Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Background on Sorghum Beer

By William Brand
Friday, December 22nd, 2006 at 11:42 am in Uncategorized.

Here’s my column from Nov. 8 2006

Ever wonder when someone says they have a wheat allergy?’ Most often, it’s very real. It’s called “Celiac Disease” and if you’re a person who enjoys beer, a celiac diagnosis is a total bummer.

Celiac Disease is a toxic reaction in the small intestine to gluten in cereal grains, especially wheat, barley and rye. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation it affects one of every 133 people in the U.S. It can cause weight loss, weight gain, skin rashes, depression and it can strike at any age.

Beer’s made with cereal grains, all containing gluten. Ergo no beer. Over the last few years, there have been attempts to make beer without grain, honey beers, weird rice beers. Yuk.

Well, if you’re a celiac and even if you aren’t there’s a real beer being brewed right here in San Jose just beginning to arrive in markets around the Bay Area. It’s Dragon’s Gold**** from the Bard’s Tale Beer Co., Lees Simmit, MO. It’s made with malted sorghum, a grain that – as far as a laboratory can detect – contains no measurable gluten.

What’s more. The beer’s delicious. It’s a dusty gold, fine, beery aroma and a lively head of crisp, white foam. The taste is dry with an unusual, but not off-putting grainy, nutlike sweetness in the background that lasts into a fine, aromatic Hallertau hop finish.

You don’t have to be a celiac to like this beer. It’s going to be a regular in my beer fridge. Right now, it’s only available at Beverages & More stores. But it will soon be widely available in the Bay Area, the company says.

Here’s the story. The beer is being brewed at Gordon-Biersch in San Jose under contract for Bard’s Tale Beer Co., founded by Craig Belser and Kevin Seplowitz.

Belser, who was a computer system analyst before he founded his beer company, explains he suffered from a wheat allergy as a child, but grew out of it. “Then when I was 35, it hit me again. They told me, `You can’t have any beer.’

“Well,” he said, “it’s not that I drink a case of beer of week, but not being able to drink beer had an impact on my lifestyle.”

So he became a home brewer, experimenting with various grains. He lives in the Kansas City area where there’s lots of grain. He also began analyzing beer and grain using his computer systems trouble-shooting skills. Eventually, he settled on a kind of sorghum.

“I made a beer that tasted like beer. It wasn’t a great beer, because I’m not a great brewer,” he said in a telephone interview. He hooked up with Seplowitz, who handles the business side of the company. They hired a brewer and spent months perfecting the recipe and learning about malting sorghum.

They contracted with a small New York brewery to make the beer commercially, but the attempt failed, Belser said. “We made beer grenades,” he said.

After more research, they signed on with Gordon-Biersch in San Jose. Dan Gordon, the co-founder took on the project and after months learning about brewing sorghum, finding a proper recipe that the yeast would like, they began cranking out the beer.

It apparently begins with a lager yeast, but fermentation is different, so the beer is actually a hybrid, both ale and lager. The little company has big plans. “We’re in 19 states and I could be national in six months,” Belser says.

I believe he may be right. This is a fine beer.

Sorghum beer, by the way, is extremely popular in Africa. Sorghum is a tropical grass that originated there. SABMiller makes the leading sorghum beer in Africa. But most is made by small brewers using wild yeast, is dark and sour and meant to be consumed within a few days of brewing. It’s immensely popular among Zulus.

More information on Celiac Disease can be found here. at: Information about Bard’s Tale Beer can be found here. . I’ve also posted some notes on sorghum beer in Africa here.

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  • http://w Michael Thorn

    Save the date!
    The largest gluten-free consumer event in North America is coming!
    The 2nd Annual Gluten-Free Vendor Fair & Conference is scheduled for April 29th, 2007 at Farmingdale State College, Farmingdale, NY. The event is presented by Suffolk County Celiacs0 a Branch of GIG. For more information visit our website at