Gluten-free beers may have been available in Australia for some time now, but it feels like it's been a big year for such offerings in Australia. GF beer pioneers O’Brien Beer claimed six medals at the Australian International Beer Awards in May and embarked on a sizeable equity crowdfunding campaign, while TWØBAYS Brewing had their own medals to toast, while their limited release schedule is continual proof you don’t need barley or wheat to explore beer’s craftier corners.
Helping to showcase that range of choice is The Gluten Free Beer Shop, which launched a few months ago and has been offering people with coeliac disease – or anyone else avoiding gluten – a wide mix of gluten-free beers brewed in Australia.
The man behind the store is David Lilley, a Melburnian who was diagnosed with the disease around 15 years ago, back when finding beer or dining out while avoiding gluten was a greater struggle than it is today.
“There wasn’t much of anything to be truthful,” he told The Crafty Pint. “Food-wise, drink-wise, there wasn’t a lot of choice – you really had to hunt for it.”
It's that lived experience of barely being able to find a beer to enjoy that led him to launch The Gluten Free Beer Shop. On researching what was available, he found around 20 local options for genuine gluten-free beer – rather than gluten-reduced – a number that's steadily growing. By comparison, his experience in bottleshops as a beer drinker saw him only really ever see a handful on shelves.
“It’s not just two or three, or four maybe if you’re really lucky, that there’s actually 20 or more,” he says.
“Coeliacs have been starved of choice for so long, on many things, so I thought if I could bring all these beers together in one place [for] coeliacs – and also others pursuing a gluten-free diet for other reasons – then I could give them a choice.”
As for the decision to launch the business more than a decade on from being diagnosed, David says recent personal events led him to make the plunge into becoming a business owner. Last year, his brother passed away quite suddenly and he says losing his brother was the push he needed to commit to an idea that had been in his head for some time.
“I’ve had this idea simmering in the background for a few years,” David says.
“That brought my thinking into focus: that life can end very quickly and when you least expect. So I felt that if I am going to do this, then now is the time.”
Initially, although he was unsure if anyone would show any interest in the online store, it seems David's found a niche of people eager to learn.
“I wasn’t sure I would get a single order – would people even come to the site? Then the first order rolled in and the second and third and it’s been exponential.”
If you want proof David wasn't the only coeliac to feel like they were missing out, his biggest-selling cases are a pretty good indicator of what people are after. While O’Brien's and TWØBAYS' broad ranges mean they make up a good proportion of what The Gluten Free Beer Shop has in stock, what's exciting many of his customers are the lesser-known beers from other breweries.
Largely, people who have been shopping through the store have been on a journey of discovery, choosing to buy sample packs or mixed packs over cases from single breweries, and are eager to learn that the likes of Hope Brewery and 4 Hearts are making their own gluten-free beers.
“All the other [beers] have a small footprint and limited marketing," he says. "So often people haven’t seen these beers before and they’re really keen to try them.”
You can visit The Gluten Free Beer Shop here.