This Tuesday Contributor Series post is written by Irene Nissen, a regular contributor of Napa of Beer. Find her other articles here.
I had the opportunity to visit with Peter Archer, the Marketing Manager for New Planet Beer, at their headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. Peter contacted me after seeing my post on where to find Gluten Free beers in Fort Collins.
In 2003 New Planet’s founder, Pedro Gonzales, was diagnosed with celiac disease. Consuming gluten at even 5 parts per million (ppm) will knock him out. He couldn’t stand any other GF beers that were on the market, so that was his inspiration to start New Planet. New Planet has been distributed statewide in Colorado since 2010, and is currently in 40 core states, with 66 distributors. Their operations are based in Boulder, CO with 5 employees and their beer is brewed and bottled in Fort Collins at the Fort Collins Brewery.
Currently New Planet distributes 5 distinctly different ale sets. Their Blonde Ale was their original beer, and previously was known as Tread Lightly Ale. In August New Planet started labeling all their beers by style versus a name. This decision was made to make the process of choosing a beer simpler for the consumer. When it comes to craft brews people like to know what they are drinking, and especially when someone is trying to choose a gluten free beer, they want to know how it directly compares.
One of the most difficult parts of brewing gluten free beer is how to make beer out of ingredients that don’t taste like beer. Sorghum has a very distinctive flavor that can be hard to disguise. One of the expressions that Peter likes to use when talking about New Planet’s brewing style is that they are “using non-traditional beer ingredients to create a beer experience.”
Up until about 4 years ago all gluten-free beers were lagers. Budweiser was the most popular beer and therefore gluten-free brewers decided to make the Budweiser for the sorghum world. This is often times why you hear that GF beers suck; you can’t make a good GF lager using sorghum.
The biggest knock on GF beers is that they are not flavorful, so New Planet strives to offer the entire flavor progression in their beers.
Their Blonde Ale is a super light, easy drinking ale brewed with sorghum. Corn is added for more texture and mouth feel without adding more fermentable sugar and helps to keep the stability of the flavor profiles. A little orange peel is also added for a citrus pop on the finish and to clear out the sorghum taste.
Their Raspberry Ale is made more like a light drinking wine or cider. It is brewed with sorghum, corn, orange peel and raspberry puree from organic, sustainably grown raspberries in Oregon.
Their Belgium Ale is the only America made Belgian that is 100% GF. It is brewed with traditional Belgium Ale Yeast, Madhava organic wildflower honey from Longmont and spiced with Cinnamon and Vanilla to give a cinnamon and peppery finish.
Their Amber Ale is meant to be similar to a standard American amber ale. It is made with a little brown rice extract and molasses to help change the texture and format of the beer. It doesn’t have quite the hop load as a lot of Colorado amber ales, and not as much of the malt back, but there is a nice texture across the middle, and Cascade is used for the finishing hop to give you a nice crisp bite.
With their Pale Ale, they set out to the make the hoppiest 100% GF Pale Ale in the industry. Sorghum is not a great stable base, so it’s hard to balance out. They couldn’t just throw a bunch of hops at it, as it would have resulted in an unbalanced beer with a very bitter flavor. The result is a GF beer with a much bigger mouth feel and more flavor than most GF beers; they describe it as a very assertive beer and it is their #1 seller across the country.
They are also working on a Brown Ale, although it is not commercially available yet. The difficult part of brewing a GF Brown Ale is that sorghum cannot be roasted. So how do you create the experience of a big brown ale without any of the traditional ingredients? Their head brewer had the idea of using Brazilian Coffee and Cocoa to add texture, give mouth feel and add a roasted flavor. The result was a delicious brown ale that you would never guess is a GF beer.
The choice to brew 100% GF from start to finish, versus traditionally brewing beer that is “gluten-removed” is something that Pedro feels very passionately about. In gluten-removed beer, the protein chain gets chopped up so small that it becomes difficult for tests to detect. Individuals with Celiac have a limit of what they can take; so “gluten-removed” beer can be dangerous. The only way to ensure that a product is gluten free is to brew it from start to finish gluten free. New Planet wants their customers to not even have to think about it when they choose their beer. They are extremely passionate about transparency and believe that people need to know what they are ingesting.
Recently the FDA ruled that a product made either from gluten-free grains or from gluten-containing grains, that has undergone a process to reduce the amount of gluten, could be called gluten free if it has less than 20 ppm of gluten. Pedro believes “there is a lot of miscommunication going on, so anything you can do to help the consumer decide is ideal.” New Planet includes the full nutrition and ingredient information on all their bottles. This is not required in the U.S. for alcohol products.
The FDA believes that in order for consumers with Celiac to have an array of foods to choose from they cannot lower the 20 ppm rule, otherwise food and beverage manufacturers may shy away from making GF foods. However if down the road they can find information showing that they can test lower than 20 ppm and people are being affected by less than 20 ppm they may lower this standard. The government is always working to find the middle ground and the important thing is to educate the consumer so they can make the best decision for them. As it stands right now if a GF beer is labeled gluten-free, is it “gluten-free.” While New Planet is completely GF, they cannot label it as such since the tests do not go that low.
New Planet caters to three different consumers. There are the 50+ late diagnoses Celiac consumers who gave up beer a long time ago, the young consumer Celiac who wants to drink craft beers and wants choices on styles, and the Gluten Free by Choice (GFBC) consumer who is trying to decide if they should drink a traditionally brewed craft beer and cheat, or drink a gluten free beer. By offering 5 district styles and flavor profiles for consumer to choose from New Planet offers a safe, gluten-free alternative for a wide range of consumers.
If you would like to taste New Planet’s beers and learn more about their passion for brewing GF, their newly opened tasting room is located at 6560 Odell Place, Unit D, in Boulder CO and is open every other Friday trough the end of October from 4:00-6:00 pm.