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Eat & Drink

The top gluten free beer and booze in Toronto

Posted by Ben Johnson / August 21, 2012

gluten free beerGluten 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.

See also:

The best wheat and gluten free restaurants in Toronto
The best gluten free bakeries in Toronto

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.

Ontario Wine
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.

Thornbury Cider
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.

Discussion

53 Comments

Adam / August 21, 2012 at 02:41 pm
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You absolutely have to add New Grist!!! Easily the best Gluten-Free Beer made
Ryan / August 21, 2012 at 02:45 pm
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I agree with Adam, New Grist is probably the best 'beer' substitute that I have seen.

As for Nickel Brook...its awful and I would not recommend it for anyone
Ben / August 21, 2012 at 02:48 pm
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New Grist is definitely good, bit it's from Milwaukee and I was trying to list local options.
Arrow / August 21, 2012 at 02:48 pm
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Nickel Brook's gluten free beer is disgusting! Avoid! Avoid!
Dutchy / August 21, 2012 at 02:49 pm
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I've been lead to believe Heineken actually has a low gluten content, lower than the allowed-limit in actual gluten free food.
Lia / August 21, 2012 at 02:52 pm
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I recently tried Glutenberg (http://brasseurssansgluten.com/home) a gluten-free beer made in Quebec, that was by far, the best gluten-free beer out there. It was delectable, and my beer-swilling boyfriend couldn't tell the difference.
I highly suggest gluten-avoiders to try to find it if you visit Quebec.
Daryl / August 21, 2012 at 02:53 pm
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What ever happened to Snowman Brewing?
Jess / August 21, 2012 at 03:03 pm
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I agree, Glutenberg is amazing. They offer several different styles, which is a nice change for GF beer. If only we could get it here....
But what do I know. I think Nickel Brook is far superior to New Grist.
Johhny5 / August 21, 2012 at 03:16 pm
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Steve Glutenberg!
Brent / August 21, 2012 at 03:28 pm
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New Grist is disgusting, Nickel Brook made me sick.

The best by far is Messagere from Quebec.
Kevin / August 21, 2012 at 03:41 pm
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Hey, Kevin here from Snowman Brewing. Awesome article, it's good to see so many great gluten free products hitting the mainstream market! As for us, we're still here :D Starting up a microbrewery from scratch is taking a little bit longer than anticipated, but not to worry, because we're still on track to open by the end of the year, and we'll be doing small events in the meantime while we get set up.
Mark / August 21, 2012 at 04:39 pm
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I doubt there's really a difference, but I absolutely can't stand Nickle Brook canned, while I had a bottle at Burger Bar which seemed perfectly decent. Theoretically it should be better from a can. Maybe I was just in the mood for it that day.

Messagere doesn't seem to be available currently. I'd love to try it.

I heard there's some gluten-extracted beer coming up from the States soon which is supposed to be as close to beer as possible.

I do really look forward to trying the Snowman stuff.
Adam / August 21, 2012 at 04:43 pm
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Big fan of New Grist (I personally don't agree it's digusting), not so much Nickel Brook. La Messagere is good too, but a bit pricier than New Grist. I'm really looking forward to trying Snowman Brewing products. It's nice knowing they're local too.
Spin Doc / August 21, 2012 at 04:54 pm
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As a gluten sufferer, I found Smirnoff makes a gluten free vodka from corn. Its their Smirnoff Red label. Tastes same as their grain based brand.
lopep / August 21, 2012 at 05:02 pm
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You BlogTO guys do know that drinking beer in the park is illegal and you will get a ticket for it if caught? I'm not saying it's a good thing that it's illegal, just stating a fact that you should probably mention to your readers before suggesting do it.
Ben / August 21, 2012 at 05:06 pm
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HEY EVERYONE. DRINKING IN PUBLIC IS ILLEGAL.
Consider yourself warned.
Alsy / August 21, 2012 at 05:20 pm
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There are at least three versions of La Messagere (original, red and light I believe). The original is my favourite. I have yet to find a gluten free beer that is truly "beer-like", but I think La Messagere comes pretty close. There are also at least three varieties of Glutenberg, all of which come with a pretty strong after taste.

Does anybody know of the truthiness of Budweiser, Corona (and possibly Heineken) being technically gluten free by packaging standards? Any brave celiacs who have tested those waters?
Ben replying to a comment from Alsy / August 21, 2012 at 05:39 pm
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The short answer is that no, none of those beers can actually claim they are safe for Celiacs (otherwise they surely would). There have been dubious claims that they are gluten free because the barley that is used in brewing is turned into amino acids during the brewing process--or some similar claim. But there's actually no scientific proof that the proteins that harm Celiac sufferers are rendered neutral by the brewing process.

I found a long, scientific-sounding explanation here:
http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art34379.asp

But basically, it's probably better not to risk it and to just hold your breath a little longer until Kevin and Snowman Brewing take the Toronto market by storm...soon.
Leah replying to a comment from Kevin / August 21, 2012 at 07:07 pm
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I add another vote for New Grist as the best gluten-free "beer"... I find the rest unpalatable. I even tried Heady Brew as soon as I found out about its existence but found it disappointingly similar to Nickel Brook, my least favourite of the bunch.

That said, I haven't yet had the good fortune of trying Snowman's brew. Hey Kevin, would you ever think of releasing it somewhere in Toronto other than Burger Bar? I won't step foot in the place after I was carelessly served a regular bun with my burger (and paid severe consequences for their mistake!!).

I'm dying to try you guys out!

Claude / August 21, 2012 at 07:16 pm
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Hey folks,

We are bringing you Bard's Gluten free beer that is made from 100% sorghum malt. We extract the gluten from the malt so this will taste like a beer. We do not use rice or corn syrups at all. $12.95 for a 6 pack at the Lcbo and this is going to sell really well. American Lager. Even one of the owners is celiac. Should be available in the next two weeks for purchase. Follow us on Facebook: North American Craft for updated Lcbo stores that are listing the product.
Leah replying to a comment from Claude / August 21, 2012 at 07:26 pm
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YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!
K / August 21, 2012 at 08:21 pm
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What about the Black Fly Beverage Co?

Their products are ALL gluten-free and not too sweet, as they use cane sugar instead of that high fructose corn syrup. Any one ever try them? PS - they are from Ontario also!!!
Jeff Moore / August 21, 2012 at 09:18 pm
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www.WayTwoGood.com

And never miss a deal ever again! ;)
Cameron replying to a comment from Ben / August 21, 2012 at 10:56 pm
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"HEY EVERYONE. DRINKING IN PUBLIC IS ILLEGAL.
Consider yourself warned."

But super fun. We should all be telling our MP's to make it legal.
bikeroo / August 21, 2012 at 11:40 pm
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There's also Tag No. 5 Vodka which is made from sweet corn in Oakville: http://www.lcbo.com/lcbo-ear/lcbo/product/details.do?language=EN&;itemNumber=149567
heyho / August 22, 2012 at 12:07 am
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Black Fly is Gluten Free as well and way less sweet than your typical "cooler"
Kevin replying to a comment from Leah / August 22, 2012 at 12:37 am
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Hey Leah, Yeah we plan to launch it in different places around the city, once the new brewhouse is all set up! In the meantime, we should be doing another event soon, so stay tuned to our facebook/twitter!
TheVok / August 22, 2012 at 10:02 am
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Thornbury Cider wasn't really launched in 2011. It's just the renamed version of Peelers, following the acquisition.
charles fajgenbaum / August 22, 2012 at 11:02 am
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On the topic of gluten free, fermentations is on the verge of launching a line of gluten free beers. these gluten free beers will compliment our other gluten free products that cna be made here- including apple cider,and wines. find us on facebook- fermentations love great wine and beer. Our official launch will be announced there. Cheers!
Mike / August 22, 2012 at 11:09 am
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Hi All,

One category you didn't touch on was the RTD (ready to drink), at Black Fly we offer a variety of Vodka and Tequila based mixed drinks that are Gluten Free, Less Sweet and Made with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup! We are independantly owned and operated, based in London Ontario. Available at the LCBO for $10.95, which includes 4 x 400mL bottles - best value 4 pack in the category. I know lots of people hate coolers, but we are much different and find a lot of beer drinks (espically craft) love our stuff. hopefully you'll check it out as another gluten free alternative. Cheers. Mike
Realist (mostly) replying to a comment from Claude / August 22, 2012 at 11:10 am
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I didn't think sorghum had any gluten to extract. I do look forward to trying your beer, though.

Having said that, where are the gluten-free stouts and pale ales? Most of the gluten free beers I've found have been American lagers. This is a style which does not hide imperfections well. I would think darker or more strongly flavored beers would make off tastes from the sorghum less noticeable.

That, and American lagers are boring.
charles fajgenbaum replying to a comment from Realist (mostly) / August 22, 2012 at 11:43 am
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WE are currently brewing a british style ordinary bitter,and a belgian style apple ale, patterend after unibrou ephemere aux pommes (ours being gluten free, of course). The diversity of styles that can be brewed gluten free is quite wide, and we will be offering that diversity to fermentations clients
Brandon / August 22, 2012 at 11:53 am
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Cool story. Horrible photo.
Realist (mostly) replying to a comment from charles fajgenbaum / August 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm
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Charles, thanks for the reply. I will keep you in mind.
Melissa / August 22, 2012 at 04:33 pm
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The best locally sold gf beer I have tried is Sapparo. It's a rice beer. I hated the La Messagere. And not a big fan of budwisers red bridge either. But I contacted anhiser bush and they have a new gf beer out but haven't tried it.And how many of you have tried smeroff and had problems? I'm scared to try it.
Don replying to a comment from Melissa / August 22, 2012 at 04:45 pm
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As far as I understand, Sapporo and Budweiser are not gluten free, they may be mostly rice, but they do also contain barley malt.
Snowman all the way, those guys are going to be rich some day, they make real beer! Even better than Green's Beer from the UK.
melissa / August 22, 2012 at 05:58 pm
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Don-
I contaced Sapporo and it is gluten free. I have celiac's and am extreemly sensitive. And had no problems with it. I know budweiser is not but anhiser bush does have 2 gf beers out in the states. Hope this helps. Glad everyone keeps this topic going.
Lisanne replying to a comment from Leah / August 23, 2012 at 08:55 am
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I actually have found that the Honey Citrus is by far the best tasting gluten free beer out there. I ordered a New Grist and a friend of mine had a Honey Citrus. We both loved the Honey Citrus. It tastes and smells great and has no bad aftertaste.
TheVok / August 23, 2012 at 09:29 am
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Isn't St. Peter's Ale also naturally gluten-free?
Pat Libling / August 23, 2012 at 10:39 pm
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I recently had Heady's Beer and absolutely loved it!
Sue / January 9, 2013 at 09:08 pm
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Redbridge (Busch) is the best. Le Messangre is the worst. Haven't tried snowman yet.
Andy / March 1, 2013 at 07:20 pm
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I've tried a few gluten free beers, and Bard's get's my vote, the Le Messanre and new grist just don't make the grade
LittleP / March 8, 2013 at 07:02 pm
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Glutenberg is the best GF beer out there, New Grist taste like horse piss in comparison and NickelBrook, well I won't explain what it tastes like. I am intrigued by Snowman Brewing's brews though...
GlutenFreeGirl / April 16, 2013 at 03:56 pm
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The BEST gluten free beer is Omission pale ale.....but, it's American. I think from Portland, Oregon and I haven't been bale to find it in QC. I wish they would import to here. It tastes exactly like a good pale ale should taste.
Laurie Bezaire / April 24, 2013 at 09:42 am
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We live right across the border from Detroit and we can get an
Anheiser Bush beer called "Redbridge". It is a sorghum beer and we can by a 6 pack for anywhere from $6.99 to 8.00. Much cheaper than any gluten-free beer in Ontario. And my husband loves it.
M replying to a comment from Lia / October 6, 2013 at 11:12 pm
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I totally agree, Glutenberg beer is delicious and, yes, taste like beer. It's a real treat. Nickel Brook, on the other hand, taste nothing like beer, nor a cider. It's more of a swamp water tasting concoction--a taste you can recreate with a super-sized cup and a plethora of options at a McDonald's soda fountain. Spirit Tree cider from Caledoni, ON, now that is delicious; an incredible cider. You should definitely keep your eyes open for it.
iSkyscraper / November 11, 2013 at 09:47 pm
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I prefer Heineken,
Stu / April 5, 2014 at 09:50 pm
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Nickel Brook is simply awful. Out of the GF beers you can buy at the LCBO, I prefer La Messagere, New Grist and Bards. Quite interested in trying Glutenberg though.
In a drunken stupor / April 5, 2014 at 11:40 pm
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Iceberg vodka is da bomb mon!
Jack / April 29, 2014 at 09:25 pm
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St. Pete's is really good! It's the only one that tasted beer-y to me (bit pricey but worth it)
Nikki replying to a comment from melissa / August 6, 2014 at 07:07 pm
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If you visit the Sapporo website at

http://sapporobeer.com/our-beers.html#

it clearly states their beer is NOT gluten free.
buy upvotes / September 30, 2014 at 05:42 am
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What is the harm in employees meeting friends on-line.
First of all, we will checkout the features and specifications of the widget.
Another teen has taken her own life because of bullying both online and at school.
Carlos Ribeiro / October 6, 2014 at 04:41 pm
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Silver Lake Vodka is also Gluten Free and available at the LCBO made in Norfolk County this is Pure Canadian Premium Vodka.
Feel free to email me any questions crsilverlake@gmail.com

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