Departed Soles: Gluten Free Beer for the Garden State

For the gluten intolerant, the world of craft beer is a foreign place.  Up until now, it might as well have been on the moon.  Brian Kulbacki and his upstart, Departed Soles, is on the glide path to bringing that world a whole lot closer.  His gluten free IPA placed 3rd overall in the NYC Brewers Guild home brew contest.  Not that there’s a gluten free category.  It’s just a damn good beer.

Brian and his best friend from high school created many a memory with beer as the catalyst.  After all, beer is not known as the ultimate social lubricant for nothing.  By the time Brian’s buddy found out that he had developed celiac disease (gluten intolerance), Brian had a well developed talent and passion for home brewing.  He made it his mission to create a beer that they both could enjoy together.  Celiacs suffer an immune reaction in their small intestines which can cause abdominal pain brought on by the protein (gluten) in wheat, barley and rye.  It’s pretty tough to make beer without any of those ingredients but, gluten or no gluten, friends don’t let friends drink bad beer.  It’s just that simple.

departed soles beerActually, it’s not that simple.  Sorghum is used in place of traditional malt when brewing gluten free beer.  Its intense sweetness is difficult to mask, but not impossible.   Other grains that don’t contain gluten are corn, rice, buckwheat, millet and quinoa, but there aren’t any malted versions of  any of those grains which are commercially available.  So, if you are going to go gluten free, you’ll have to malt your own.   Even then, you can end up with a thin and sour beer.  Oh, and you also have to be careful about the yeast you use because some are cultured in a barley medium.  In short, you’ll have to know a lot about brewing to produce a decent gluten free beer.

Successfully negotiating the American Brewer’s Guild 6 month Brewery in Planning course completed Brian Kulbacki’s brewing education.  Even though he was already a home brewer, Brian found the course challenging.  There’s a lot of engineering and microbiology involved with a little practical business advice thrown in at the end.  Not that he needed that.  A Boston College grad, Brian majored in Business and Finance.  Appropriately enough, it was a tour of the Sam Adams brewery during those college years that introduced him to flavorful beer.  Brian also helps run the family business, a funeral home (thus the “departed” part of Departed Soles), as well.  Clearly he has the business and brewing chops.

So, what’s next on the gluten free glide path you ask?  First there was a decision to make.  If you want to adhere to the most strict FDA rules, you can’t make both regular and gluten free beer in the same building.  Contamination is a big risk and Celiac disease is no joke, so it’s one or the other.  Brian’s commitment to offering the craft beer world a quality gluten free option made that decision easy.  However, that choice completely changes the business model.  Recent startups have relied almost exclusively on draft only local support.  For gluten free, not so much.  At least not at first.  So his business plan calls for a canning line right off the bat.  That will open up wider distribution options.

Not that Departed Soles doesn’t covet local support.  Brian hasn’t settled on a location yet, but his goal is to be in a destination locale, like the shore communities, where he can have a destination brewery.  He envisions a robust tasting room and would like to host special events as well.  Take a look at what Cape May Brewing has accomplished with that strategy and you’ll see how successful it can be.  Brian is also a true blue Jersey guy and plans on utilizing New Jersey ingredients whenever possible (Sorghum isn‘t grown here).  You might even get a taste of the resurrected Ballentine (of Ballentine XXX fame) yeast!  He’s sought advice and mentorship from some of the states best brewers including Augie Carton of Carton Brewing, so you can expect some Jersey attitude and creativity.

Brian is the kind of person that goes the extra mile and he certainly did so when he made a special trip just to drop off a couple of bottles of  his Goodbye PA (and IPA) for me to try.  I’m glad he did.  I’ve never had a gluten free beer before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  There’s a sweet fruitiness and a faint hint of  bubble gum  in the nose.  It’s very pleasant but it tells you there is something different going on here.  The mouth feel is a bit thinner  due to the sorghum but that’s ok because this beer is surprisingly dry and that seems to work well.  Citrus hop flavor is free to roam around the palate without wrecking it.  I don’t know what the ABV is, but I could drink this beer all day.  It’s very sessionable.  By the end of the glass I’d totally forgotten that this is a gluten free beer.

And I guess that’s the point.  Brian Kulbacki and Departed Soles aim to make good beer that happens to be gluten free.  I could use a little less gluten in my life, and another  bottle of Goodbye PA.

Peter Culosis the editor of “Beer Bites,” a new monthly feature about breweries, bars and good beer in the garden state.  A graphic designer by day, and a life long New Jersey resident,  Peter was first introduced to the novel idea that beer could actually have flavor during several visits to the UK.  He’s been riding the craft beer bus ever since.  It has been called the ultimate social lubricant and Peter’s philosophy on beer is, “I’d rather split my last good beer with a friend than drink the whole thing by myself.”  Besides beer he also likes history, dogs, Jeeps and painting.  In the past, he has written a History and Art blog for the Weider History Group and occasionally contributes to his own blog,  Life is short.  Drink good beer.