Drink: Going Against the Grain

Ghostfish Brewing makes gluten-free beer that actually tastes good.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
It’s not just a hipster trend or a fad diet. It’s an unfortunate reality that some people simply must adhere to a gluten-free diet to stay healthy. One Seattle brewery, however, is tightly focused on changing that reality. 
 
“We wanted to create and foster an inclusive tribe where everyone had access to amazing craft beer,” says Randy Schroeder, operations director and co-owner of Ghostfish Brewing Company, an all-ages taproom in SoDo.
 
Only a handful of America’s 4,600-plus breweries attempt to brew gluten-free beer, and very few produce something that transcends mediocrity. Most gluten-free beers — which must be brewed without barley, a gluten-rich grain that is a key ingredient in beer — are watery, bland and unsatisfying. Ghostfish Brewing set out to defy that well-deserved stereotype when it opened for business in February 2015.
 
Ghostfish earned almost immediate praise, snagging two of the three medals for gluten-free beer at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival, the nation’s most respected beer-judging competition. More recently, Ghostfish swept the gluten-free category at the 2016 U.S. Open Beer Championship, bringing home gold, silver and bronze medals.
 
“We sampled all of the available offerings in the category and knew that if we could create gluten-free beers that competed with the best craft beers available, it would pave the way for a new business with a much better chance of success,” says Schroeder.
 
Replacing barley with a flavorful, viable alternative is paramount if you aim to brew good gluten-free beer. Ghostfish  changes out gluten-laden ingredients with grains such as millet, malted brown rice and buckwheat. Like barley, these ingredients provide fermentable sugar, but add their own character and flavor.
 
“Our ingredients are unique to the brewing world,” says Schroeder. “We’ve resurrected these ancient supergrains and are bringing back a bit of a lost art.”
 
Many gluten-free breweries rely entirely on less imaginative ingredients, such as sorghum or corn, for instance, which provide the requisite fermentable sugar but fail to add much character or flavor to the beer. Other breweries use barley to create “normal beer,” to which they introduce an enzyme that strips the gluten from the beer, with varying degrees of success. Skeptics assert that it also strips away body and flavor. Typically, these are referred to as “gluten-reduced” or “low-gluten” beers, and drinking them is chancy for anyone who truly needs to avoid gluten. 
 
Ghostfish brewmaster (and co-owner) Jason Yerger was diagnosed with gluten intolerance at the age of 25. Instead of abandoning his love of beer, he began to experiment with gluten-free beer, first as a homebrewer and later leaving his career as an acupuncturist to join the team at Ghostfish and to brew professionally.
 
At Ghostfish, both the brewery and the recently added kitchen, where staples such as street tacos and pizza are served, are completely gluten-free. Even folks with the most severe gluten intolerance issues can rest assured that the beer they’re drinking and food they’re eating won’t cause problems. 
 
GHOSTFISH BREWING
SoDo, 2942 First Ave. S; 206.397.3898; ghostfishbrewing.com
 

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