Toronto gets another gluten-free brewery
Robert Cundari understands the gluten-free food market. As the current Operations Manager for PaneRiso, a gluten-free wholesale bakery under his family's company, Canbrands Specialty Foods, he has spent the last five years developing food products for Celiacs and those who have a wheat/gluten intolerance.
Recently though, he had somewhat of an epiphany. "I thought to myself," he told me via e-mail, "I love beer and I know the gluten-free business. If I was Celiac, I would want some good gluten-free beer options."
Initially, test batches were less than promising. Using a homebrew kit and working out of his Nana's basement, Cundari and a friend brewed beer he likens to something "between water and crap." By way of emphasis, he adds "holy hell was it bad."
Eventually Cundari moved his operations to a larger space in the family bakery and enlisted the help of his cousin, Tyler. After nine months of test batches, they landed on something they liked. According to Cundari, Heady's first and only beer, Heady's Honey Citrus, has a broad appeal and is meant for anyone that hasn't had a beer in a while.
"It's a beer for people that have been drinking wine, cider, or liquor rather than beer. I think my Honey Citrus is a good intermediate step to enjoying beer once again," he says. Though he also notes that it's tested well with the gluten "tolerant" too.
I asked Cundari how he thinks gluten-free beer will fare in the city's burgeoning craft beer market and he noted that it probably won't be easy. "It's kind of like David vs. Goliath," he notes â in what is probably the first instance of craft brewers being referred to as "Goliaths."
"The problem that I have is that I'm in a niche of a niche market: the gluten-free market and the craft brewery industry." He's optimistic, however, that his brand has what it takes to make it, especially given how much he's watched the demand for gluten-free products grow over the years. Cundari uses the example of his niece, diagnosed with Celiac at age two, and his mother, who is gluten-intolerant.
"It's unbelievable how many gluten sufferers are out there," he says and he also wonders "How many are out there that don't even know?"
For now, Cundari's plan is to start small. He'll focus on producing just Heady's Honey Citrus for now and, once he wraps up licensing this week, he'll focus on sales calls to restaurants that cater to gluten-free diners, some of whom have already expressed an interest.
While it's too soon to think about a broader market yet in terms of distribution, Cundari is looking toward the future and told me that six other gluten-free beers are in the works depending on the success of the Honey Citrus. He even hinted that he's got plans for some beer types new to the Toronto scene, cryptically mentioning "three that are not found anywhere - gluten free or otherwise." That sounds intriguing, if nothing else.
Photo (of a different beer) by sjgardiner in the blogTO Flickr pool
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