WINNIPEG, MB – A group of enterprising science professors and students have a vat of unusual mash fermenting in their University of Winnipeg lab: gluten-free near-beer made entirely with Manitoba-grown corn, plus a pinch of hops.
“The project started when I read about a Japanese firm buying pea protein from a Manitoban company to add to near-beer,” says Dr. Paul Holloway, Associate Professor, Biology. “While most large breweries make a gluten-free beer, we sampled a few (for research purposes) and thought that we could do better.”
Most gluten-free beers are made using sorghum, which leaves an after-taste. Manitoba has fields of corn, so Holloway approached the Manitoba Corn Growers Association about a potential partnership. That led to funding for a summer student position in 2016.
Enter Dr. Jamie Galka ,Instructor, Chemistry, and an amateur brewer. “Making beer involves bio-chemical processes, it is real hands-on science that our students get to experiment with,” he says. Making beer from scratch also exposes students to highly technical instruments in the lab.
For fourth year biology student Amanda Moodie, it’s been a real learning experience. “I had no idea what went into making beer. I have a relative with Celiac disease and he wants a good gluten-free beer, so I was curious to see where this could go.” Since most beer recipes involve barley, the students had to invent their own corn roasting formula through trial and error.
“We now have a fairly light corn near-beer, which we just trialed on the Biology Students’ Association. We have no shortage of taste-testers,” says Galka. “Our goal is to refine the taste and colour and produce a near-beer with about 5% alcohol, less strong than most gluten-free ones currently in stores.”
Corn is an under-utilized crop and gluten-free is one of the fastest growing segments in the food market. “It is possible this near-beer could be commercially available within a year or two,” says Holloway.