Let's get all the disclaimers out of the way first: I am not a doctor. I don't even have a doctor, so if fact-based health information is what you're after, this isn't the place. But if you've ever asked yourself exactly how much wheat is in the beer you are turning your back on, you're a thinker. And that's a good thing. I'm a thinker and a drinker (and I also write about food), so I decided to make myself useful and test out a few theories.
So yes, I am in fact allergic to wheat. Not deathly, not even severely, but sensitive enough that I won't go near a plate of pasta and I make sandwiches at home on mozzarella bread (which you should try regardless). I gave up beer four years ago as the last transformative step from puffy, achy pile of lameness to moderately energetic and generally happier person. Beer was a terrible loss, although our beer writer's list of five awesome gluten-free ones is rock-solid. But — and I'm sure you can relate — I don't really have $12 for a 4-pack. I barely have $10 for a 6-pack, and I'm tired of paying a premium on largely shitty gluten-free stuff anyway. Plus, I've read a few beer-related threads online with interesting theories. And you know what they say about reading stuff online: compile a bunch of it to keep the conversation going.
Topic #1: Guinness is gluten-free
When I said I gave up beer, I meant I gave up all beer except Guinness. Besides it being my favorite, I went to the actual factory in Dublin to learn that the dark stuff is not brewed with wheat, just barley. And the barley contains hordein, a gluten-like molecule that will not necessarily trigger symptoms. So, is Guinness gluten-free? No, and nobody would certify it as such. But it doesn't bother me at all. The culprit itself is absent and its replacement may not cause any reaction — worth a try. Slainte!
Topic #2: Lager is low in wheat
A dated but nevertheless available study suggested that many beers — especially lagers and beers brewed with rice (Budweiser, many Asian beers) and corn (Miller, light beers) contain between 1-200 milligrams of gluten per liter, fewer than 20 ppm (just toeing the World Health Organization's line for gluten-free qualification). I'm talking about enjoying a beer or two, not chugging it by the liter. Heineken contains just 0.0005% gluten. That's right, the Heineken you can find at pretty much any bar (unlike the pathetic-tasting gluten-free beer you still can't find at any bar). This very low level may not trigger symptoms, so crack a Bud, Hite or a Heinie and test it out for yourself!
Topic #3: Testing beer with a gluten kit
Someone needs to knight the dude on the Chowhound thread who tested all those beers with a kit at home. Corona, home-brewed bock and even Stone IPA for crying out loud all registered below 20 ppm. He then launched into an EPIC scientific theory involving the basic laws of thermodynamics that sounds pretty encouraging. If it's not cloudy or obviously labeled "wheat beer" or hefeweizen, it's possible you're in the clear.
If you have a wheat allergy, nobody knows your symptoms like you. Make sure you haven't cheated with a bite of someone's sandwich or "the tiniest cookie ever" so you can accurately assess your reaction — and remember, it might not rear its head until the next day. Obviously if you have Celiac disease, don't drink anything that's not certified GF (you probably don't need us to tell you that). But others might find they have a certain brew or two to welcome back into their lives.
More on the gluten-free life at Food Republic: