Unfortunately, beer is on the list of items that people with celiac cannot consume, since beer traditionally contains cereal grains like wheat and barley. A sad thought indeed, said Mary Culver, President of the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association. In an interview, Culver lamented the sheer irreplaceability of a cold pint. “In the summer, there is nothing that quenches your thirst like beer,” she said.
Fortunately for the beer-loving, gluten-sensitive among us, a new product has arrived on the burgeoning gluten-free beer scene. Toronto-based Heady Brew Company, created by Robert Cundari, has created a tasty, satisfying beer that is sure to satisfy celiacs and non-celiacs alike.
It all began when Cundari took over as bakery manager at his family’s gluten-free food company. Cundari had been working for the company while completing his education, finally becoming more of a permanent fixture about six years ago. Cundari’s niece and mother have celiac and gluten sensitivity respectively, which maintained his interest in trying out new products.
The road to the perfect gluten-free beer was not an easy one. With his young free-beer seeking cousin Tyler, Cundari began experimenting with his first gluten-free recipe in his nonna’s basement kitchen.
“My beer went from undrinkable, to juice, to “Not bad,” back to undrinkable, and then finally I found the sweet spot for the Honey Citrus. I wasn't going for any particular style of beer. I just wanted something that had flavour and was very drinkable....Throughout the course of making this beer, I brought it to as many places as I could - parties, Jack and Jills, home. Everyone loved it. I have friends that now crave my beer. It's a great feeling,” Cundari shares.
For Cundari, the evolution of Heady Brew Company is very much a family affair. In reference to his niece and mother, Cundari says, “I now have some guinea pigs for my new products, who are also my two hardest critics. What's interesting is that for me and everyone else that I speak to do not know any celiacs, until they know what a celiac is.”
Culver echoes the lack of awareness surrounding celiac disease, emphasizing that the number of those suffering is actually much higher than estimates can tell.
“For every member, there is another member. For diagnosed celiacs, there are around fifteen to twenty thousand in Canada that we know of. And then there are a lot of people who are not celiac, but have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.”
With so much gluten-free experience in his family history, Cundari can sympathize with those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. “I understand how hard it is to find good gluten free products and I enjoy giving people something that I created. It's nice to know that people enjoy something that you put time and effort in. If someone comes in to my bakery (we do not have a retail space) for a meeting or a plant tour and I find out that they or someone they know is a celiac or can't eat wheat, I make sure that they do not leave empty handed.”
Culver excitedly supports the new venture, and the chance for a tasty pint when out on the town. Her excitement upon hearing the news of a Toronto based gluten-free brewery is palpable. “When I’m out, I always look for it because we publish a newsletter four times a year, so we like to keep our members informed of any new breweries or new bakers.”
Cundari echoes the sentiment, and emphasized the simple, yet essential point of his venture. “I hope that celiacs can go to a pub, order uncontaminated gluten free fish sticks and a pint of Heady, while their friends are sitting there with their separately made gluten full fish sticks and a pint of Mad Tom IPA without anyone blinking an eye. It's the simple things in life that people miss out on and I understand their plight. I'm lactose intolerant and allergic to eggs. My wife loves cheese-filled omelettes. Go figure.”
For more information on Heady Brew, visit http://headybrewcompany.com/. For more information about the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association, visit www.torontoceliac.org