The top gluten free beer and booze in Toronto
Gluten free beer and other booze isn't as difficult to find in Toronto as it was a year or two ago. New studies estimate that up to 10% of the population might suffer from some form of gluten sensitivity, ranging from severe sensitivities like those experienced by people with Celiac disease, to those whose symptoms may be as mild as headaches and lethargy. In response, the gluten-free market has grown exponentially and the options for gluten-free drinking have, too. Here are seven alcoholic, gluten-free options that are made right here in Ontario.
Nickel Brook Gluten Free Beer
Because standard beer is brewed with malted barley, or sometimes wheat or rye--all of which contain gluten--beer is strictly off limits for the gluten-intolerant sect. The way some gluten-free brewers get around this, however, is to brew their beers with sorghum instead, and that's just what Nickel Brook has been doing with this beer--the first gluten-free beer made in Ontario--since 2011. Given that this beer is made with Demerara Sugar and pear juice, it's definitely on the sweeter side, but if you're unable to drink beer and you're craving one, this might do the trick.
Buy it: At the LCBO for $13.50 per six-pack of 341 mL bottles or in 473 mL cans for $2.95 each.
Drink it: At the park, after a late-season softball game when the rest of your team is cracking beers.
Waupoos Premium Cider
Cider, made from fermented apples, is probably the most common go-to gluten-free beverage for those who find themselves among pint-tipping friends at a pub. And while the market has seen more than a few new additions to the cider market this year, my favourite is still Waupoos Cider from The County Cider Company in Picton, Ontario. Operating since 1995, The County Cider Company makes a variety of hard cider products, including their flagship County Cider, a peach cider, and an ice cider, but their Waupoos Cider--a crisp, semi-sweet, dry sparkling cider--is a reliable choice that won't steer you wrong when you're looking for a refreshing gluten-free option.
Buy it: At the LCBO in packs of four 341 ml bottles for $13.35. County Cider, pictured above, is available in one-litre bottles for $7.85.
Drink it: On the patio at the County Cider Company in Waupoos County, eating lunch in their ridiculously scenic Shingle Ridge Vineyard. Or, if you can't make it to Prince Edward County, take some to Trinity Bellwoods with a blanket and a few good cheeses.
Heady's Honey Citrus
Swapping out barley for sorghum and rice, Heady's Honey Citrus from fledgling Heady Brewing Company is a tasty beverage, but it probably won't satisfy those looking for a beer substitute. It's flavoured with honey and lime, so it's light and refreshing but on the sweeter side; it's also considerably flatter than most beers, which can be off-putting when you're expecting a similar texture to beer. However, it's the first gluten-free product from a company promising more flavours in the future, and a growing list of places to find the products, so it's worth a try.
Buy it: Exclusively in Toronto at Kensington Cornerstone where a 355 mL bottle will cost you a rather steep $6.50 (before tax and tip). You can also find it at the Newmarket location of Gabby's.
Drink it: With Cornerstone's gluten-free calamari late on a Saturday afternoon, after a day of walking around the market.
Snowman Brewing Company
Snowman Brewing is perhaps the first gluten-free brewer about whose products anyone would be willing to use the rare descriptor "actually tastes like beer." A long time in the making (blogTO first reported their four-year effort to release their first brew back in December 2011), the guys behind Snowman are dedicated to actually making a product for gluten intolerant people who like beer, as opposed to a product they can drink instead of beer.
They've experimented by brewing with a number of gluten-free grains like millet, buckwheat, and amaranth, and have brewed a gluten-free brown ale, a pilsner, and even a Belgian Quad. The most recent products they've sampled are an American pale ale cheekily named Pail Ale, and a British-style amber ale called Top Hat Ale.
Buy it: Soon. These guys are still feeling their way through the process and their product can be hard to get a hold of. You can sometimes find Snowman Brewing Company beers popping up at the craft-beer and gluten-intolerant-friendly Burger Bar and they recently participated in their first beer festival (The Forest City Beer Festival in London). While they seem to be taking it slow, it's clear the plan is to expand availability and it's a safe bet that you're going to see more of Snowman Brewing. Keep an eye on their twitter feed to see where they might pop up next.
Drink it: Any chance you get.
Wine is made from grapes and not grains, so it is gluten-free. Very rarely, some wine oaked in small barrels used to come into contact with a flour-based paste that was used to seal the barrels, but there is virtually no indication that even this rare process would mean there is a significant enough amount of gluten in wine to cause a reaction. In short, you can drink all the Ontario wine you want.
Since Ontario is a cool-climate wine region, we tend to excel at making complex wines with higher acidity, and some of the styles Ontario does well include Ice Wines, Gamay Noirs, Chardonnays, Rieslings, Pinot Noirs, and Cabernet Francs. Why not try a pinot noir from Niagara-on-The-Lake winery Pilliteri Estates? The 2008 has a lot of flavour with ripe cherry and black fruit notes, some spice and an underlying earthiness.
Buy it: At the winery for $23.20 for a 750 mL bottle or order it online.
Drink it: On a dock watching the sun go down. If you don't have access to a dock, order a really good pizza and drink this with a close friend.
There's something a little unromantic about Thornbury Cider given that it was launched in 2011 with the expressed purpose of gaining a foothold in the lucrative cider market in Ontario, but there's no denying it's a tasty beverage nonetheless. The product of an acquisition by alcohol distributor Beer Barons, the goal of the people behind Thornbury Cider was to create an easy-to-drink, English-style cider--and they've done that quite well. Thornbury Cider is pressed entirely from apples grown in the area of Thornbury, Ontario and is a nice, dry cider with plenty of carbonation, and a bit of tartness that's balanced by a subtle sweetness.
Buy it: At the LCBO for $12.95 for six 341 mL bottles.
Drink it: In a pint glass with a bunch of ice, while grilling meat.
Loyalist Gin from 66 Gilead
There is some controversy about spirits and their gluten content, with some people claiming that the distillation process does not remove gluten from spirits distilled from glutinous substances, and some saying it does.
I tend to fall on the side that says distillation does make liquor gluten-free, notably because I've enjoyed the wheat-based products from 66 Gilead with my Celiac-afflicted wife and she's suffered no ill effects (of course, you may feel differently, and if whole wheat vodkas and grain-based booze hurt your stomach, put down the glass).
Operating out of a former hops farm on an 80-acre piece of land that features a beautiful house built in 1874, 66 Gilead Distillery in Prince Edward County is right now making booze that people both inside and outside of Ontario are going to be talking about very soon. They distill a variety of great spirits including their Loyalist Gin, Prince Edward County's first local gin and one that features a blend of botanicals, including juniper grown right on the farm. This is about as complex and floral a gin as you're ever going to find, with tasting notes that boast hops flowers, lavender, cucumber, licorice, citrus and vanilla. You can probably leave the tonic in the fridge.
Buy it: Exclusively at their distillery, aka the Carriage House Cooperage, in Bloomfield Ontario. But their products are coming soon to an LCBO near you.
Drink it: To impress your guests at your next party. You'll soon be able to say you've been drinking Gilead since before it was popular.
Generally, to drink gluten-free, stick to distilled spirits, those fermented from fruit, and those alcohol-makers who explicitly state they're gluten-free. When in doubt, read labels and, ideally, contact the manufacturer directly. You'll probably find that Ontario's brewers, distillers, and wine-makers are more than happy to let you know about their gluten content. They'll either be happy to boast of their gluten-free status, or sure to tell you if there is some, so that their drinks don't make you sick.