Gluten Free Beer

I’m Gluten-Free.  No, it’s not contagious.  Or at least that’s what doctors say.  But somehow I gave it to my kids.

The hardest part of the condition is missing beer.  This beverage is traditionally made from barley, a manly grain.  Just the name sounds as if it grows hair.  Barley.  Problem is, it’s packed full of gluten.

Once, before I knew of my intolerance, we visited relatives living in Germany.  We flew into Munich and strolled through a pristine terminal around breakfast time.  We passed patrons on chromed barstools enjoying scrambled eggs, sausage, and washing it down with a dark brew.  That afternoon I contacted a local realtor and informed the family we were moving.

Meandering throughout Deutschland, beer was more prolific and less expensive than bottled water.  For reasons I still do not understand, tap water was taboo, so you could never find it.  Which is why, even today, most tourists either dehydrate or consume so much alcohol they don’t remember the vacation.

For two weeks the family toured the country, including trips into Belgium and Netherlands.  Southern Germany was green and lush and the entire countryside was kept, trimmed, and pruned.  Even their forests were manicured, underbrush cut, fallen trees removed.  We drove past fields where rows and rows of telephone poles sprung from the ground, lashed together by rope to form an enormous jungle gym.

“What are those?” I asked.

“That’s where they grow hops.  By the end of the season, they’ll be all the way up those ropes, like enormous pole bean vines strung between towers.”

We passed acres of them everywhere we steered, all in straight lines, systematized and ready to grow the diverse varieties of bitters.  And whenever we stopped, we sampled local brews.  Restaurants and bars and monasteries.

Yes, in Germany, monks make beer.  And they’re amazing at it.  Truthfully, amazing is an understatement.  They’re the special forces of beer-craft, entrusted with recipes and secrets of millennia.  Beer is why there’s such strict competition to get into monasteries.  Waiting lists can be decades long.  The vow of celibacy weeds out less committed individuals, leaving only dedicated brewmasters.

We all know Jesus turned water into wine because, if He’d turned it into beer, He would have attracted entirely too many disciples.  Pastors everywhere should take a lesson from German culture.  Seminaries could require brewing as a core course.  Imagine the new twist on the church potluck.

Germans approach beer craft with all the industrial precision and personal dedication for which their culture is known.  Their products made everything I’d previously enjoyed taste like fat-free ice cream.  After our vacation, even the best American brew tasted like Miller Light, which is marginally better than no beer at all.

Then came the news.  I am one of the gene-donors for my daughter’s celiac, which means I’m gluten intolerant.  Worse, I’m stuck with gluten-free beer.

Which has less taste than tap water.

It’s made from sorghum.  Even the name sounds like a compromise.  Sorghum.  So, we Americans brew it for disenchanted celiacs.  Like a chain smoker sucking on a straw, we’re all drinking this mash, hoping if we close our eyes and concentrate, the next sip will taste different.

A glimmer of hope sparkled like tinsel beneath our artificial tree last Christmas.  There rested a tall brown bottle of gluten-free beer.  I’d never tried this brand, so I gave it a shot.  Taking a draw pulled me back to Germany, sitting in a wooden booth sampling a dark brew, smooth, with a heavy finish.  I glanced at the label and, sure enough, it was brewed in the old country.  The nearest store that carries it is three hours away and, at eight dollars a bottle, it’s a bit outside this insurance author’s budget.

So now, if I’m in the mood for a brew, I’m stuck with wine as a dinnertime substitute.  But it’s not all that bad.  It was Jesus’ first miracle.  Right?

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