Not so long ago, gluten intolerant folks like myself had to admit that we couldn’t drink beer at parties and bars whenever people started talking about pitchers and mugs and pints. It wasn’t too bad, really- I mean, there’s always wine, and hard cider is amazingly good- who wants beer anyway? But, when you find yourself chugging a root beer and sneaking peeks at yourself in the mirror, just to see what it looks like… well, culturally it feels a little like something is missing. (Not that I’ve ever done that, cough, cough.) You hear all those stupid things about “just having a pizza and beer” or “having a beer after work,” and it just seems like you’re missing out of some human experience. Yes, melodramatic, but sometimes that inner three year old acts up, and there’s not much that can be done about it. Now granted, I’ve always thought beer smelled pretty vile, especially when, say, it’s been ground into a carpet and left there. Or, spilled in the subway. There’s not too much appealing about that smell, that’s for sure. And, beer is high in calories, empty in nutrients… I haven’t yet heard a study that it is good for you, and I’ve read a lot that say it’s darned BAD for you. But like most things that are bad for you, beer holds a certain je ne sais quoi in the American imagination. And have you ever hung out with a bunch of college age guys from Germany? Try it, and tell me if you think beer isn’t a significant beverage after that. But luckily, all this mooning and moping after gluten free beer ceased to be necessary fairly recently, when there was a veritable explosion of gluten free beer on the market.
Bard’s Tale’s Dragon’s Gold Sorghum Lager, Ramapo Valley Brewery’s Passover Honey Beer, and Anheuser Busch’s Redbridge all joined the fray and competed for the Gluten Free beer market. I say the more competition the better- it might result in a halfway drinkable brew! I have to admit, my first experiences with the gluten free beers was somewhat painful. I had Ramapo Honey Beer at a Stanford Celiac Conference, and hated the bitter aftertaste that lingered for what seemed like hours after drinking it. I liked the idea, but not the reality of the beverage. And honey beer sounded so appetizing… Next I tried Bard’s Tale Dragon’s Gold. I took it with me to a party and swigged my way through… an entire 1/10 the of the bottle, I swear. Swig might be an overstatement. Sip, grimace, put beer down. Five minutes later, another sip, and by sip, I mean barely dampening my mouth with the stuff, then closing my mouth tightly and setting the bottle down again. I really wanted to like the beer with its cool name (dragons, come on, how much better can it get) and even cooler label insignia. This drink gives me wings, baby. But I’d probably have to drink more than a tablespoon a night to get any magical dragon effects, and that is just more than I was willing to do. These gluten free beers were really getting me down. It made me long for a simpler time, where my only option was sweet, delicious hard apple cider. But I was determined, and so when I heard that Anheuser-Busch had jumped into the fray with their own commercial Redbridge Sorghum beer, I steeled myself for another disappointment and resolved to try it immediately. I was a bit stymied by the fact that none of my local health food stores (all two of them) decided to stock it. I found myself in the unlikely situation of haunting beer refrigerator aisles and scanning for MY beer, but with the exception of a discovery of a section of chilled champagne (ooh, goodie!) I seemed to be out of luck. Then, just when I was least expecting it, DH and I found an unexpected surplus of Redbridge while exploring the New Leaf Market and found ourselves the proud owners of not one but two six packs of the stuff! (It was on sale, and we just couldn’t resist.) We brought it home… chilled it… poured it into a glass, just for the occasion… and I took a sip. It wasn’t half bad! A slight bitter aftertaste, but nothing like the caterpillar that curled up and died in my mouth that I experienced with the other gluten free beers. It was actually drinkable, and even tasty, with the right accompaniment. But let’s be honest here. With all my years of sweet, sweet hard cider, sparkly champagne as my celebration drink of choice, and crisp white wine, I’m just not set up to become a real live beer drinker. Oh, I’ll drink it occasionally, to show willing and to exorcise my demons. But the fact is, it will probably take me three years to drink those two six packs, and I had several bottles of despised gluten free beers taking up valuable space in my cupboards. Desperate times were calling for desperate measures, which is why when I stumbled across a 13 year old Bon Appetit magazine (back when they were more gourmet- oh how I miss those days…) and found a recipe for “Stout and Orange Glazed Brussels Sprouts,” I jumped on it. Of course it needed some serious modification to be gluten free and vegetarian, but I was up to the challenge. I changed the recipe (especially cooking method) rather heavily, and came up with the recipe below. While at first I was skeptical that anything yummy could be made with my “medicinal bitters” AKA Ramapo, I was delighted with the complexity that the beer brought to the recipe, and combined with the sugar and diverse flavors of the recipe, I ended up with a lip smacking, gobble fest worthy side dish. I also had one less gluten free beer haunting my cupboards and taking up valuable shelf space, so it was a success all around. If you’ve got something undrinkable in YOUR pantry (gluten free, of course), why not try it in a recipe? It may have all kinds of potential just waiting to be realized in the right recipe… And this one is a great place to start!
Also, if you’re looking for a gluten free beer internationally, here is a fairly comprehensive list of gluten free beers
Gluten Free Beer and Orange Juice Glazed Brussels Sprouts
3/4 cup gluten free vegetable broth from bullion or homemade
2/3 cup Gluten Free Beer (sour and icky is FINE- I used Ramapo)
1/3 cup orange juice
1/4 cup margarine
2 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
sprinkling of freshly ground pepper
1 pound (or more) fresh brussels sprouts, with stem cut off and cut in half horizontally
Preheat oven to 425 or so.
Combine all sauce ingredients in a heavy pan and bring to a boil. Boil for about seven minutes and then place your brussel sprouts on a flat baking pan in a single layer, pouring a little of the sauce over them, and putting them in the oven. Return rest of sauce to stovetop and boil it for 7-10 more minutes, or until it has thickened. (Keep an eye on it, you don’t want it to burn) Bake sprouts for 10-15 minutes and then turn over, cooking for 5-10 more minutes. When brussel sprouts are done to your taste (I like them crunchy) remove from oven and drizzle with thickened beer sauce. You may find that you have too much sauce, so you can save it for another dish. Enjoy!
I was a little skeptical but even my least favorite GF beer in the world tasted great in this recipe. It lost all its nasty bitter qualities and harmonized with the sweetness of the orange juice and sugar. Very yummy! Great way to use up that GF beer you’d “never drink in a million years ’cause it is too gross.”
*still experimenting with the baking times. Original recipe just simmered frozen! defrosted! sprouts in the sauce but that’s not my style.I’m fresh all the way, baby!*
If you don’t have access to GF beer, you can brew your own or use some other alcohol with personality. It should have a “dark beer/ stout” flavor as much as possible. You could try a dry hard cider or wine, and reduce sugar. You can also reduce the margarine- I wanted to experiment with this but first time out I was trying to follow the recipe, if not the cooking methods.