Stella Artois is one of the world’s most famous and widely respected Belgium beers. While the original Stella Artois was first brewed in 1926, the brewery itself dates back to 1366, when it was once a tiny pub serving homemade brews to locals.
I’ve always loved it for its incredibly smooth, sweet, and slightly bitter taste. So I needed to know, Is Stella Artois beer gluten-free?
Unfortunately, the original Stella Artois pilsner is not gluten-free, as it contains a high percentage of barley. Barley contains gluten and can cause an allergic reaction in anybody with gluten sensitivity.
That being said, Stella Artois recently introduced a gluten-free variety of its original pilsner. Stella Artois Gluten-Free tastes almost identical to its counterpart and is a great substitute! Below, I’ll explain why the OG Stella Artois is not gluten-free and what makes the gluten-free variety different. Let’s have a pint, shall we?
The Original Stella Artois Is Not Gluten-Free: Here’s Why
Ahh… Belgium beer. It’s loved worldwide and is known for its sweet maltiness, smooth texture, and notes of citrus and spice on the backend. Technically, Stella Artois is categorized as a pilsner; however, you’ll find that the flavor differs significantly from typical American pilsners like Miller High Life and Budweiser.
Still not sure what a pilsner is? Let’s start with a quick definition.
Pilsners originated in the Czech city of Plzen, and feature a hop-heavy mash, giving the beer a slightly more “spicy” and flavorful kick than a traditional lager.
At this point, you’re probably wondering, “Okay, but why isn’t Stella Artois gluten-free?”
Just like the post I made on Bud Light a couple of weeks ago, it all comes down to the ingredients. Just a little bit of gluten can be enough to trigger severe reactions in some gluten-sensitive individuals.
What Ingredients Are In Stella Artois?
Although Anheuser-Busch now owns Stella Artois, the brewery’s origins date back nearly 700 years. The specific Stella Artois recipe that people enjoy today dates back to 1926, when the brew was first perfected and sold around Belgium and Germany.
One thing has remained consistent throughout its history: Stella Artois’ commitment to using high-quality ingredients.
In the words of their marketing team, “The finest ingredients pair with the finest conversations.”
As you’ve no doubt learned in your gluten-free journey, the quality of ingredients has nothing to do with the gluten content of a particular food or drink.
The highest-quality, organic, vegan, free-trade certified, whatever-you-call-it can still contain enough gluten to affect an individual with celiac disease severally. That’s just the unfortunate truth of it.
So, that being said, let’s take a quick look at the ingredients in Stella Artois, so I can explain which ingredients are and aren’t gluten-free.
1) Saaz Hops
Saaz hops are among the most commonly used hops in Belgium and German brewing. Saaz hops are native to the Czech Republic, where they account for over ⅔ of the country’s total hop production.
The main reason why Belgium, Czech, and German pilsners taste so different from American pilsners like Budweiser is thanks to the unique flavor of Saaz hops. They feature a spicy, herbal, and slightly earthy flavor profile that’s different from other bitter varieties of hops.
So, what exactly are hops, and why are they used in brewing beer?
Essentially, hops are large cone-shaped flowers that grow on tall vines. In addition to providing a bitter, spicy flavor profile to beer, hops also serve as a natural preservative! Hops produce a unique acidic resin that’s antimicrobial and prevents bad bacteria from developing during the beer’s fermentation process.
Another fun fact about hops is that they’re 100% gluten-free.
If you look at some of the top-selling gluten-free beers on the market, you’ll find that many of them are hop-dominant IPAs and pale ales.
2) Malted Barley (The Culprit)
While hops are gluten-free, the second ingredient in Stella Artois is the main culprit. Malted barley is what gives Stella Artois its naturally sweet taste and golden color; it also contains loads of gluten, which can be a big problem for anybody who’s sensitive to gluten or has celiac disease.
For reference, here’s a quick table outlining some of the most common non-gluten-free beer ingredients as well as some of the most common gluten-free ingredients:
3) Maize (Corn)
The third ingredient in Stella Artois’ beer mash is maize. Commonly known as ground corn, maize helps maintain the beer’s texture and adds a sweet, mellow, and slightly crispy flavor to the beer.
In some countries, such as Peru and certain regions of Mexico, corn beer (referred to as “Chicha”) is incredibly popular and is well known for its extra-sweet flavor.
Although Stella Artois’ recipe doesn’t have anywhere near as much corn as traditional Chicha corn beer, the corn in Stella’s recipe gives the Belgium pilsner a mellow flavor that differentiates it from the less sweet American pilsners.
Well, this is a rather obvious ingredient.
As you’re probably well aware, water is 100% gluten-free (duh!). The beer’s grain mash is soaked in water as it ferments, and most beers on the planet consist of 95-96% water.
Although yeast is commonly associated with baking bread, you can rest easy knowing that yeast is 100% gluten-free. It’s a simple eukaryotic bacteria that are essential for making alcoholic beverages.
Once the yeast is introduced to the beer mash, it feeds on the natural sugars from the grains. After processing the sugar, the yeast excretes alcohol. This is the process of fermentation. The longer the beverage ferments, the stronger it becomes. Pretty simple, right?
Try Stella Artois’ Gluten-Free Variety!
In 2018, Stella Artois introduced its first-ever gluten-free variety to compete with the increasing number of gluten-free beers on the market. Although Stella was a latecomer to the gluten-free market, I can honestly say that they have created a perfect product. As the saying goes, “Better late than never.”
Stella Artois Gluten-Free Ingredients
Per usual, let’s take a quick look at the ingredients in Stella Artois Gluten-Free:
- Saaz Hops
- Malted Barley
The Ingredients Are The Same What Makes It Gluten-Free?
Now, wait just a minute… aren’t the ingredients the same as the ones we just looked at above in the non-gluten-free version of Stella?
How can the gluten-free version be gluten-free if it has the exact same ingredients?
When Stella Artois set out to make a gluten-free version of their world-famous pilsner, they didn’t want to create something that tasted different. They wanted to brew something that tasted almost identical to their original masterpiece.
So, instead of substituting the malted barley with gluten-free ancient grains (which would dramatically change the flavor), they added an extra step to the brewing process.
A small protein is added to the mash, which effectively strips the barley’s gluten! Stella’s revolutionary application allowed them to create a gluten-free beer that tastes nearly identical to the original Stella Artois.
While you may not be able to enjoy the original Stella Artois beer on a gluten-free diet, you can satisfy your craving for Belgium beer with Stella Artois Gluten-Free.
In my opinion, it tastes exactly the same and is one of my favorite gluten-free beers! The only downside is that it’s a bit hard to find, so you might have to order it online or visit a specialty alcohol distributor.
For more helpful tips on drinking on a gluten-free diet, be sure to check out Gone Gluten!