Some brewers strive to make the next killer IPA or to wow the world with all their culinary creativity. For Omission Brewing’s Joe Casey, it was about simply giving people a chance to enjoy beer who otherwise couldn’t.
Omission Brewing was founded in 2012 as part of the Craft Brew Alliance (CBA) with a portfolio of gluten-reduced beers. Joe Casey, has been acutely aware of gluten-intolerance since 2005 when his wife was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. “Being a Brewmaster and knowing she wasn’t going to drink beer anymore, having something to fit that niche in her life became an interest to me”, explains Casey. “Prior to that, our company CEO at the time had been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. So I had both a personal and professional interest to see what we could do in terms of coming up with a beer they could both enjoy.”
Their first attempt started in 2007 using traditional gluten-free fermentables like sorghum, honey, and corn sugar. “The beer was fine for what it what was, but it didn’t taste like the beer we were used to, the beer we wanted it to taste like,” recalls Casey. The effort was put on hold until 2010 when Casey became aware of an enzyme called Brewers Clarex™ which breaks down gluten chains when added to the fermentation tank.
Brewers Clarex was released commercially in the mid-2000’s to reduce beer haze. “These haze proteins happened to be the gluten proteins found in barley, wheat and rye,” explains Casey. “As a side effect, they found it was digesting these gluten proteins to the point these beers could be labelled gluten reduced.” This gluten reduction process didn’t have any effect on the flavor, aroma, color or head retention. After test batches and trials using the enzyme to create gluten reduced beer brewed with barley malt, CBA management green-lighted the project, and Omission Brewing launched in March of 2012, becoming the first large scale commercial brewery of its kind in the United States.
The initial reaction to Omission was immense. All sorts of people fighting gluten intolerance thanked them for allowing them to enjoy beer again. Joe Casey could once again share a beer with his wife.
Omission’s line-up is rather straightforward and accessible, consisting of a Lager, Pale Ale, IPA, and recently released Ultimate Light, a low calorie, low carbohydrate Golden Ale. Could Omission brew a high gravity beer like an Imperial Stout, or would that push their gluten removal process too hard? “We haven’t really tried to push the boundaries on that. In theory, it’s possible,” explains Casey. “We don’t have any desire to make a gluten removed Wheat Beer for example, that just doesn’t sound right. For us, that’s just pushing the boundaries just a little too far. We got the portfolio we have right now and it’s a very solid craft portfolio and we haven’t seen the need to go outside of that yet.”
I found the Omission beers surprisingly familiar. I expected them to be watery or have off-flavors, but detected none of that in the Pale Ale, Lager, and Ultimate Light brews I sampled. The Pale Ale was well balanced, with an orange citrus note, light sweetness, and tannic bitterness. Definitely a Pale Ale I’d reach for again. Lagers are a test for any brewery and Omission’s has a pleasant bready character with a background floral note. It rates well among the new breed of lagers out there. As for the Ultimate Light, it’s clear, with a discernible cracker-like malt without any off-flavors and fizzy carbonation.
Ultimate Light was just released in response to changing consumer trends that occurred since 2012. As Casey explains “When the brand first launched, we were really heavily targeted towards people that had medical necessities to avoid gluten and that’s still the foundation of the brand. But over time we’ve found there’s a large number of people who drink Omission just because they’ve decided to reduce gluten in their diet for reasons of choice. And that’s a much bigger market and there’s advantages to tap into that. It made sense to have a beer to fit into that healthy life-style category as well.”
While Omission chases food trends to grow their business, they continue their commitment to people with medical issues with gluten a website where customers can download the test results from the batch of beer they’re drinking entering a code printed on the bottle. As Casey puts it, “Transparency is very important to us”. As May is Celiac Awareness month, let’s take a moment to realize simple pleasure like beer was out of reach for people with gluten intolerance. For many with that condition, that’s no longer the case thanks to breweries like Omission.
(I purchased Omission Pale Ale and Lager at local grocery stores for review. Omission Brewing supplied samples of Ultimate Light. Joe Casey photo was taken by Sasquatch Agency. Product shot and Joe Casey photo used by permission of Omission Brewing Co.)