I was in Shakespeares the other day (obviously) and having recently finished the last of the phenomenal cans of Magic Rock Clairvoyance - quite simply the finest beer I have had in a can for a long time - I was asking bar-meister Christopher Keith Wadsworth which can I should choose next. In a moment of apparent sobering madness he recommended Magic Rock Fantasma, a plus 6% IPA which was gluten free. I checked my pockets for smelling salts but none could be found, but his insistence it was good made me agree to buy a can. Am glad I followed his sage recommendation.
Years ago, between one and twenty, I heard about gluten free beer. It had no doubt been around longer but we in the UK are often slow to recognise, possibly distrustful of, developments and improvements, especially regarding at that time lesser known illnesses. So the first one I heard about was from Hambleton. With the greatest respect to them (I love their Nightmare and their strong pale which has a name I have since forgotten) it was a noble effort to make such a beer, but it tasted rank. As did the Greens, and less so the Wold Top one. The removal of gluten seemed to take away any resemblance to a balanced beer.
Magic Rock Fantasma is not that kind of show. Admittedly I was told it was gluten free and that came for me with its own raft of expectations, but am fairly sure if I hadn't know it prior to supping I wouldn't have known it was gluten free. The only minor difference to other Magic Rock pale ales of a similar strength was that it lacked...something, maybe a tang of sweetness from the yeast or malt used? What it did have however was a wonderful, and crucially balanced, blend of hops with a delicious tropical bitterness. It would am sure, stand up against peer pales in a blind tasting.
In a reprehensible display of lazy journalism, I haven't spoken to Stuart or anyone else at Magic Rock about how they made a masterpiece from such a potato cut outs and paint template of a beer style. And am sure if I needed to drink gluten free beer I would want to know, so if nothing else I could share that with other brewers. But I don't. And also I haven't seen Stuart in some time. Journalism, eh. Whats it all about? Like memories.
Anyway, one good thing that might come from this, as well of course of the opportunity to drink excellent gluten free ale, is greater awareness of those who have to drink gluten free beer. I refer of course to coeliacs, although that may not be all those affected. Funnily enough I was discussing the restrictions of and improvements in such beers with Liz at the Devonshire Cat last year - she was intending to have one completely gluten free handpump at the Dev. I have no idea if this has been taken on board following the refurb but if so that would be a really positive development. I understand that gluten or its constituents can still be present in the lines following the sale of non gluten free beers so a dedicated line would wipe out such a problem.
The addition of an exemplary pale ale also without gluten is a similar bonus. Lets hope brewers can start to push forward improvements in gluten free beer so it can become a product that coeliacs actually want to drink rather than feel they have to.