Coeliac disease affects between 1/100 and 1/170 people worldwide (cheers, Wikipedia). Wheat allergy isn’t as widespread but I bet none of these numbers are any consolation if you have either of these and can’t find beer you can drink without feeling unwell. Beer is awesome and anything stopping people getting their hands on it is automatically my enemy. With that, I picked up a bottle of Hambleton Ales’ GFA and prepared for battle.
Uh oh. With the cap popped off the scent from the bottle neck is disconcertingly supermarkety, like one of the bottom-rung own-brand beers. “Say it ain’t so” says the beer writer’s inner monologue as he empties the bottle into a tulip glass, for a pour of unpolished bronze, turning pinkish red when lifted up to an electric light.
The head is a little ill disciplined and boisterous, settling to a centimetre of thick white foam that makes itself scarce quickly following the first mouthful. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. What about the scent? Cleanup on aisle six?
Happily the nose from the glass is mildly floral and none of the terrifying stank of desperation that crawled out from the neck. GFA smells like it’s going to be a refreshing beer, with subtle grassiness and florality. More school playing field than delightful unicorn-infested meadow.
First taste is very sharp, a shock to the senses like the sensation of blood after a bust lip. The hops come through stronger in the taste than the nose, and the sweetness is completely unexpected. The “what am I drinking here?” clouds take a moment or two to clear.
Mouthfeel is thin and a little sticky. The taste fattens out with a few further mouthfuls and the biscuity notes, which have ridden roughshod over the taste for roughly the first half of the half-litre pour, ease back to allow a citrussy taste a little like biting into a satsuma through its skin: sweetness and fruit flavour dulled by thick tissue.
The beer does live up to its scent’s promise of refreshment; for a while the beer does seem to make the roof of the mouth parch but soon the ale starts to slake and enrich and it would have been a good beer to end a meal with, had your correspondnent bought more.
In the last few mouthfuls the level of sweetness does seem a little artificial, but this is just the senses (I am sure) misfiring at the surprising saccharinity of GFA. It is sweet in spades.
Ending the drinking process with a head-back glug of the remaining beer brought a rush of sweetness and not much in the way of an aftertaste, the sticky mouthfeel outlasting the flavour.
GFA is this reporter’s first ever gluten free beer and it’s not too shabby. It has a beer-garden feel about it, a bright beer that would go down well on a sunny Sunday when work tomorrow is still just an ugly rumour. The sweetness is very upfront and turned almost to ten, but the beer works well and tastes and feels nothing like the unsettlingly cheap scent that escaped the neck at first cap-crack and was never encountered again.
Everyone deserves beer.