DrinkWire is Liquor.com’s showcase for the best articles, recipe and reviews from the web’s top writers and bloggers. In this post, Christian Aragon offers insight into the world of gluten-free brewing.
Blueprint Brewing Co.
Greetings, fellow Drink Nerds. My adventures have brought me to Harleysville, PA, where I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the only primarily gluten free brewing companies in the country, Blueprint Brewing Company. I was able to speak with two of the three founders, Cory and Jay, to gain a little more insight into the world of gluten free brewing and to talk about some of the ways they differ from most breweries in general.
Left to Right - Blueprint owners Jason "Jay" Scholl and Cory McDonald (Kyle Fetch not present)
How did Blueprint Brewing get started?
Cory: How did I get started with brewing? That’s a long story. Blueprint, however, got started with a craigslist ad on casual encounters and I was there. Jay was looking for somebody to do some wetwork and that’s when our third partner, Kyle, came in.
Jason: I had a full bladder and a lot of black plastic and I was looking to get rid of both.
Cory: The actual truth of the matter is once we all cleaned up, we all sat down and fell in love. [Laughter] Jay and Kyle have known each other for many years and they’ve been working on a concept. Jay’s wife and I did real estate together for the same company and she was mentioning this concept at the time I was brewing over in Neshaminy Creek. So we talked about it for a little bit back and forth. So at the company Christmas party, we were a little banged up, but we said to each other that we have to work this out. So we went to lunch about two days later and we hit it off, merged some business clients and thirteen months later we had Blueprint!
4 for 4 Session IPA, made with Super Bowl in mind (not gluten free)
When you look up Blueprint brewing, you see that they’re a gluten free brewer. How did you get into that? It’s not exactly a very popular way of making beer since it comes with a stigma attached to it.
Cory: Right, because according to some it’s not considered “real” beer. So, my dad has hardcore Celiac Disease. So, about 15 years ago, closer to 20 now, we almost lost him. This was before doctors really knew how to treat this. We saw he was losing weight, so we decided to feed him more. We fed him all these things like pasta, bread, and all of these things to fatten him up, but in fact, it was working the other way. About that time is when I was starting to learn how to home brew and he was smelling it and thought “wow, this smells really good, but what about me?” I then started learning how to do gluten free brewing and we got it going. We don’t do the gluten reduced thing here, because people like my father, with Celiac or even a gluten sensitivity, cannot do gluten reduced beers. So, beers like Omission and Stella are out. So, you have to look to Redridge, which is one of the world's number one selling gluten free beers, and we’re gonna take them down.
Me: That’s awesome, I guess if there’s only one other place it makes the job a little easier.
Cory: Yeah, I think there’s one other gluten free brewer in Pennsylvania, but they’re out in Pittsburgh.
When you got into gluten free brewing were there any challenges when coming up with recipes and with the brewing process itself? What made it different?
Cory: From a recipe development process, that’s one of the things I love about the brewing industry; it’s fairly open source. For recipe development I checked out a bunch of different blogs and softwares and then started developing my own recipes. For the base of our beer we use sorghum syrup, tapioca syrup, and then on top of that we use malted rice. We use a whole different system to brew as well. I don’t want to risk one of my guys, or even myself, to go with any other system and carry over any gluten into a beer. So it’s a whole different system from anything else.
Me: So of course, safety first. Especially for something with this much sensitivity attached to it.
Jay: For that very reason, we can’t distribute it. Because we don’t know if bar “X” is cleaning their lines properly. So the last thing you need is if we send out a gluten free keg and someone puts it on a Budweiser line. So, gluten free is only available in the tap room.
Does Gluten free brewing challenge you to come up with more unique recipes and to experiment with different flavors?
Jay: Not with his mind, this guy is a mad scientist. [Laughter]
Me: Maybe for him. [Laughter]
Cory: I know what I like to drink and that’s what we try to do. So when it comes to gluten free beers, and again, this is hitting very close to home, this disease is very hereditary. So, my clock may very well be ticking. So if and when it happens, I want to be ready to drink very good gluten free beers. [Laughter] So that’s the goal. I want to create gluten free beers that can stand up to gluten full beers. The stout we make (gluten free) is still being worked on, but you can’t really tell the difference.
Left to Right - Christian "Drink Nerd" Aragon and Chad "Beer Nerd" Chaney
Chad: It definitely tastes very unique. It’s very smooth and it’s almost too light to feel like a stout in your mouth, but it has a really nice spice finish to it.
Me: It also has a really nice color to it too. I wouldn’t know the difference, to be honest with you.
Jay: It almost pours and looks like a Guinness, almost. It’s the kind of beer you can chew on like if it had gluten in it.
Me: Yeah, that’s a meal beer right there. What was the name of it again?
Cory: That’s the Tribal.
Me: So the Tribal Stout is your gluten free stout that you can get exclusively here at Blueprint Brewing.
Cory: Hopefully, we’ll be canning it and our other gluten free beers by summer. But for right now, it’s only available here.
As the interview went on, Cory and Jay went on to point out a lot of the ways their brewery is unique in terms of creating new flavors and how they work with their community. Blueprint Brewing works with a lot of local growers in Pennsylvania for their ingredients, but they also grow most of their hops and herbs. This is just another way they try and separate themselves from your average brewery. They also have a very strong sense of community. They’ve only been operating at their Harleysville location for roughly a year, but in that time they’ve collaborated with a few charities, fitness programs, and food trucks.
During the interview they had a ballet barre class with roughly 50 participants exercising and having a great time. They even have a children’s area for parents to watch their kids as they relax and have a pint.* Most breweries typically have a kitchen on the premises, so their patrons can enjoy your typical pub foods like nachos, burgers and the like. However, Blueprint has no kitchen or a set food menu; but this might be a blessing in disguise.
They’ve taken to working with different licensed food trucks and mobile chefs to offer their customers a different menu every night of the week. I previously visited Blueprint during their Christmas Tree lighting event back in December of 2017. That night they had The Flying Deutschman food truck offering up an assortment of German style dishes. I had the Currywurst, which paired so well with Blueprint’s Namaste IPA, that I dare say they were made for one another. This is just one of many food trucks they work with to provide some of the best brewery experiences I’ve had in a long time.
In addition to being one of the only breweries in the state, or country, to offer gluten free beer, they also aren’t afraid to break certain unspoken taboos; I’m referring to beer cocktails. From personal experience, most brewers frown upon it. That isn’t to say that you can’t go to a brewery and ask the bartenders to concoct something special for you. The minds behind Blueprint are not only open to it, but they encourage it. One of these mixes is between their Volume 0 and Barleysville Brown. Also, no guarantees here, but I’m sure you can ask for something new if you ask real nice. Remember, though, these aren’t exactly on the menu. So if you’re looking for it, ask their bartenders really nicely and they’ll hook you up. Think of it like a secret menu. No secret passwords needed for these requests, so simmer down, Mr/Mrs Bond.
Mini and Full Growler
Closing out the interview, Cory and Jay had this to say to those who are skeptical as to the taste of gluten free beer.
In a world of skeptics saying that gluten free beer is not real beer, what do you say to them?
Jay: Open your minds and open your hearts. I say that you have to give it a shot. We have a lot people who are not gluten sensitive and they prefer the gluten free beer specifically if they’re not that into craft beer. It’s a gateway drug in the sense that it tastes like a lot of the domestics that people have tried and known for years.
So, if you find yourself thirsty and in the Harleysville area, drop on by to Blueprint Brewing. Whether you’re looking for gluten free beer, gluten full beer, or just a place to hang your hard hat after a long day, Blueprint Brewing has you covered. To hear how the rest of the interview went, follow the link below. Please keep in mind that there was a ballet barre class going on in the background, so there are some moments where the interview is difficult to hear.
*It should be noted that although they have a children’s area, Blueprint does not offer babysitting or daycare services. Please drink responsibly and watch your children.
All photos by Kamal Gorti