Gluten free. You’ve probably seen this slogan at your local grocery store or on restaurant menus, but this isn’t a dieting fad or passing trend. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse estimates that more than 2 million people in the United States, or 1 in 22 people, are affected with celiac disease, an affliction in which a person cannot tolerate gluten — a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain sources, including, you guessed it, beer.
Aside from the painful physical experience of celiac disease, there comes with it a complete reshaping of a person’s diet perspective. The huge variety in craft beers that most of us take for granted are off the menu for people who are gluten free, unless they want to risk a painful reaction to try a craft beer. But Pedro Gonzalez, founder of New Planet Beer Co., is hoping to change that.
“We do gluten-free start to finish, and we start with gluten-free grains,” Gonzalez explained. “We protect and secure the process against cross-contamination and then we test all our beers, using the most sophisticated test on our products — the ELISA 2.5 ppm test. And the results are phenomenal as we do not detect gluten in our beers. We use sorghum, brown rice, corn, molasses and honey. They’re exciting ingredients and expensive ingredients.”
“Gluten free, start to finish” is more than just a marketing term — it’s a promise. One that’s close to Gonzalez’s heart. He was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2003, and he wasn’t sure what the future held for him. He had been sick for many years, but once he was diagnosed, he started avoiding gluten and within two years was feeling better. But there was something missing.
“A friend of mine turned me onto a gluten-free beer at a BBQ,” he recalled. “I felt normal again. I was able to have a burger and beer on a nice summer day in Denver. We started talking about the fact that the gluten-free beers I was drinking were just OK. A friend of mine, who was a professional masterbrewer, started making beer for me. On my wife’s 40th birthday in 2009, we decided to share it with our friends and family. They loved the first beer and said, ‘You have a future here.’ So we started looking for a way to brew it, and we started in August of that year for September distribution.”
In 2010, New Planet distributed statewide in Colorado. In 2011 and 2012, the brewery grew to 42 states. The beer will be in 45 states by this summer. New Planet is focusing on a natural-products channel, specifically grocers and large off-premise retail. The brewery’s goal is to be available in every state. It doesn’t need to have a handle in every bar, but Gonzalez wants to make sure that it’s available to his core customers — those who are afflicted with gluten intolerance.
New Planet currently offers three beer styles — a blonde ale, pale ale and raspberry ale. Gonzalez was excited to say that offering is going to double this year as New Planet will release an amber, Belgian and brown ale. It’s all about offering the gluten-free customer more options.
“If you’re looking at it from the perspective of a gluten-free consumer, like me or anyone like me, if you were in my shoes, you’d want to have 100 categories of gluten-free beer,” Gonzalez said. “You go to the Great American Beer Festival, and you have a ball just focusing on one category out of 100 each year you attend. For the gluten-free consumer, they also want 100 different beer categories.”
At beer festivals, gluten-free craft beer is lumped into its own category. Gonzalez wants the focus to go from a gluten-free craft beer to a craft beer that happens to be gluten free using 100-percent gluten-free ingredients. After all, beer works both ways — a conventional beer drinker could enjoy New Planet beers just as much as a gluten-free beer drinker.