The Rise of Australian Gluten Free Beer
For the craft beer consumer, choice is everything. With more than 650 craft breweries in Australia, the variety available is huge. But it hasn’t always been this way.
Thanks to the pioneers – among them Little Creatures, Holgate Brewhouse and Mountain Goat – the modern era of craft beer in Australia only began around the mid 1990s, with a huge explosion in breweries over the last few years.
The term ‘craft beer’ most commonly refers to a beer that has been brewed by a small-scale, independent brewery that produces only a relatively small volume each year, allowing true ‘craftmanship’ at the helm of the tanks.
On the gluten free beer side of things, Ballarat-based Rebellion Brewing (O’Brien Beer) were among the first in Australia to brew using non-gluten containing malts. Wilde, TWØBAYS, Hahn and Wild Polly followed, with European and American imports topping up the choice. But the variety was nowhere near enough for Richard Jeffares who founded TWØBAYS Brewing Co in 2018 – he wanted to bring a range of craft beer styles to gluten free consumers in Australia.
“Before my Coeliac Disease diagnosis, I could choose any beer for any occasion and never drink the same beer twice,” Jeffares recalls.
“From Dessert Stouts to Triple IPAs and everything in between.”
And the range of wild and wacky beers has turbocharged over the last six years, with more than 100 festival beers brewed especially for GABS 2021, including a Smashed Avo Gose, a Chai Latte-inspired IPA and a Wasabi and Ginger Imperial.
While craft beer is still a fast-growing category, the gluten free beer market in Australia is growing even faster, and with more than 20% of Australian consumers actively looking to reduce gluten in their diet (Australian Medical Journal) there are no signs of it slowing down.
“O’Brien paved the way for gluten free beer in Australia,” said Jeffares.
“They’ve been brewing since 2003 and their beers are highly decorated. They’ve won more than 50 medals in 18 years.”
“Now choice is growing – I can choose from five or six gluten free beer brands that I know are safe, even if they are not all endorsed by Coeliac Australia. Hahn only has one gluten free beer available; Wilde and Wild Polly have two, O’Brien has five – with another two available on seasonal release.”
TWØBAYS is preparing to release its 15th beer in cans just two-and-a-half years into the journey, with a Lager, Pale Ale, XPA and IPA in its core range, and everything from a Passionfruit Sour to a Single Malt And Single Hop (SMASH), and even an Orange and Coriander Belgian Witbier.
“We want to take the gluten free community on a craft beer journey by offering the most varied and the best gluten free beers to explore,” explains Jeffares.
“And we’re only just getting started.”
“Having the Taproom enables us to experiment with new styles – we’ve kegged almost 40 different beers produced on our pilot system now, with a Hazy Pineapple New England IPA and a coffee-infused Black IPA our newest beers on tap.”
TWØBAYS has won awards too, with the Pale Ale winning a Gold Medal at the 2020 Independent Brewers’ Association ‘Indies’ and No Doubt Stout winning Gold at the 2021 Australian International Beer Awards – almost 20 medals in two-and-a-half years.
“Being limited to gluten free beer only, I’m just delighted at the increasing range available to the gluten free community,” said Jeffares.
“For me, beer is all about the experience, whatever your preferred styles and flavours – the more people that get to savour that experience the better.”
“Venues are realising that their gluten free customers don’t always want to have to drink a cider or glass of wine, and are becoming accustomed to the fact that many just want a beer like everybody else. And those customers tend to be very loyal when they find somewhere safe and enjoyable – and they take their mates.”
“TWØBAYS has run 12 gluten free beer tap takeovers across the country now – which has shown these well-established craft beer haunts just how many customers are really excited about having the opportunity to get a fresh beer in a glass. For Good Beer Week 2021, The Fox Hotel in Collingwood and Miss Moses both ran special events with multiple Australian gluten free breweries on taps, pairing the beer with great gluten free food. That was a really exciting milestone for the gluten free beer world”
As awareness around quality gluten free beer grows, large hospitality groups that already offer gluten free food options are acknowledging the need for it. And gluten free consumers are incredibly loyal, with more than 99% suggesting that they would return to a venue where they had a positive experience.
Much to the delight of the gluten free community – and everybody who recognises the importance of inclusivity and the ability to share a beer regardless of gluten intolerances – there is no doubt that gluten free beer in Australia is on the rise.