Serious Eats: Drinks
Bottom Shelf Beer: Redbridge Gluten-Free Beer from Anheuser-Busch
Bottom Shelf research director Emily has suffered from occasional migraine headaches since early teenhood. You're probably thinking the same thing I was when she told me this on our first date: Not my problem, but you seem nice enough, so good luck with your dysfunctional head, now please stop interrupting my stories about high school, yes it is technically interrupting if I never stop talking, in fact that's kind of the definition.
But I was wrong. Her busted brain IS my problem, because years ago someone convinced her that certain foods may trigger her migraines, and of course this charlatan couldn't finger mayonnaise or taffy or oranges that are really hard to peel. No, he had to scare her off red wine and goat cheese (and maybe mushrooms; I can't remember if those are banned for medicinal or aesthetic reasons).
For some reason white wine and cow cheese are fine, as are coffee and chocolate and all sorts of other things that pop up when you Google "migraine fuel," and I can respect that. When presented with a menu of things to blame, teenage Emily reasonably decided she could do without goat cheese and red wine, because who wants eat congealed goat juice, and white wine stains are much easier to hide than red ones.
This is a minor pain in my ass, because I like goat cheese and red wine and now I rarely get to have them, because Emily insists on splitting every single thing we eat. I recently drew the line at sharing soup in restaurants, which was very big and tough and empowered of me, and I don't think I've had soup since. But for all my considerable suffering at the hands of her faulty head, I realize I could have it much worse.
Emily isn't a complainer; the only reason I can even tell she's having brain pain is that I've come to recognize the 1,000-mile smile brought on by her medication, which I assume to be heroin but hey, none of my business what's in another person's orange bottle, so let's call it Super Advil. She pops a few and melts into the couch and is all better by the morning, and I take credit for nursing her back to health because it's not as if I smear goat cheese into her face while she sleeps or anything plus I let her pick the TV shows to giggle inappropriately at. ("Honey, Lipitor ads aren't funny. Or is that a latent chuckle left over from the human trafficking scene a few minutes ago?" Her medication makes her either loopy or evil; whichever, it gets us through the night.)
So things would be worse if Emily were a whiner, and they'd be worse than that if she had any of the other newfangled conditions that cranky people don't believe in, such as gluten intolerance.
We had the pleasure of meeting a certain Serious Eating Kate at the Boston convention last month. She made an excellent first impression, but I got suspicious when I noticed that she didn't steal my Narragansett when I was in the men's room. She seemed cool and sane, yet she failed to molest an unguarded beer even though she was without a beer of her own. She could have stolen my beer with both hands, yet she ignored it. What gives, Kate?
It turns out she's off the gluten. Oy. I tried to put a brave face on her sad condition by prattling on about all of the good ciders I'd had recently. And I wasn't lying: Have you all tried the Fox Barrel pear jobs? The rhubarb and elderberry is top notch. But it turns out that my new friend TragiKate does not care for cider. She's been making an unenthusiastic rounds of the gluten-free beer aisle, but last we spoke she hadn't come up with anything she liked, but she did tell me that Anheuser-Busch makes a mass market recipe called Redbridge.
Redbridge, like most glutenless beers, is built around sorghum. What the hell is sorghum? Some kind of grass popular with the undernourished, it appears. Yippee. But it can be fermented in a manner that makes it allegedly reminiscent of regular beer, so I'm all for increased sorghum production and experimentation if it leads to a good beer alternative for the gluten-averse. Redbridge is drinkably undisgusting, but I don't think it qualifies as an outright good alternative to anything.
The label lists the ingredients as water, sorghum, corn syrup(?!), hops, and yeast. It smells like a sweeter version of regulation budget beer, which is nicer than it sounds, because even if Budweiser smells sweeter than you'd like, the sugar covers up the wet cardboard. There are no off aromas to Redbridge, just a wave of sweet. It tastes malty and a little bit weird—metallic candy—with a short, sour finish that seems ill-matched to the smell. If I were qualified to grade beers, I'd give Redbridge a C- or so; if you're hell bent on avoiding gluten and drinking beer, this could be your stuff. But really, shouldn't you just suck it up and switch to cider?