoppy, and boasted a citrusy nose. There where hints of vanilla and an almost sweet flavor on the finish of this beer, which complimented the bitterness. Also ringing in the with some bitterness was the Red Ale, which was much more bitter than I expected, with a caramel nose as well. Finally, the Dark Ale was toasty and nutty in both smell and taste, with a bit of a coffee flavor and just enough bitterness to feel like a stout.

I plan on heading up to Portland to check out the Harvester Tour on Thursdays from 3-6pm. I am sure that there is not a HUGE difference between a GF facility and others, but I am totally curious!

Thanks James for your story, and for your great beer!


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