Gluten Fighting Aliens Make Tasty Beer For All Humanity

Beer is the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage on planet earth for good reason – it’s delicious! Joe Short’s passion for brewing is what lead to the founding of Short’s Brewing Company. Unfortunately however, until very recently we were unable to quench the thirst of all planet earth inhabitants because of a gluten-intolerant disease, called celiac disease, that affects about 1 in 133 Americans. We interviewed Short’s Brewery Manager and Beer Scientist, Tyler Glaze, about Short’s delicious and hoppy response to celiac disease: Alien Einstein. This India Pale Lager will be found on shelves across Michigan Friday, April 18th.

First off, what is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is essentially a partial, or complete, bodily intolerance to gluten, the protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and other cereal grain-based products like barley and rye. The disease affects the lining of the small intestine and prevents the body from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. For people who have the disease, it’s gluten that causes the damage to the intestine, so the only way to avoid the symptoms is through abstinence.

Abstinence, huh? That sounds rough.

Yes, in so many ways.

So you and Short’s other scientist Sam Decamp (set out to defeat celiac disease?

Well, not exactly.  When we learned about the broken-hearted Short’s fans out there who needed to reduce, or eliminate, gluten from their diet, we went on a mission to develop a Shortsified beer that met their needs.  Our two parameters were that it would not contain harmful levels of gluten and it would taste as good as our other beer.

Okay, for the non-scientists in the audience, how did you do that?

Alien Einstein (1)Well, basically we put our mind power in full gear and found an enzyme called Brewer’s Clarex that could be added to fermenting beer.  This enzyme can break down virtually all of the gluten within the solution. This is how our India Pale Lager Alien Einstein was born; a monumental day in Short’s history.  I remember it fondly.  It was also the day that an ancient 32ft tall, 60,000lb rock monument in the Sea of Galilee was discovered to be man-made. What a crazy day!

Aliens were not actually involved?

Not that I know of.  It was actually the enzyme.  We named it Alien Einstein anyway, though.

Does the formula on the label for this beer have actual meaning?

Oh my gosh, no.  It is an artist’s version of what the formula might look like.  Let’s leave it at that.  It looks great on the bottle.

So how does the funky sounding enzyme work?

Brewer’s Clarex is an enzyme — a proline-specific endoprotease (to be exact) — that degrades the epitopes on the antigen which causes the immune response known as Celiac disease. By degrading the responsible epitopes, the antigen is rendered harmless because there is no longer anything to interact with the human immune system. The epitopes are the section of the antigen that interact with the antibodies in people’s immune systems. To put it another way, consider a sea urchin. Now think of the sea urchin as an antigen and the spikes of the urchin to be the epitope. The prolyl endoprotease (Brewer’s Clarex) melts the spikes off of the urchin turning it into a simple, harmless tasty delicacy. Now the body is able to digest the antigen without harm.

Were any actual sea urchins injured in the making of this beer?

No, I’m talking about metaphorical sea urchins.  Not real ones.  I promise.  But you got a good mental image out of it, hopefully.

Okay, so tell us a little bit more about Brewer’s Clarex.  It sounds like a pretty awesome enzyme.  

Originally, Brewer’s Clarex was developed to clear up haze in beer.  A secondary effect of using Brewer’s Clarex was gluten reduction. Thus, the researchers successfully scored a two for one science deal!  As scientists, we all give each other a lot of high fives and Napoleon Dynamite “Yessssss!’es” when that happens.

Why don’t you always use Brewer’s Clarex to make beer gluten-reduced?

When we found out about Brewer’s Clarex, we were giddy at the thought of developing a beer that could be enjoyed by those with a gluten-intolerance. Using Brewer’s Clarex in beer, however, is not as easy as dumping a bunch into a tank of conditioning beer and letting it do its magic. The enzyme is quite picky and has revealed itself to work much better in certain beers over others. We experimented quite a bit, and eventually determined that Alien Einstein, which is an incredibly delicious beer, worked perfectly for this process. This has been one of our favorite new Short’s Brews over the past couple of years, so lots of high fives and “Yessssss!’es” ensued since we knew we’d met our goal of taking a great beer to those affected by Celiac Disease.

Will I see this beer on tap throughout Michigan?

No, we’re only going to distribute this beer in bottles.  That’s because we can’t guarantee that the draft lines and systems in bars and restaurants around Michigan wouldn’t contain gluten left over from past beers that flowed through them.  Sorry folks!  We will serve this beer on tap at our pub, though, because we can see to it that we clean our system effectively before putting a new beer on tap.

I’ve seen “gluten-free beer” advertised at other breweries.  How is that different than “gluten reduced?”

There are a number of breweries attacking the gluten issue in different ways.  Brewing without gluten, such as using rice or buckwheat, is also an option.  That method can result in “gluten free” beer.  However, when we considered that route we were not as impressed with the resulting flavors.  We wanted a beer that someone with celiac disease could drink with their friend and both people would be equally happy.  We are confident we’ve succeeded.

So if I am not suffering from Celiac Disease, will I like this beer?

Yes, if you love deliciously hoppy India Pale Lagers.  In fact, Joe, Tony, and many of our other staff members think this is one of the best beers we’ve invented in the past couple years.  It’s really good.

You can’t call beer made with Brewer’s Clarex “gluten-free”, can you?

That’s correct.  We have to call it “gluten-reduced” since the beer initially contained gluten.  Beer made with Brewer’s Clarex may be brewed on the same equipment as beer containing gluten, and often begins the brewing process, as does Alien Einstein, with gluten-containing grains.

How do you know for sure that the gluten has been reduced?

We send samples of every batch away to be tested before serving it as “gluten reduced.”  This confirms that gluten has been removed to such a vast degree that it will not affect those with celiac disease (below 20 parts per million).

Are other breweries experimenting with Brewer’s Clarex?

We know of a handful of other commercial breweries that use Brewer’s Clarex to reduce or eliminate gluten in bottled beer.  These are exciting times for beer-loving people with Celiac Disease.

This seems like a big win for science.

I can’t argue with that.  All over the world, scientists are doing some pretty awesome things.  Curing diseases, making it so that you can watch movies on your phone, and things of that nature.  But this is indeed a pretty neato win for science, I must say.  Thank you for noticing.

Screen shot 2014-04-16 at 3.07.08 PMTyler studied at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo as a Microbiology/Biochemistry Undergraduate student and escaped before graduation to explore the United States and try all of its beer. By sheer luck, Tyler landed in a seat at the Bellaire Pub and was hired shortly after for a summer internship. Soon, he found himself managing the Quality Department at Short’s and, while working at Short’s, attended the prestigious University of California, Davis Extension, Master Brewer’s Program where he learned the science and engineering behind the beer we all love. Shortly after, Tyler received his Diploma in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, London, U.K. Tyler lives in Elk Rapids with a large fridge full of Huma Lupa Licious.