When I was first diagnosed with coeliac disease a few years ago my first thought and main concern was the idea of not being able to drink beer! Luckily I quickly learnt that there are a raft of gluten free beers available. Lots of the big boys do a GF version and they are easily available in supermarkets… Stella, San Miguel, Peroni. Despite what people assume they’re not half bad!
Finding a nice GF lager when out was a bit more difficult, but discovering new and different beers has become quite enjoyable! When a lovely little neighbourhood bar opened round the corner from me in South East London, I was delighted to find that they stocked two gluten free beers – an IPA and a Pilsner. I opted for the Pilsner and loved it. Both beers were by Bellfield – an independent brewery in Edinburgh, dedicated to brewing only gluten free beers.
There started my love affair with them… I tried all their beers and they brew genuinely beautiful and tasty beers.
Being such a big fan I was keen to interview them for the blog and was extremely grateful that they obliged. Enjoy their story…
Bellfield was started in 2015 as an entirely Gluten Free brewery, tell us how it all started?
Bellfield began as a conversation in an Edinburgh pub between two craft-beer loving friends who had both been diagnosed with coeliac disease and couldn’t find a gluten-free beer they liked.
Grief stricken at the prospect of never being able to drink a proper pint again, founder Alistair Brown and Giselle Dye, whose husband is coeliac got their thirsty heads together and came up with the solution – they would set up their own brewery, with the express purpose of making exceptional beers that just happen to be gluten-free.
There was nothing on the market that we enjoyed drinking at the time. We didn’t want a beer only coeliacs could drink – we wanted a great-tasting craft beer for everyone to enjoy.
Craft Beer For All became the mission and the brewery launched its first two beers in Spring 2016 – Lawless Village IPA and Bohemian Pilsner – both contemporary interpretations of classic beers.
Tell us a bit more about the process of brewing GF beer, how does it work and what certifies it as safe for coeliacs?
It took us many months of R&D to develop our method of brewing which removes gluten at every stage, so we can produce gluten-free beer consistently.
We don’t need to use enzymes to render our beer gluten-free, because our brewing process does that. However as with many leading breweries, we do add an enzyme called Clarex to help clarify the beers and improve their stability and shelf life. This enzyme has the added benefit of providing a solid backup to Bellfield’s own brewing process that renders our beers gluten-free.
As we’re founded by coeliacs, Bellfield takes the testing and quality assurance of our products very seriously and we ensure we comply with Coeliac UK’s regulations on the production of beer that is safe for coeliacs to drink. We only brew gluten-free beer, nothing else. Our beers are routinely testing ‘gluten absent’ which means they are below 10ppm.
I find there is still a lack of understanding about coeliac disease, is this something you’ve found and has there been any resistance in the industry to your beers?
Yes, we have. While things are undoubtedly improving in leaps and bounds, there is still much to be done. We’re just so happy that we can be a part of making things better for people with coeliac disease, by giving choice and a product that tastes as good (if not better!) than non GF beers and looks good at the same time, unlike a lot of other prescriptive looking gluten-free products out there.
Regarding resistance, initially we did some scepticism that the beers might not taste as good, or those that felt there wasn’t the market for them. Now, however, more and more stockists – especially on trade customers – are understanding the merits of stocking a beer that ‘everyone can enjoy’ regardless of their dietary requirements – our beers ‘tick a number of boxes’ for them because it’s award-winning, tasty, gluten-free and vegan! It’s a big business opportunity for on-trade: gluten-free as a category is growing fast and people with food and drink allergies and dietary preferences are often the deciders when groups of friends decide where to go out: so offering a gluten free beer at your pub or restaurant puts it on the map as a place for people to go, regardless of who makes up their group. It’s a way for outlets to increase footfall, and their takings.
I have found vastly different experiences when on holiday in Europe in terms of finding Gluten Free beers, Spain is great for it, Germany and Holland a real struggle. Have you found it difficult finding GF beers abroad and do you have any recommendations of where to find it or particular favourites?
In my experience Italy is best closely followed by Spain. Germany and NL are quite poor and France not great but improving. There’s a good choice of gf beers in Spain and Italy including increasingly in draught in Italy which has more coeliacs than any other European country (around 11% I believe).
Favourite holiday beers are Birrifico (Italian) lots of styles or Daura Damm and Daura Marzen.
I first came across Bellfield in my local bar “Drink at Bob’s” in South London, where do you distribute and are there plans to expand both your range and distribution?
Delighted to hear you found us in Drink at Bob’s. We’re with a number of the larger UK distributors, so you can find us across the UK. We’re expanding all the time and exporting a number of countries from the Netherlands to Singapore.
We’ve launched new beers, including our Daft Days Porter and Jex-Blake Mosaic IPA, and we’ve got lots of exciting new beers lined up for 2021 to add to our core range.
I love the new branding, where did the new look come from?
Thank you! We worked with a company called Thirst Craft, a strategic drinks consultancy in Glasgow to develop our new branding. We wanted to develop a new positioning for Bellfield, grounded in a campaignable strapline – For the Free – which obliquely references our gluten-free and vegan credentials without focusing on it.
Moving from the literal ‘bell’ that was on our previous Bellfield branding, we focussed on the ‘clapper’ (the inside part of a bell). This forms a strong, industrial wordmark from which bold patterns, inspired by sound waves, resonate out. We worked with the team to develop a design theory that underpins every variation, depending on the beer style in the can or bottle, so for example the Bohemian Pilsner has sharp thick blue lines to reflect the fact the beer is crisp and refreshing.
Each beer’s flavour profile can be reflected through shifting patterns and complementary – or contrasting – colours, while always remaining recognisably ‘Bellfield’.
Finally, is there a sense of community amongst people brewing GF beer, and apart from your own, what other GF beers do you like and would recommend?
There’s a great community in the gluten-free brewing world, and we love to see more beers on the market to give more choice. So other than our beers, other gluten-free favourites include Cereal Killa by Brew York, Bandit by Gipsy Hill and Peter, Pale and Mary by Mikkeller.
Thanks so much to the team at Bellfield Brewery for taking the time to chat to me about their wonderful beers and the story of the brewery. Check them out and order some beer, you won’t regret it!