Gluten-free brewery goes against the grain

Minnesota's first gluten-free brewery opens in St. Paul

Gluten-free brewery goes against the grain

In a craft-beer market that has little to offer the Celiac-suffering and gluten-intolerant among us, Burning Brothers Brewing in St. Paul takes its slogan, "Don't fear the beer," very seriously. Longtime friends and brewers Dane Breimhorst and Thom Foss use only naturally gluten-free ingredients and, notably, do not allow gluten ingredients inside the brewery in any form. It's an entirely gluten-free environment, with a sign on the door declaring the goopy grains off-limits.

Breimhorst and Foss, who are also former Minnesota Renaissance Fair fire eaters — hence the Burning Brothers brand — didn't set out to found a gluten-free brewery. The duo were well into planning a brew-on-premise business when Breimhorst was diagnosed with Celiac disease — quite an issue for a homebrewer aspiring to take the next step. The challenge didn't deter them. Instead their determination shifted focus to making quality beers that Celiacs can drink. It took over three years of honing recipes and reconfiguring their brewing process, but Burning Brothers was officially born in 2011.

Another three years passed as the two raised funds, filed paperwork, and acquired licenses and materials, before the first cases of Pyro American pale ale shipped this January. Mastering the recipes took time and ample patience. The pair spent hours wringing their hands trying to recreate craft-beer nuance with different ingredients. Eventually, says co-owner Foss, "We took a step back, went out on the Frisbee golf course and talked through it. [We] basically had to unlearn a lot of stuff from brewing."

Owners Thom Foss and Dane Breimhorst
Benjamin Carter Grimes for City Pages
Owners Thom Foss and Dane Breimhorst

Location Info

Map

Burning Brothers Brewery

1750 Thomas Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55104

Category: Breweries and Wineries

Region: Macalester/Groveland

Details

BURNING BROTHERS BREWING
1750 W. Thomas Ave., St. Paul
651-444-8882 www.burnbrosbrew.com

Breimhorst pulled from his training as a chef, focusing on the reactions between the different grains used: Instead of wheat, rye, or barley, he brews with sorghum, quinoa, and millet. The grains react to yeast and fermentation differently and, as such, a new approach was needed to brew the familiar beer flavors. Their website boldly asks how Burning Brothers differs from other gluten-free brews. Their answer? "The fact that our beer tastes like beer."

"At this point we can pretty much run anything," Foss says of their gluten-free brew process.

Many gluten-free beers that use sorghum have a distinct aftertaste. Breimhorst has selected his ingredients to not wholly mask those components, but to counter their negatives with traditional, positive beer characteristics. The Pyro ale, well suited to summer, has notes of sorghum but finishes with a restrained bitterness. It's light and citrusy, with a touch of sweetness buried underneath.

"When I do tastings I don't mention it to people," he says, pointing to the very subtle "gluten-free" tag on the beer can. "They don't even know." Breimhorst estimates the taproom is often a 50-50 blend of those with gluten intolerance and those simply trying out the new brewery in town.

Located in an up-and-coming craft-beer neighborhood, the brewery is close to Bang Brewing, the soon-to-open Green Line, and the forthcoming Urban Growler and Surly. The taproom holds 40 people inside the bar and another 40 in a sectioned-off portion in the brewhouse. The space is simple and unadorned, with a corner bar and tables made from repurposed construction supplies.

"We're more focused on making beer than trying to be the neighborhood pub," Foss says. While they love their customers and the connection to the community, the brewery maintains a comfortable but industrial feel that fits with their location, close to residential homes but also accessible to I-94 and Highway 280.

The taproom opened in early April. The owners envision regular live music and food trucks (gluten-free of course), but they also want to keep modest hours of operation, closing at 9 p.m. so they can spend time with their families and maintain the focus on production. There's room to expand with a patio, but Foss has no short-term interest. "I've fought with the regulators enough for this year," he smiles. "I would rather focus on getting some other styles of beer going."

They presently serve the Pyro and an IPA, with plans for a Grain Belt-style lager and a coffee ale to come soon. Growlers can be purchased at the brewery, but only cans are available elsewhere, including at restaurants and bars. Keeping the Burning Brothers beer in cans is part of the strict quality-control measures to which the brewery adheres. A restaurant can be busy and not properly switch their kegs over, they fear, and that could cause contamination from their 100 percent gluten-free designation.

"We take our reputation really seriously," says Foss. "If we were to break our reputation it would destroy us as a company," he says. "We want that trust factor with the gluten-free community." Foss adds that partnerships with dedicated tap lines at the right businesses could happen in the future.

There are few dedicated gluten-free breweries in the country and none in the Midwest, and though more people are aware of gluten intolerance than ever, the road ahead is still a bumpy one for the upstart. "We never had the vision that we were going to get rich off this," says Foss. "This is much more about serving a need and having a job that we can like and respect ourselves for. The fact that it's actually ballooned [in awareness] is a happy circumstance."

 
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79 comments
Heidi Breivik-Wetzel
Heidi Breivik-Wetzel

we love this brewery, this beer, and we are so happy for their owner operators! GF beer is a bit different...isn't every non GF beer?

Jill Lawrence
Jill Lawrence

Celiac is Not an allergy. It is a autoimmune disease. Celiac causes the body to attack and destroy the lining of the small intestine causing malabsorption of nutrients. A allergy is a response that triggers histamine. Gluten sensitivity/intolerance can cause symptoms that makes a person feel ill.

Jill Lawrence
Jill Lawrence

One in 106 is not a very tiny minority. And for the 5 of us in our family alone, celiac plays a major role in our life and health. Why should you care if others choose to be gluten free because they think they feel better that way? I find it strange that you are so enthusiastic on this topic. Seriously, why do you care?

Molly Forbes
Molly Forbes

Charlie, this is the brewery by our house!

Kayla Fuller
Kayla Fuller

All the other comments are saying the same thing you are? No. No, they are not. This one is an example: "Celiac Disease is not simply an allergy, it is an Autoimmune disease. Attacks your system by destroying the villi in your small intestines - which means no nutrients are ingested in your body, resulting in numerous serious illnesses. It's no joke." I suppose you think lactose intolerance and dairy allergies are "fucking myths" too. Maybe even nut allergies or bee sting allergies?

rockedfaces
rockedfaces

@haveapotato Also COFFEE ALE YESSSSS. Thom served us something similar last time we were there and it ruined me for all other coffee beers.

Monte Fontaine
Monte Fontaine

That said, since discovering Pyro APA (which I find has much more balance and complexity), I have a hard time reaching for that bottle of Omission now.

Monte Fontaine
Monte Fontaine

"Strains and filters" is a bit of a mischaracterization of the enzymatic process Omission Beer uses to remove gluten from their products, but I agree that it should be consumed with caution by folks on the more severe end of the gluten allergy spectrum (which certainly includes celiac disease). Fortunately, I and my other non-celiac, gluten-allergic friends have not had any serious effects from Omission's and other gluten-removed beers. And since celiac sufferers represent a very small minority of the gluten-allergic among us, I think there always will be a place for low-gluten beers which may or may not contain traces of gluten.

Monte Fontaine
Monte Fontaine

Kelly, yes, a good deal of misinformation is out there. Actually, celiac is but one of many variants on the gluten allergy spectrum, albeit one of the more serious forms. The ingestion of gluten is a relatively new phenomenon in humans, since the milling and baking of gluten-containing grains (flour) is only around 10,000 years old. We certainly don't need it in our diets to be healthy! I'm assuming your last comment is referring to gluten-free versions of traditionally gluten-containing processed foods? If so, I can assure you they have improved dramatically in the last decade (the ale mentioned in the article is a good example), but one can always eat fresh, unprocessed, naturally gluten-free fruits, veggies, and meat instead.

Cameron Van Berkum
Cameron Van Berkum

Also, as someone who drinks a lot of beer, their APA tasted imperceptible from a non-gluten-free beer. I was colored quite impressed.

Cameron Van Berkum
Cameron Van Berkum

I visited during their open brewery hours a couple weeks ago and the gang they have there is wonderful. I also learned that Omission isn't really gluten-free as it merely strains and filters the ingredients which always leaves my Celiac friend drowsy the entire next day. Burning Brothers bought brand new equipment and washes every surface of the place constantly, and most importantly uses completely gluten-free ingredients. Also, as someone whom doesn't have Celiac's, hanging out at this brewery was like hanging out with a bunch of Never Nudes ("there are LITERALLY DOZENS OF US!") but the conversation was so alive and cooperative; it's like a clubhouse for those who get left out at other bars/breweries.

Monte Fontaine
Monte Fontaine

I just discovered their Pyro pale ale and was completely blown away! It is on par with the best pale ales out there, GF or not. Well done, Burning Brothers Brewing!

Monte Fontaine
Monte Fontaine

Wow it's great to know the headaches, joint pain, indigestion, inflammation, and chronic fatigue were all in my head and that my gluten free diet has had absolutely nothing to do with their complete disappearance! And the exponentially increasing numbers of folks out there who are overcoming obesity for the first time in their lives after eliminating gluten? Pure coincidence for sure! Thanks, Erick, for shedding light on this "fucking myth."

John Nelson
John Nelson

Even if you're right, you loose all credibility with such a vial comment. I'm going to go but some gluten free pretzels and wash it down with a gluten free beer and cheers you while doing so!

Matt Newman
Matt Newman

Avoid health food buzz words. Cocain and tobacco are also gluten free!

Barb Braunger
Barb Braunger

So the alcohol is better for you than gluten??

Chad Breimhorst
Chad Breimhorst

Louder with more enthusiasm? Maybe for a 3rd grader. By the looks of things, it is your education that needs a refresher course. I am not going to give you the satisfaction of another reply so, to that I say good day.

Shane Molitor
Shane Molitor

I actually felt millions of brain cells die after reading this comment! Thank you Kelly!

Erick Thomas
Erick Thomas

Read the other comments, they are saying exactly what I am saying I am just being louder and saying it with more enthusiasm.

Erick Thomas
Erick Thomas

Gluten Free is a fucking myth! Maybe you should read more and do research into the fact that the only people that need to be Gluten Free are a very tiny minority of people with Celiac disease. Some recent research even suggests that Celiac Disease might not even truly exists. Buzzword foods are a damn joke and it is just another health wave people are riding until the new things comes out. What's next? Carb free alcohol free beer?

Chad Breimhorst
Chad Breimhorst

The jealousy of others success can tear you apart. I hope the failures in your own life change for the better.

John Nelson
John Nelson

Miserable people like you crack me up! Don't worry, the work hates you as much as you it.

Amber Gay
Amber Gay

Hell yeah, I'm down for that!

Erick Thomas
Erick Thomas

Fuck your Brewery. I hope it fails horribly.

Josh Boese
Josh Boese

Well we should check em out sometime homie Amber Gay

haveapotato
haveapotato

@rockedfaces Ooooh, I am intrigued! Nom nom coffee beer. I'm hoping to stop by the taproom at some point this summer for sure.

 
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