James Neumeister and John Dugan of Harvester Brewing
James Neumeister (left) and John Dugan of Harvester Brewing

As he watched a growing number of friends—including his wife—develop either a sensitivity to gluten or full-on celiac disease, brewer James Neumeister was confronted with a niche as beautifully empty as a drained pint glass. In late 2011, he did what any reasonable brewer would do: he teamed up with a friend, John Dugan, to open Harvester Brewing, the only dedicated gluten-free brewery in the United States.

While there were gluten-free beers available at the time, they missed the mark for two important reasons: 1) Most breweries that make gluten-free beer also produce standard beers that contain barley, wheat, and rye—key ingredients in traditional brewing that are high in gluten and can increase the risk of contamination for celiac sufferers. 2) Without the sturdy backbone of barley, gluten-free beer can often taste like weak tea.

After four years of tireless research and development, neither of these issues impedes Harvester’s superb roster of signature ales. Instead of barley, Neumeister employs locally sourced ground chestnuts, and the results are extraordinary. Indeed, Harvester brews are more than just standard “pretty good for gluten-free” pints—these ales measure up to the finest work of any craft brewer. A recent sampling reveals a trio of standouts:

Pale Ale

This brisk and balanced pale ale, which recently took home a bronze medal from the Great American Beer Festival, is crafted from chestnuts, sorghum, gluten-free oats, and cane sugar, with Nugget, Cascade, and Meridian hops. The chestnuts are sourced from an Oregon farmer and hand-roasted at the brewery.  

Dark

This entry tastes much like a German dunkel, with an espresso-like roast of chestnuts that provides notes of toffee and dark fruits. The hops play a supporting role, allowing the roasted flavors to take center stage. And at 4.5 percent ABV, it’s decidedly sessionable. 

Red Ale

A medium-dark roast of Willamette Valley chestnuts provides robust flavor as well as a distinctive auburn hue. This brew first appeared as part of Harvester’s Experiment Ale series of rotating and seasonal beers—based on its enthusiastic reception, it became part of the year-round lineup. It’s light but luxurious, with delightful shades of chocolate and cherries.