The other day I had the pleasure of interviewing two bright young men of the newly-named Rainy City Ales in Ballard. They are a startup gluten-free brewery, specializing in innovative ways of making gluten-free beers. The company consists of Ryan, who has a background in chemistry, and Justin, who majored in international business and foreign languages. It’s a pretty dynamic pairing, with Justin having the “crazy” ideas and Ryan using his scientific knowledge to determine whether they will work. They each work full time at their day jobs while developing their business and recipes. They have been brewing beer for several years, but they have only recently decided to start moving towards sharing their talents with the public.
I learned a lot about brewing from this interview- these guys really know their stuff! Most beers on the gluten-free market are very heavy on sorghum and buckwheat. According to Justin, “We don’t do that at all. We use a little bit of sorghum, but mostly we use sweet potatoes.” The magic of sweet potatoes is the enzyme beta-amylase, which is only present in barley and sweet potatoes. Barley, of course, is not gluten free, and so they use sweet potatoes as their base starch. This enzyme is necessary for the breakdown of starches, which is part of the brewing process. For depth of flavor, they use grains- which at this point are roasted lentils and millet. Since they process all of their own ingredients, they can taste their products at each stage as they go along, and adjust accordingly.
Neither of these two gentlemen are gluten-free, but some of their friends are. As Justin put it, they started brewing gluten-free beer “when we tried out what they had to deal with, especially with beer- because we love beer- we’ve gotten it down so that we actually like the beer we make better than most beer that you can buy, gluten-free or not.” Being able to consume gluten allows them to compare more accurately whether a gluten-free beer tastes like its gluten-containing counterpart. In fact, their goal is to eventually have their beer sold in stores, in the “regular” beer section. They want to make “great beer that happens to be gluten-free.”
According to them, the current gluten-free beer market is very homogenous, and also low-alcohol.That is what they are trying to change. Their current beers contain about 6% alcohol, as opposed to the typical 3%. Using separate ingredients allows for a lot more variation in recipes, so they can make many different types of beer.
I was there on the first day a batch was ready, so they tasted it first to make sure it was carbonated enough. It was, and so we proceeded to drink it. It was pretty tasty. It is very, very light in color, due to its nontraditional ingredients (which is part of the reason they have begun roasting their grains, as I mentioned above). The taste, however, was stronger than the color suggested. It was certainly much better than any other gluten-free beer I had tried. If you are looking for a good-tasting, small business-produced beer, I definitely recommend Rainy City Ales!
At this point, they are making about 15 gallons of beer per week. They are scaling up very quickly, but (as of our interview) they are not an official business. The suggested donation per 6-pack (sold in re-used bottles) is $10, and if the bottles are not returned for the next go-round, it is $12. They also have 18oz bottles available. These guys are super friendly and willing to let people taste their beer. Oh, and all of their major ingredients are sourced from within 150 miles of Seattle, if not from western Washington! If you want to find out what their latest batches are and when they are ready, you can follow them on twitter at @RainyCityAles, where they announce most of their availability. You can also “like” them on Facebook.