By Rebecca K. Clark
As the gluten-free movement heats up in the Northwest, Widmer Brothers cools things down with the introduction of its new line of gluten-free beers, aptly named Omission to demonstrate the uniqueness of the brewing process, which involves the removal of gluten from grain. Omission is a strong contender in the beer market, introducing a crisp, nutty lager, and a refreshing pale ale.
Producing great tasting, safe, gluten-free beer is a personal endeavor at Widmer Brothers. CEO and craft beer enthusiast, Terry Michaelson, was diagnosed with celiac twelve years ago; and brewmaster Joe Casey’s wife has been a celiac since 2006. It’s only natural that these two men came together to produce a delicious, gluten-free alternative that pleases all palates, including those of average beer drinkers and craft connoisseurs. But is it really safe?
The guys from Widmer Brothers say the brewing process is a secret, but they did explain that they are careful to test every batch to ensure safety. The gluten parts per million (ppm) for the lager and the pale ale is currently 5.0—well below the international standard for safety, which is 20 ppm of gluten protein.
According to Michaelson, he and several celiac and gluten intolerant people have enjoyed Omission beers on more than one occasion, and they have given them the all clear. I am gluten intolerant. I threw a couple back. I have no complaints.
Omission beers are not produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility. That made me feel squeamish at first, but brewmaster Casey reminded me that both beers are made from barley to start. To avoid cross-contamination, they brew Omission beers in the morning after everything has been sanitized. To ensure safety, each batch is tested to meet the international standards. That is why they can label their beers gluten-free, even though they’re not made in a dedicated facility and they’re made from barley. Speaking of safety, Widmer Brothers has chosen to sell Omission beers in bottles. This eliminates server error and cross-contamination from taps.
Michaelson and Casey are not only doing their best to ensure safety, because of their relationships to celiac disease; their passions and palates drive them to produce consistently great tasting gluten-free beer. Each batch must pass the standards of a tasting panel for quality control before being bottled and sold to consumers.
Brewing gluten-free has never been easy on the consumer’s pocketbook. Gluten-free grains are typically expensive, which hikes up the price of their resulting beers. I asked Casey if gluten-removal from the barley grain was expensive, and if it would affect the retail cost of Omission beers. He said it did raise the cost, and that each six-pack would be sold at the average price of a typical craft beer. ($9.99 was the rumored price.) If you think that’s expensive, peruse the single bottle, 16 oz. gluten-free beers at your local grocer, and you’ll think Omission is a pretty good deal.
While Widmer Brothers is looking to sell Omission beers beyond the Oregon border, they are staying local for now. Expanding distribution will be a matter of defining what is gluten-free from state to state.
Considering Portland and the local food scene, the Widmer Brothers Gasthaus Pub is now offering a gluten-friendly menu by request. The kitchen staff is prepared to do everything they can to keep sensitive eaters safe. Michaelson will probably do his best to make sure the kitchen keeps its safety standards high.
If you’re interested in trying Widmer Brothers’ satisfyingly refreshing Omission beers, you can find them at these locations.
Have you tried the Omission yet? We’d love to hear your thoughts.