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Eat & Drink

Toronto gets its first gluten-free brewery

Posted by Staff / December 21, 2011

Gluten Free Beer TorontoAfter four years of trial and error, Snowman Brewing, Toronto's first exclusively gluten free Brewery is set to commercially launch Thursday night at Kensington Market's already gluten-free-friendly Burger Bar. Founded by Kevin Snow and Hirsch Goodman, (Snow+Man) Snowman fills a void the two men saw in Toronto's beer scene. "We realized a demand for not just a gluten free beer, but a great beer that happens to be gluten free." There are currently only a handful of gluten free beer options available at the LCBO and Beer Store, and only one of them (Nickel Brook) is made in Ontario.

Snowman brewed their first batch for public consumption in rented tanks at the Black Oak Brewery in Etobicoke, but they aim to find a more permanent home. For now, however, they're content to show off their 4.7% ABV Ale while they experiment with different styles of gluten free beer. To date they've brewed at least six different styles of beer, ranging light to dark from pilsner to maple stout to Belgian quadruple. To get their recipe right, the two men "made a list of all the potential gluten free grains that were out there, and then just started mixing and matching," while reading all they could about brewing techniques. "We had quite a few batches that went right down the drain," says Snow "But with every test, we were one step closer to perfecting our recipes."

As recently as this summer, Snow and Goodman were experimenting with home-brewing techniques, including creating a malter from an old filing cabinet, "based on NASA technology," they joke. As demand for their product grew from word-of-mouth and excellent reviews, they decided to take the step to commercial brewing. This year Snowman won first place in both the strong ale and the brown ales categories at the All About Ales awards, the yearly awards given to amateur brewers by the Canadian Amateur Brewers Association. In each case their gluten-free brews were rated higher than glutinous competition.

There are many beer drinkers who would scoff at the idea of gluten-free beer, especially darker varieties, owning a full-bodied and earthy taste, but Snowman hopes to challenge that thinking. "The best we can do," says Snow, "is to provide a beer that gluten tolerant and intolerant alike can sit down, share, and enjoy together."

Writing by Gabe Pulver.

Photo (of a generic looking pint) by P. Frost on Flickr



Aylmer / December 21, 2011 at 04:31 pm
I for one am definitely looking forward to the Gluten Free Beer. In an health conscious era, it's key to include this to your weekly diet.
George Lois / December 21, 2011 at 04:34 pm
Looks like they took out the proper design as well. (Fix your branding)
Laura / December 21, 2011 at 04:34 pm
Amazing. I know these guys - they are going to change the beer game. Looking forward to their success.
Cheese / December 21, 2011 at 04:58 pm
Can't wait to try the tampons
Rajiv / December 21, 2011 at 05:06 pm
Can't wait to FINALLY enjoy a gluten-free beer that actually tastes good!
Cheese Dick replying to a comment from Cheese / December 21, 2011 at 05:07 pm
that's not cool Cheese. Some people are celiac and can't have gluten so this is a nice option to have, if it tastes good.
meh / December 21, 2011 at 05:13 pm
fuck yeah! awesome news!
Beerguy / December 21, 2011 at 08:47 pm
Misleading title. Black Oak is the brewery.

Congratulations Snowman! I do look forward to trying the brew.
Matt / December 21, 2011 at 11:02 pm
Unless you actually have celiac disease (as fewer than one-half of one percent of the population do) than there's ZERO health benefit to gluten-free anything. It's just another nonsensical health fad that people have bought into, which has sadly spread to too many bakeries and cafes that now sell weak-tasting crap.

Boo to gluten free.
Bryan / December 21, 2011 at 11:27 pm
Actually there are a shitload of people (much >1% ) who benefit from gluten free products even without celiac disease... people with a wheat allergy.. people who would benefit from a grain with a higher nutritive value... i.e any human being...but especially one who has digestive difficulties. The larger question is... why on earth would you campaign against it? seriously?
siiigh / December 21, 2011 at 11:28 pm
awww matt I'm sorry you are so ignorant...
Bass Clarinet replying to a comment from Bryan / December 22, 2011 at 08:17 am
Because every fad celiac makes it their friggin' crusade to disrupt the dining experiences of those of us with stomachs of cast iron.

Paul / December 22, 2011 at 09:12 am
Imagine a world in which every mention of chocolate had people piping up to complain that carob substitutes aren't being discussed. That is what reading food & drink articles on BlogTO has become with regard to gluten.

I sympathize with celiac sufferers and others with digestive issues, but personally I would love to make it through 2012 without ever hearing the phrase 'gluten free' again.

This is an irrational and privileged position that I do not have any power or real desire to enforce, but annoyance is what it is.
Jen / December 22, 2011 at 09:36 am
This is such great news! I can't eat gluten or it will make me very sick, and the gluten-free beer varieties are pretty slim. Can't wait to try this beer!
JD / December 22, 2011 at 09:47 am
Gluten is the new lactose.
GFB replying to a comment from Paul / December 22, 2011 at 10:25 am
I think you guys are missing the point, this beer isn't about just putting another GF product on the market as a fad. If it's as good as they say, and you can't tell the difference between this beer and the regular stuff, then its a good product that just happens to be GF.
Ben replying to a comment from Beerguy / December 22, 2011 at 10:54 am
I don't think the title "Toronto gets its first gluten-free brewing company which is actually using Black Oak's facilities to brew their beer" has the same ring to it!
Parda / December 22, 2011 at 11:07 am
Having tried what's out there, I look forward to another gluten-free beer that actually tastes good. The first one I ever tried that tasted great was Schnitzer Bräu German-Hirse-Premium, Germany's #1 selling gluten-free beer since 2006. You can get it in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. It's coming to Toronto in early 2012. It's organic too!
stacey / December 22, 2011 at 11:17 am
for those of you who seemed annoyed at yet another gluten-free product/article/reference I envy you. To be able to go into a restaurant and order anything off the menu; to be able to go into a grocery store and just pick anything up off the shelf; to go to a house party and actually go hungry bc you know you can eat whatever is me, that is NOT the life of someone who can't eat gluten. I applaud these guys for offering a GF beer....because I gotta say, of all the food & bev items I have had to give up, a cold beer on a hot summer day is really one of the things I miss the most. A glass of wine just doesn't cut it sometimes. I can't wait to try this beer. Anyone who thinks it's easy going GF obviously hasn't really tried. It is hard, damn hard, and (for me atleast) certainly not a fad. I can't imagine anyone choosing to do this if they didn't have to.
Kathryn / December 22, 2011 at 11:46 am
As someone who struggles with severe celiac disease and it's myriad of symptoms, I find it offencive and hurtful to read several of the above comments. Celiac is a very serious and life threatening disease. It is much more complex then simply not being able to eat gluten, and is not a choice or a fad. Even a small amount of gluten (in a sauce or dressings) can wreck havoc on the system of a celiac. For those of you in the dark, please take the time to educte yourselves about celiac disease before posted such biting comments. On a 2nd note: Yay for a New Beer (that doesn't contain gluten) and tastes good!
Hoptomology / December 22, 2011 at 12:05 pm
Wow, I'm impressed with the awards, way to go!
I'm curious to give these a try...
Beer replying to a comment from Ben / December 22, 2011 at 12:56 pm
Lots of breweries engage in "contract brewing", where they don't own the facilities themselves, but rent space/tanks, and use the equipment when the brewery is in their down time. Just a more cost effective way to produce beer.
Nicholas replying to a comment from stacey / December 22, 2011 at 01:11 pm
My middle brother is full on Celiac!(Can't even use normal shampoo) Hes a teen and really struggling! He cheats himself off his diet and spends the night in agony after sipping a beer. He gets super frustrated and hates going anywhere because he just wants to eat and drink normally! He has been drinking some dark glutten free beer but hates it. My Dad who is also Celiac wont drink any glutten free beer and tries to sneak Coors Lights when they are avalible. It will be nice for Celiacs to finally have a beer that tastes as good as they imagen beer to taste.
Ben replying to a comment from Beer / December 22, 2011 at 01:18 pm
Yes, I know. In fact, I even wrote about it a little bit, here:

Also, as a guy married to someone with Celiac, let me tell you I'm happy to be able to buy drinks for her that I'll actually want, too. Let the Gluten-Free nay-sayers shun it if they want, more Snowman Pail Ale for the rest of us.
WantingRealBeer / December 22, 2011 at 04:07 pm
Incidence of celiac in North America is estimated as anywhere from 1 in 150 to 1 in 80. And that prevalence is rising. In the past 50 years it’s gone from 1 in 500 to the aforementioned estimate (Mayo Clinic study, pretty awesome). Before someone makes a post where s/he looks like an ignorant ass? Try using the almighty Google so as not to get completely embarrassed by people who actually… know something about the topic being discussed.

That said, the comments on this post definitely highlight a lot of the frustration I've had as someone with celiac. People don't take my disorder seriously because the only gluten-free people they've encountered are the ones who are doing it for some vague "health reason" that is, at its core, usually bullshit.

By the way, there's no such thing as a "Fad celiac," dipshit. To get diagnosed with celiac, you need a barrage of medical tests. It's a disease you have the rest of your life. There is no cure. There are some people who can’t adhere to the diet, and they suffer the pretty ugly consequences. As mentioned above, even an infinitesimally tiny amount of gluten can send your system reeling. You lose the ability to absorb key nutrients from food. You lose energy. Your skin is terrible. You get violently ill. You lose hair. Later in life, you develop rare intestinal cancers and lymphomas.

And on top of that, most gluten free beer is not good. And the stuff that’s okay? It’s all kind of the same. Pretty light, often kind of fruity. Now, there is a lot of good cider, whiskey, gin, wine, etc. out there, but sometimes you just want to kick back with friends and drink a beer. I really hope this new range of gluten-free beers will be available in the US! There’s definitely an audience for it. My trusty beer-enthusiast friend from Canada is gonna keep me posted on progress for this beer. I’m so stoked!!!
Pearl / December 23, 2011 at 06:49 am
I have a cast iron stomach. But at 45 years of age I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. Took two years to figure out it was celiac disease. I never had stomach issues and could eat anything. If you don't have celiac disease, or gluten intolerance, I hope you never get it, but don't assume you are immune for life. I for one am so thankful every time a new GF product becomes available or a restaurant server actually knows what celiac is. Cheers to Snowman! Can't wait!!
only in toronto blog comments / December 23, 2011 at 11:04 am
could something as harmless as gluten free beer elicit such a tangential argument. Nobody cares if you don't believe it has merit, it's different and has ZERO RISK when compared to gluten-containing beer. So, maybe go do that and stfu.

Hickmom / December 23, 2011 at 04:42 pm
I am so excited to try a gluten free beer that tastes like a beer!!! The past 2 summers since I found out I am Celiac I have tried other gf beers and none of them taste like the real thing!
Thank you for making this beer!!!
And for all of you who are so ignorant to post suchlike sad excuses for a responses about something positive, I hope u may never have to deal with everything we do on a daily basis! Everything u take in your life for granted are challenges we face everyday! From brushing our teeth to washing our hair to the food we eat and what we drink! Your ignorance is apparent and disgusts me that in this day of age you feel it appropriate to even admit it! Shame on you!
Celiac, lactose intolerant, several food allergies, sensitives and fibro...
If we want to get excited about a beer we will!!!
SillyYak / January 6, 2012 at 03:11 pm
I sure hope they sanitized those rented tanks to remove all traces of gluten before brewing the gluten-free beer. Cross contamination sucks.....
walrus / March 5, 2012 at 12:43 am
I remember trying a roasted dandelion drink under the pretense that it was a coffee substitute.. no dice. Years later, I tried it without that expectation. As it's own entity, I think it's great. It's just not coffee.
I will not be expecting a fermented malted barley drink when I drink their brews. Whether one calls it beer or not (German purity law be damned, for all I care,) it's not going to taste just like a barley based beer, because it isn't that.
This said, I'm really excited to try what they make. I've tried a few gluten free beers, and while drinkable, they've all had a fruity or sourish taste. It's been years since I've had a dark beer (not by choice.) I'm just glad to hear that they're experimenting with a wide range of things and that they're actually putting work into their recipes.
I'm expecting great things. I'm so glad to hear of this. I just don't think it's fair to expect it to taste like something it's not. Here's to gluten free beers, not that taste like glutenous beer, but that are exceptionally delicious in their own right.
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