Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A New Take on New Planet

With yesterday's post about the upcoming gluten-free beer tasting, I wanted to (yet again) revisit New Planet's beer.  Back in November 2009, I initially reviewed an early "prototype" version of the brewery's Tread Lightly Ale.  One month later, in December, I updated that review based on the public roll-out of the beer.  Back then I had mostly positive things to say about New Planet.

More recently, in April 2010, many of you read my "Shifting Sands" post about how I re-evaluated my opinion of many popular gluten-free beers (such as RedBridge and New Planet) in the wake of tasting some exceptional microbrewed gluten-free beer at the Alchemist in Vermont.  This time around, I was more critical of brews such as New Planet.  Central to my critique was its overly sweet apple-and-citrus nose and flavor.  I also noted its relatively poor head retention (a critique common to many gluten-free beers, including my own home brew).

In the wake of that post, I was pleasantly surprised when the friendly folks at New Planet reached out to me.  They acknowledged my criticisms, and to New Planet's great credit, they said they were working on it.  It's not the first time this has happened.  Back in the early days of NGNP, I reviewed Shabtai Gourmet, a Kosher, gluten-free bakery in NY.  There were some things I liked about the bakery, including their rainbow cookies, but I also came down pretty heavy on them for their use of transfats and hydrogenated oils and shortening.  In response, the company began phasing out their use in some of their recipes.  I don't pretend to be so self-important that I think NGNP was the only reason for the change.  But I like to think we nudged them in a positive direction.

Often, when companies respond in this way, it benefits the consumer and the company alike.  In the case of eliminating transfats, consumers get a healthier product.  But more often, the improvement is in taste, and that benefits both the consumer and the company, which experiences greater sales as the result of an improved product.  I believe that the coming months will show New Planet to be just such a company - one who's sales will increase at the same time that we, the consumer, get to drink a better tasting beer.

To wit, in the last few weeks, I had the opportunity to taste a re-formulated recipe for the Tread Lightly Ale, courtesy of New Planet.  Right off the bat, the beer had slightly improved head retention.  But to the more important point of its nose and flavor, there was a notable change and improvement.  The cider flavor about which I complained was largely gone.  The beer remains a little on the sweet side, but overall, it's a very nice pale ale.  They've very successfully rounded out the flavors resulting in a well-balanced beer.  To be frank, I was almost shocked - in a very positive way - by the marked change.  I concluded my tasting notes with a single word: "Impressed."

It's good timing for New Planet.  The newly improved TLA debuts just as New Planet makes some big announcements: state-wide distribution throughout Colorado, a new slick website, the beer getting picked up by Old Chicago restaurants in the state, and a soon-to-be-released summer seasonal.

The new summer seasonal is called the 3R Raspberry Ale.  Like the TLA, it's made with sorghum, corn, orange peel, hops and yeast, plus the addition of raspberry puree from fruit grown in Oregon.  I had the chance to sample several versions of the ale while it was in development, and give my feedback to New Planet.  I haven't tasted the final version that will be bottled for public consumption, but if it resembles anything like the test versions I tried, gluten-free beer drinkers will have much to rejoice this summer.  Since I tasted "in-house" test batches not meant for the public, I won't share my tasting notes here.  That wouldn't be fair to New Planet.  I'll reserve an official review of the Raspberry Ale for when it hits store shelves.  But I will say this - in my opinion, the 3R Raspberry Ale may be one of the most exciting bottled gluten-free beers out there; something that really sets NP apart from the likes of RedBridge, New Grist, Bard's and company.  I'll drink to that...

- Pete


glutenfreeforgood said...

I'm not a beer drinker and probably never will be, but it's nice to have some insight into the current GF beer choices. Since I work with people who are sometimes freaked out about adopting the diet, it's nice to have a resource like this, Pete. I can at least assure people that they can still enjoy a beer now and then! Have you heard of Saxon Beer? Several years ago, I was at the International Celiac Symposium in NYC and a couple of very cute Finnish guys were hosting the Saxon booth. Needless to say, they had a crowd hanging around their tasting booth. I heard very good remarks about the beer -- although, as I recall, barley was an ingredient. But this specific brewing process was supposed to render it gluten-free down to less than 20 ppm. I'll stick to red wine, but this is a fascinating topic.

Thanks for the great information.

peterbronski said...

Hi Melissa... Yes, I'm quite familiar with Saxon beer. In fact, I'm currently writing a new book about the evolution of gluten in world cuisine, and I just finished an extensive chapter on beer. In the course of research, I delved into Saxon pretty heavily, and also came across some pretty compelling research/evidence that suggests that certain barley beers are indeed gluten-free. (You're correct - Saxon is made with barley. According to their tests, its gluten level is at or below the 5ppm detection limit.) If you ever have any other GF beer questions, don't hesitate to let me know!

Cheers, Pete

June said...

I just found your blog and was delighted to find your book which I've ordered. We are GF, and do mostly organic, conscious carnivore eating, local, etc. One challenge I've found though among GF cookbooks, is everyone has their "own" flour blend. This can make life unusually challenging (frustrating and annoying!)for people who like to cook at home and don't do pre-processed. I see you sometimes review products and was wondering if you have any future intentions to do a review of readily available GF flour blends using your recipes? Since going GF for my son in Feb 2008, we've almost exclusively used Better Batter for most recipes due to its qualities, but also I get it in bulk 25-50 lbs at a time. (I'm not affiliated with them.) But it would be helpful to know if say high flour content recipes like your homemade pasta (which looks divine) would work with some of the pre-packaged blends out there that people can purchase off the shelf. Thank you and I look forward to receiving the book!

peterbronski said...

Hi June... While we haven't extensively tested store-bought GF flour blends in our recipes, I can tell you that, anecdotally, many of our readers have done just that, with generally good results. I took a look at the ingredients in the Better Batter that you use, and I think it would be a good analog for our flour blend. You should have good success! Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Cheers, Pete