Unless your beer is specifically marketed as gluten-free, it has gluten in it. Gluten is a protein that comes from most grains, including barley, the main solid ingredient in beer. Most people aren't aware of how much gluten they take in every day; it's in obvious products such as bread and pasta, but it is also used as a filler and shows up in unusual places, such as lipstick and vitamins.
The Brewing Process
Dried, germinated barley, what is referred to as barley malt, is a major ingredient in any kind of normal beer. As beer is brewed, the malt goes through various stages, being mashed, boiled and fermented. At each stage, the gluten content of the malt drops, so the final bottled result has much lower levels than the raw malt.
Researchers in the Czech Republic monitored the gluten content of beer during the brewing process and published the finding in "Food Additives and Contaminants" in 2006 . They found that nonalcoholic beer had very little gluten, less than 3 milligrams per liter. Lagers had a range of 3 to 8.7 milligrams per liter, and stouts contained 9.0 to 15.2 milligrams per liter. Wheat beer, which is made with predominately wheat malt, had a range of 10.6 milligrams per liter to high of 41.2.
Who Should Care
People with a gluten allergy, gluten intolerance or celiac disease must avoid gluten. Ingesting even small amounts can cause stomach pain and diarrhea and can damage the small intestine, even if there aren't any digestive symptoms. Dr. Jan Gurley comments on a study that found that even amounts as small as 10 milligrams per day can hurt the intestine, for those particularly sensitive to gluten -- excluding even low-gluten lagers. Gluten sensitivity affects about 1 percent of the population.
Beer lovers who discover they can't tolerate gluten aren't completely out of luck. As awareness rises about the prevalence of this condition, brewers are coming up with gluten-free beers in which ingredients such as millet, buckwheat, rice and sorghum replace the barley. Unfortunately, as a relatively new niche product, these beers cost more than normal beers -- and, according to many beer lovers, do not taste good. Until new developments mean more beerlike gluten-free beer, those with sensitivities might prefer a cider.