The "Crafted To Remove Gluten" Misnomer

Why the barley-based label requirement limits consumer understanding

It's one of the first things we hear about Kukko when we are trying to tell the brand story, "if it's not labelled Gluten Free, it's not safe for me."  

This is one of the more frustrating hurdles when attempting to introduce a barley-based product to gluten free consumers. The market has been trained by painful personal experience that barley-based gluten reduced beers are not really safe for celiacs and the government offers no other means of classifying a product like Kukko - which has been safely consumed by celiacs in Finland for over a decade. 

A brief history...

Around 2012, a few brewers with good intentions discover that clarifying enzymes commonly used in breweries for removing chill haze also return a <20 part per million result on the R5 Competitive ELISA test for gluten.  Having no reason to distrust the test results, they petitioned The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) for the right to call their product gluten free. The TTB, realizing they don't have their hands around this issue, essentially punts to the FDA for clarification and, in the interim, allows beers made with these enzymes to label themselves as Crafted to Remove or Reduce Gluten. In fact, Oregon's Omission brand of beers (one of the first of these types of beers made) actually wins the argument at the state level and labels itself fully "Gluten Free."

The rub?...

As gluten experts and celiac disease specialist have told us, these enzymes go beyond simple fermentation to further hydrolyze the gluten protein (essentially making it smaller), but they do not actually remove the offensive protein. Said another way, the enzymes fool the traditional gluten test and offer a false sense of security to the gluten free...A fact that many celiacs (including the author of this blog post) found out the hard way. 

The challenge for Kukko is that while it is brewed with barley, locally sourced Finnish barley to be exact, it DOES NOT and HAS NEVER used these enzymes as part of the gluten removal process. The gluten found in the malted barley is removed through a proprietary and wholly natural process that was discovered by the brewer in 2001 - long before these enzyme short-cuts were ever imagined. There are no weird additives or unproven processing aids. Everything involved in this proprietary process is approved by the Beer Institute and the ingredients are simply barley, water, hops and yeast.  To put it plainly, it is uniquely a great beer that is surprisingly low in gluten, with a significant track record of safe consumption. 

Now the European standards are not recognized by the TTB or FDA and maybe they should not be. This is an entirely different country with its own culture, laws and consumer expectations. However, what is the value of more than 15 years of market data? Doesn't the FDA typically require rigorous market testing of many substances before they rule them as safe for sale to U.S. consumers?  If celiacs in Finland have a track record of safe consumption, regardless of unique laws and cultural differences, shouldn't that account for something?  Maybe, but right now it's just not that simple.

Barring a scientifically definitive test that can absolutely isolate what we understand to be more than 500 types of gluten that can be offensive, the answer to the question of the utility of a safety track record is probably a personal one.

Today, there simply is no easy way to explain the alternative that Kukko offers to the enzyme beers.  Taste proves the point versus the sorghum, millet and rice brewers, but there is no test that is currently sufficient to prove the ppm point to the FDA/TTB.  Until there is, consumers like this writer will have to rely on personal judgement.  To that point, what gives me the confidence to bring this product to market in the U.S. is the fact that is made in an utterly different way, has a 15 year safety record with real Celiacs and every beer that will be sold in the U.S. will have passed five batch tests resulting in a less than 20 ppm of gluten result before it ever reaches our shores. I've even had it tested here at an independent lab and had the same <20 ppm results.

More importantly to me personally, I have been drinking Kukko for 10 years with zero negative outcomes and my doctor continues to tell me my test results are good.  What do you think? Is 15 years of market data worth a try? We hope you think so and that you realize the same great taste and asymptomatic outcomes that we do. Then, we have to believe that the Kukko difference will spread by word of mouth, because lumping Kukko in with the enzyme beers that are Crafted To Remove Gluten is simply not that helpful to gluten free consumers or to innovative brands like Kukko. 

 

What's the BIG GF DEAL with Kukko?

As word has started getting out (particularly in Texas), we've been repeatedly asked how Kukko is any different than Omission, Redbridge, Green's, Stone Delicious IPA, Estrella Damm Daura or another gluten free or gluten reduced beer out there. So, what's the BIG GF DEAL with Kukko and why is it better? Well, it all boils down to two things: taste and process...

There are generally two kinds of gluten free or gluten reduced beers on the market today (Yes, there is a difference) - alternative grain beers and enzyme beers:

  • Beers brewed with alternative grains like sorghum, millet, buckwheat or rice are truly gluten free because they are not made with grains that contain gluten. Barring cross contamination from shared manufacturing equipment; these beers are completely devoid of gluten and safe for celiacs.  However, while a laudable effort, the fact of the matter is that these products do not taste like beer, as most beer lovers know it.
    Net: safe, but taste different. 

  • Beers that use the new enzymes are brewed with barley for a more traditional flavor. However, while we believe the enzyme brewers have had the best intentions, leading voices in grain science and the federal government will tell you that these beers still contain gluten. In fact, many celiac bloggers have linked these beers with celiac symptoms. It seems that the enzymes are very effective in making smaller, hydrolyzed gluten protein chains, but that does mean the gluten is removed.
    Net: taste better, but likely still have gluten. 

So...what about Kukko?

Kukko is a truly unique beer. Since 2001, Kukko has been brewed with completely proprietary, but traditional brewing process using only locally sourced barley, pure Nordic water, hops and yeast, in an entirely wind powered facility. The new enzymes are not used, because they did not exist when the brewery discovered their gluten-reducing secret. In fact, the brewery's commitment to craft is such that only Beer Institute approved brewing aids are involved at all. No short cuts allowed. Net: uniquely brewed, great tasting beer, that just happens to be surprisingly low in gluten.

Now, savvy beer loving celiacs and gluten free watchers will rightly note that if Kukko is still made with barley, then it cannot be said to be said to be truly gluten free. And, this is true. However, Kukko does not use the new enzymes that reduce the efficacy of industry standard R5 Competitive ELISA test for gluten AND past tests have earned Kukko the Finnish Coeliac Society's certification as safe for gluten free diets. While it is true that there currently is no definitive gluten test for any fermented beverage acceptable here in the U.S., Kukko is better because it is made with the pure ingredients, no-short cuts, and has been safely consumed by gluten free Finns for nearly 15 years. 

And, that's a BIG GF DEAL. 

Hello Texas!

Today we announced that we entered in to a new partnership with Artisanal Beverage Distributors (ABD) to bring Kukko to Texas (and the U.S.) for the first time.  What a long strange trip it's been getting to this very happy point.

Whew!

We are very pleased to be able to share that we are making such great progress with a great partner. ABD will help us tap not only into consumers here in Southlake and the greater DFW area, but they will also help bring Kukko Pils to gluten conscious beer drinkers in the greater Austin, San Antonio, and Houston areas.  Truly, this is a dream come true for us.

Although we are not yet ready to announce the exact date when Kukko will be available or the great grocery and liquor store brands that have already told us they want Kukko (stay tuned), what we can say is that Kukko is well positioned to reach thirsty Texans across the state in a typically very thirsty season.  Vague, we know, but we promise to have more to share soon and that you will be very pleased.

In the interim, to help wet your appetite, here is an early look at the TTB and TABC approved U.S. can design:

Naturally, the U.S. can will also carry a translated wind energy icon like the one that can be found on the Finnish package, and we will include a new icon approved by the TTB that complies with the "crafted remove gluten" requirement for all products made with gluten containing ingredients. HOWEVER, we would like to again call your attention to the fact that Kukko is completely unique among barley based, gluten reduced beers, as it is not treated with the enzymes that have been chosen by some other new comers to low gluten brewing. Kukko has been naturally gluten free (by European standards) since 2001 and has been certified by the Finnish Coeliac Society for more than 10 years.

Of course, we would be remiss to let you think we only have eyes for Texas. Please know that we have plans to go to other great states soon. We are already in discussions with some great distributors outside of Texas and we promise to keep you informed on our progress. That said, if you want to help us reach a store near you, please reach out to your favorite retailer and tell them you want Kukko!  Or, if you are a distributor located outside of Texas, just click contact to get in touch with us and we'll respond right away.

Thank you for your interest and support.

- GLI

 

 

How does a pure craft gluten free import gain more attention from U.S. distributors?

Craft breweries are bringing new passion and fresh choices to beer drinkers in the United States. However, as a person with Celiac Disease keeping a gluten free diet, choice has been harder to come by.

It seems two distinct categories of gluten free options have emerged to meet demand: alternative grain beers brewed with sorghum, rice and millet; and Brewers Clarex beers brewed with malted barley, but finished with a clarifying enzyme to hydrolyze the gluten protein. 

The alternative grain beers have a unique flavor that is similar to, but not the same as traditionally malted barley beers. The Clarex beers use malted barley, but the finished product is the subject of some disagreement regarding its safety for Celiacs.

The good news is that there is a third category of gluten free beer coming to the United States: pure craft gluten free beer.

Laitilan Wirvoitusjuomatehdas Kukko brand of beers have been brewed gluten free since 2001 with 100% barley malt and have received the award for best beer in Finland multiple times. They have tested below 10 ppm of gluten by independent laboratories without the use of Brewers Clarex and earned the Finnish Coeliac Society’s certification as safe for gluten free diets.  As an added benefit, the brewery is entirely wind powered, the grains are locally sourced and the spent ingredients are recycled back to local farms as feed.

Simply put, pure craft gluten free means: a traditionally brewed 100% barley malt beer, made with all-natural, locally sourced grains, trusted ingredients and responsible brewing practices to yield a great tasting beer that tests surprisingly low gluten.

Next week I will attend the National Beer Wholesaler Association’s (NWBA) annual convention in Las Vegas to continue discussions and spark new ones with distributors regarding Kukko as a pure craft choice for the rapidly growing number of gluten free consumers like me.  My question is this:

How does a pure craft gluten free import gain more attention from U.S. distributors?

Early feedback from distributors has been very positive, but this is a tough space to stand out in. Anyone out there interested in seeing a small craft brewery from relative obscurity have a shot at the American craft beer dream?

I promise, there’s a GREAT gluten free beer in it if you do…