Hops and the City is an exploration of beer in Pittsburgh by our resident craft beer enthusiast, Angelica Ross. Angelica is pitting beers against each other and honing her taste skills simultaneously while providing you with her unique opinions on the brews in front of her. It’s like Carrie dishing about men and learning about which guy suits her best…except for Angelica, it’s beer. Follow Angelica on Twitter @syntaxxerrorrr.
When I was in high school, my cousin was having issues. But she didn’t just have issues, she had the full subscription. Stomach cramps, mind-numbing pain, flu-like spells that stretched for weeks. And no one had a clue what was happening. Then she was diagnosed with Celiac disease. Anything with gluten was immediately flung out of her life and kitchen cabinets.
At first, I thought, “You can’t have chocolate cake! And pasta! And waffles! Your life sucks!” then I started to think, “Shit, you can’t have beer.” Thankfully, Aurochs Brewing Company has eased some of the Celiac pain here in Pittsburgh.
I’m the first person in line to backhand the trendy suburbanite who “prefers not to have gluten.” There’s a difference between preference and medical necessity, as we learned with my cousin; the guys at Aurochs know it, too. Both Doug and Ryan abstain from gluten due to medical diagnoses, the former as a child and the latter as an adult (after having fallen for craft beer…oh, the humanity!)
So they started brewing gluten-free beer, naturally. What used to be produced in 11-gallon batches is now a full-fledged brewing system in Emsworth. Their facility is entirely gluten free down to the growlers they fill – only their own and you get a fresh growler each time to prevent cross-contamination (To illustrate how serious they are, I may or may not have heard that one of the founders made his mom finish her meal in the car because it didn’t follow their anti-gluten guidelines). And they send everything out for testing to ensure it’s truly safe for those with Celiac disease to consume.
The fact that they can’t brew with typical ingredients hasn’t hindered these Aurochs at all. Most gluten-free breweries use sorghum, which is similar in flavor to barley, or add enzymes to de-glutenize the beer (my technical term). Aurochs, however, uses a combination of millet and quinoa.
It is their mission to bring people together so everyone can have an enjoyable experience and, most importantly, quality craft beer without worrying about gluten. I think you know where I’m going here…I tried gluten-free beer.
When I visited, Aurochs Brewing Company’s Friday taproom hours were just starting up and I was treated to three beers on tap: White Ale, Amber Ale, and Brown Ale, all aptly named.
I’m prefacing this by saying that Belgian beers are not my style. Must be some latent PTSD from somewhere. But you didn’t come to hear that.
Long story short: this is Aurochs’ version of a traditional Belgian wheat beer. A lighter beer doesn’t rely on malt flavors, so this recipe lends itself nicely to gluten-free brewing. It was also the first beer they brewed and very apparently time-tested. This version is multidimensional and stays true to the style; it’s easy to pick up on coriander, citrus, and the Belgian yeast used to brew it. Even though this isn’t my favorite style, I would come back to this particular version without question. It’s missing some of the sweetness that can be off-putting and instead brings a refreshing flavor profile to the table.
The Amber Ale proves that you don’t need traditional ingredients to make a flavorful, robust beer. Amber ales rely on malt-forward flavors. For me, that swings to the caramel and biscuit characteristics. Lightly roasted millet and quinoa replicate those flavors you’d look for in an amber ale. Then, the beer warms and the hops show up – you can pick up on the spice from the Cascade and Styrian Goldings used.
Roasty, chocolate flavors come through in the Brown Ale. It’s toasty and roasty without being heavy. This beer uses millet malt to achieve its signature brunet color and flavor profile. I picked up on another flavor that I couldn’t quite identify, something slightly corn-like that I didn’t find entirely pleasant, however, that isn’t to say this is a bad beer.
That said, if you like darker beers that lean towards stronger malt flavors, this may not be quite for you. In my taste, I would just have to warm up to the way this particular beer is presented. I’m definitely interested to try the Brown Ale on nitro and to see what their porter brings to the table when it’s ready.
Aurochs Brewing Company’s beer isn’t “good beer for being gluten-free beer,” it’s just good beer. As Doug noted, quality is the hallmark in the craft beer universe; regardless of gluten content, it must taste good or people won’t drink it. While you won’t find fancy triple-hopped hit-you-over-the-head-with-IBUs beers (yet), you will find solid flavors that are produced in a brewery that is extremely cautious about gluten and takes pride in what they serve, brewing only beers they’d actually want to (and can) drink. Another long story short: if you want local, gluten-free craft beer, look for the wild Aurochs.