It’s fairly clear that beer and gluten go hand in hand. When you’re looking to meet up with an old college friend who has celiac disease you tend not to think of visiting a brewery, even if you are a beer blogger. Where there is a will there is a way, which is why I searched out the one notable exception that can be found around the Twin Cities: Burning Brothers Brewing.
It can be hard to pin down your friends as you grow older. Everyone grows up, gets married, has kids, and moves on. I lived with my friend Jon for almost ten years, but with a couple of kids and a busy hobby racing motorcycles it’s difficult to find the time to get together. When I learned that Jon and his wife were going to be in the cities on a date night I asked if they’d be willing to meet up at what I believe to be the only brewery where they can both enjoy a beer. It wasn’t the first visit for any of us, but I figured a night out with people that can really appreciate what Burning Brothers is doing would make a worthwhile post.
I work minutes away from taproom so it was a cinch to zip into residential St. Paul and then cross Interstate 94 into the Hamline-Midway neighborhood. Like many breweries, Burning Brothers is located right on the edge of an industrial area and has turned what may be an empty cold space into a warm communal environment. I’d arrived early and walked past the Solos Pizza truck, serving piping hot gluten free pizza, and into their cozy taproom. The word must be out, because the space was busier than I’ve ever seen. Their seating had spilled into their production area, which gave a handful of people the chance to sit with their back to a cooler or in the shadow of one of their fermenters. I usually enjoy sitting at the foot of the equipment but tonight I was looking for a spot for three. Luckily I found a compromise, a place I could sit and keep a watchful eye through a window!
Before my friends could arrive I ordered a Cream Ale on Nitro and took a good look at the taproom. Their painted cinder block walls were covered in all manner and variety of messages in black permanent marker. A lone chalkboard contains their offerings, eight beers titled the H8FUL EIGHT. An obvious nod to famed director and writer Quentin Tarantino. A flight of four is available but the adventurous folk should order a Tarantino, which is one taster of every one of their beers. Pretty cool concept, and a much better deal! In front of the tap list is a small bar, then a handful of tables, and then the door. This is a small intimate room with no bells or whistles. It’s clear that the focus is the beer, but everyone felt like regulars and it made for a very inviting space.
Shortly into my beer my friends entered the room and quickly spotted me. The time slipped by as we reminisced and caught up on each other’s lives. We talked a fair amount about their issues with celiac disease not only for Jon but for one of their children. They’re a gluten free home because of those problems and they are extremely happy that there are places like Burning Brothers around that can scratch the itch if they are ever in the mood for a beer. Together with Sociable Cider Werks they’ve only got a couple of gluten free options in the area. I was particularly happy that I could share my love for craft beer with them regardless of their situation.
You may be asking how the beer becomes gluten free. There are a few ways different brewers can do this, but Burning Brothers does it by replacing wheat, barley, and rye with other grains that just don’t contain gluten. What about the taste? There’s no doubt that the beers taste different, but there is no doubt that you’re drinking a beer. They’ve done a remarkable job in brewing styles that most beer drinkers are familiar with and not straying too far from what you’d expect. In addition to the Cream Ale, I had their Fused Orange Blossom Honey Ale, Raj-Agni India Pale Ale, and Roasted Coffee Ale. The Cream Ale was ultra creamy and smooth with the nitro pour. It had a hazy orange color paired with a delicious sweet aroma and flavor. The real winner was a surprise for me. I’ve been straying away from IPAs this past year just because of a little overkill on the style. However, their Raj-Agni was surprisingly good. It had a really nice spiciness to it that balanced out the bitterness and fruitiness of the hops.
There is not much else to say about these guys. They brew gluten-free beer, in a gluten-free facility, and it’s pretty good! I wish they’d highlight the grains that are used in the beers. I assume it’s mostly sorghum, but if they were using something else I’d love to know. Most visitors may not care, but it’s something that could make a difference to some. It’s an intimate space, with a crowd of regulars, and makes for a quiet spot to catch up with old friends. If you’re looking for something different away from the hustle and bustle you would be hard pressed to find something better than Burning Brothers Brewing.