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FIRST LOOK: Duck Foot Brewing Co.

Inside San Diego's first "gluten-free" craft beer operation


Paul Body

“I’m trying to down-play the gluten aspect because we want to be known first for the quality of our beer,” says Matt DelVecchio, co-founder of San Diego’s new Duck Foot Brewing Company. “When we compete at national beer competitions, we’re not going to be competing in the gluten-free category. Success will be when people say ‘Duck Foot is a great beer—oh, and it’s OK for people with Celiac.”

DelVecchio started brewing Duck Foot before he got sick, but learning he had Celiac Disease—in which the body treats gluten as a poison and prevents the small intestine from absorbing nutrients—changed Duck Foot’s mission into making a gluten-free craft beer that tasted like craft beer. “If I wanted to be in this industry,” he says, “that was the only way I could do it.”

Gluten-free beers have a bad rap, for good reason. Instead of using barley, brewers originally had to use replacements like sorghum or buckwheat. The results were beers that tasted like watery, fizzy sadness.

But in 2013, local craft beer science whizzes White Labs started selling something called Clarity Ferm—a natural enzyme that brewers could add to barley-based beers at the end of the process. The enzyme attacks the gluten and leaves only a few parts per million (less than the internationally recognized amount for gluten-free foods). Alpine Brewing Co. has used Clarity Ferm in its beers, and Stone Brewing Co. used it to brew their Delicious IPA.

Duck Foot is using it (and another natural enzyme product called Brewer’s Clarex) on all of their beers at their new 5,000 square-foot tasting room in Miramar. DelVecchio says Duck Foot beers have been tested to contain less than 10 parts of gluten per million. Currently, brewers are not allowed to call beers treated with the enzyme as “gluten-free.” They can only say the beer has been "processed or treated or crafted to remove gluten," according to White Labs.

But more importantly, DelVecchio can drink it. “I’ve drank enough of this over the last few years and never gotten sick,” he says.

DelVecchio, along with partner Brett Goldstock (a home brewer for 20 years) and head brewer Derek Wasak (ex-Stone, Boston Beer Works) will open their brewery to the public June 6. It’s a sleek wood, steel and concrete space designed by Jessica Dorf Kovarsky of Studio Aya, with ComicCon-style murals by Wasak's childhood friends at Brooklyn design studio Madonna+Child. The taps will be boast usual craft beer staples (an IPA, Blonde Ale) and creations like a chocolate-hazelnut porter and an Orange Honey Blossom beer and a Coconut Molasses Brown Ale. 

“I was skeptical,” says Wasak of trying to make a good, gluten-free craft beer. "But it honestly doesn’t make any difference in taste. I wouldn’t be doing it if it did.”

A third of Americans are currently trying to avoid gluten in their diet (seemingly 300 percent of them residing in Southern California). If other Celiac sufferers and gluten-intolerant beer lovers can safely drink Duck Foot like DelVecchio can, that could be a boon for a startup in the crowded San Diego craft beer scene.

Here are the "First Look" photos of their new digs:

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