The Ultimate Gluten-Free Beer Smackdown

Omission vs. Groundbreaker vs. Utah-based Uinta. We ranked these beers from best to worst.

By Ramona DeNies and Marty Patail May 18, 2016

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Image: Shutterstock

Portland Monthly editors Marty Patail and Ramona DeNies love beer. So. Much. (If beer were a choice in a round of “F**k, Marry, Kill,” malt beverage would get their ring.) Now they’ll channel that passion into Beer Me, a weekly post focused on Cascadian brew news—along with one pint you should most certainly try. First up: the winner of our local gluten-free beer taste test!

True, we don’t have celiac disease or even a gluten intolerance. (#blessed.) But our pride of place still pours over for Portland’s robust gluten-sensitive brew scene—home to both the Craft Brew Alliance's Omission (gluten-reduced) and Groundbreaker, America’s first “100 percent dedicated gluten-free brewery.”

So when Salt Lake City-based Uinta announced that its new line of certified gluten-free beer will hit Portland-area Zupan's and New Seasons this month, we wondered how our hometown heroes would fare against Uinta in a taste test.

As of press time, Uinta is still experiencing delays getting its Free Form IPA and Belgian-style blonde ale on shelves. We were able to get samples of Uinta’s Belgian Ale, and also three styles from Omission and seven from Groundbreaker. Below, find a (highly unscientific) vote tally from a dozen or so PoMo staffers, listed from least popular to most. 

12. Uinta (certified GF) Free Form IPA: ??? So, how does this 63 IBU gluten-free brew taste? We'd tell you, if we could. (We held out for long-promised samples until Uinta cited technical delays.)

11. Groundbreaker (certified GF) Coffee Pale Ale: Zero votes. The brewery's year-round pale ale blended with Equal Exchange cold brew was not, shall we say, our favorite. "Lightly carbonated 7-Eleven airport coffee," wrote one staffer. "Why would you do that to beer?" wailed another.

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Groundbreaker's Dark Ale has won multiple awards in the annual Great American Beer Festival's gluten-free category. So, maybe take our ranking with a grain (lentil?) of salt... 

10. Groundbreaker (certified GF) Dark Ale: Zero votes. "Burnt-tasting," "medicinal," "pretty much dirt"—these are a few descriptors of Groundbreaker's roasted chestnut- and lentil-based brew. "Give it to goth teenagers," suggested one staffer. "They like to suffer."

9. Groundbreaker (certified GF) Olallie Ale: One vote. Blackberries, rose hips, and Crystal hops: a combination that one staffer commended for mild taste and "pretty color" and another for approximating "sparkling cider." Alas, they were alone: others thought Olallie tasted like a discarded popsicle stick, sulfury Carson Hot Springs "without the warm blankets," and barnyard.

8. Groundbreaker (certified GF) Pale Ale: One vote. Dry hopped with Cascade and Meridian hops, this flagship Groundbreaker brew was deemed, variously, "inoffensive," "flat and sad," and "aight."

7. Groundbreaker (certified GF) IPA No. 5: One vote. Roasted chestnuts and lentils are again the base of this ale. "Tastes the way balloons smell," wrote one staffer, while others lauded this brew for being "not as penny-tasting as regular IPAs" and "almost beer-tasting."

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6. Omission (gluten reduced) Lager: Two votes. Omission's proprietary process enzymatically removes gluten to less than 20 parts per million, the standard set by multiple agencies for labeling as "gluten-free." (Fun fact: you can track each batch's test results on Omission's website.) Overall, our staffers found this lager fairly chill and drinkable despite a "cloying filminess."

5. Groundbreaker (certified GF) St Denny: Three votes. One staffer thought "Dwight from The Office would be proud of this medieval-style mead." A Dubbel style, here brewed with beet and date sugar, Groundbreaker's winter seasonal drank smooth, sweet, and syrupy.

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4. Uinta (certified GF) Belgian Blonde Ale: Three votes. Coriander and orange peel are on the ingredient list for this "mild, peachy, acceptable summer ale." "A fancier Coors," suggested one staffer. "Undersweetened soda," said another.

3. Omission (gluten reduced) IPA: Five votes. "Better," was the general consensus, as our taste-testers moved into beers that hit more familiar territory. (With votes to match.) Omission's IPA earned praise for aggressive hopping and a clean finish, though wasn't completely loved: several staffers found it one-dimensional.

2. Omission (gluten reduced) Pale: Six votes. Malty, balanced, slightly resinous. "Tastes like REAL BEER," one staffer declared.

1. Groundbreaker (certified GF) 7th Ave Saison: Seven votes. Nosing out Omission by one vote, Groundbreaker's "effervescent" summer seasonal made the top three list for two-thirds of our tasters with a light, lingering funkiness and round, subtly fruity flavor.

So, does Uinta stand a chance in Portland?  Time will tell—or you can! Let us know what you think.

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