The man with the best job in Calgary, Eric Daponte – Marketing and Taproom Coordinator at Village Brewery in Calgary handed me an Enigma, looked me in the eye, and very firmly said – “Look, you need to understand that this beer is definitely not for celiacs”.
So, why are we writing about Village Brewery’s Enigma Gluten-Reduced Uncommon Amber Ale on this website? Well, two reasons. First, as we’re gradually finding out, not everyone with a gluten problem is celiac; and for those who truly have a gluten intolerance diagnosis, and can take minute amounts of gluten, there is a beer out there, right here in Calgary, that is worth every cent you spend on a six pack or a growler of this beautiful beverage. Second – the folks who make it have found an amazing, valuable niche. There I was, sitting in what was undeniably a sizable, modern brewery, and yet – as I said to Eric – “You know what this place feels like? It feels like a medieval gathering place, where people come together at the end of a hard day’s manual labor, not just to quench their thirst but to keep and strengthen the friendships and loyalty that make a community worth living in”. I think he liked that – and I wasn’t being corny. Take a look at their website, and you’ll see what I mean. Lots of little craft brewers have carved out their own idiosyncratic niches – obscurity, scarcity, and great taste for a privileged few. The giant brewers of the world churn out the brew the planet needs to slake its thirst. But these guys have found a way to become the cornerstone of a community – one that is small, but growing, and demonstrating a real care and interest in supporting the artist, the thinker, and the dancer among us, all while making extraordinarily tasty beverages.
Back to the beer. What defines it as “Gluten-Reduced”? Eric again – the other guiding principle for Village Brewery is that they make great beer first, then figure out what else can be added to its identity to give it a more distinctive label. Turns out that their brewmaster – Larry Kerwin – a guy with over 40 years of experience making every beer imaginable, had a dream. He has always wanted to make a gluten-free beer that, well, actually tastes like beer should. And he’s come very, very close to fulfilling that dream. Enigma is first and foremost an amber ale – with the rich, velvety, fruity and floral undertones and smooth finish that characterize this dark tan family. And through a process by which protein-dismantling enzymes are put to work disentangling and rendering harmless those long gluten proteins, Larry has gotten this beer down to 7 parts per million of gluten. Now – if you live in the USA, that means this can already be classified and sold as “Gluten Free”. But Village won’t go there. They know that even minute traces of gluten can spell trouble for celiacs, so they are right up front with you. This beer has gluten in it, even if its just the tiniest bit.
“Well, why not go all the way? Why not let the enzymes hammer away until ALL the gluten is gone?” says I, hopefully. The answer is simple. They make good beer first. And letting the enzymes go wildly to town means that you’ll start losing the flavour aspects that make Enigma so good. And good it is. Look – this reviewer is not celiac, nor even gluten intolerant. That means I get to drink whatever beer I want. And I am telling you – Enigma is now going to be my beer of choice. It’s that good. It’s compulsively drinkable. It doesn’t have the bready heft of a Guinness, nor the hoppy sting of an IPA, but if you want one of the finest ambers you’ve ever tried, buy this one. And share it with your gluten-sensitive community, because now there’s no excuse not to.
It’s available at Sobeys, Co-op and Liquor Depot all over Calgary. Liquor Depot has growler bars – so after you buy a six pack to prove it’s worth drinking, you can get a lot more right out of the tap in a growler. It’s a winter beer, though – Village only makes it for six months, from November through April, so get some to sustain you through the dark season which is just about upon us.
As an added bonus – you can visit the place where it’s made, and catch some beer as fresh as it comes. Village has just recently added Thursday night, Friday night, and all-day Saturday openings to the public at their lovely, and local art-adorned taproom right onsite at the brewery. Free tours take place on the hour, if you want an inside look not only as to how beer is made, but in this case, a glimpse of why it’s important that it’s made this way at this place. And feel free to bid on the gorgeous paintings on the wall, and if you can’t afford that just yet – notice that the cases holding the beer you’ll buy are also each uniquely designed by local Calgary artists.
There is a final reason we’re writing about it here at GFYYC. Larry Kerwin’s dream is oh so close. Might there be a way to create a truly lovely completely GF beer sometime in the future? If anyone can do it, it’s these guys. Get out there and support them in that quest.
I’m off for another Enigma.