Brown Ale – Snowman Brewing – 2011

Frequent readers here will know that I have been championing a pair of brewers here in Toronto who are doing what I thought was the impossible: Brewing gluten-free beers that actually taste like their gluten-full counter-parts. Having had a celiac grandfather and a wife who generally stays away from gluten, I was interested in the concept of gluten-free beer (despite the fact that I eat gluten like it’s going out of style). Of course, what I had found ranged from highly disappointing to just drinkable. If the gluten-free beers available at the LCBO were the only choice, I would drink wine or gin. I had strong opinions that people were being ridiculous, trying to replicate a product where barley was a key ingredient, without using barley. I ranted at whoever would listen, that perhaps a better pursuit would be the development of a good tasting millet product. Not that it would taste like a barley-based beer, in much the same way a wheat beer tastes different, as does a rye beer. Nobody says they’re bad because they don’t taste like barley. They’re different and pleasant on their own. I felt this was truly the future of gluten-free beer. I was wrong. I was lucky enough to meet Kevin and Hirsch, the guys behind snowman brewing, at Volo last year. They politely explained that I was wrong, and their gluten-free brown ale tasted like brown ale, and they gave me a bottle to prove it. I accepted politely, knowing that people always think their home-brew is awesome, and often they are wrong. It turned out that Kevin and Hirsch were much closer to the mark than me. It was actually quite good. It transpires that they weren’t 100% happy with that batch, but they were already so far on the way to making a beer-tasting gluten-free beer, I couldn’t help but get stoked for them. Since then, we’ve hung out, drank beers together, and all along, they’ve been progressing. They’ve been winning awards, some in the “specialty” category, which is where most gluten-free beers get entered, but more often recently, in the category of the beer style. Against beers that are made with barley. And they’ve been placing high or winning. For instance, recently at the Canadian Amature Brewing Association “About Ales” competition, both their Brown Ale and Rambam Quad won gold in their categories (brown ales and Belgian-style strong). This is no small achievement.

So now you want some, right? Well, if you’ve read these in the past, this part has probably been infuriating. Because it’s the part when I tell you the beers aren’t available commercially. These guys are home-brewers, and don’t have a license for production, so they can’t sell their beer. Unless you happened to get handed one from them, or judge a competition they had entered, you were pretty much out of luck. But have I got good news for you. A little while ago, they partnered with Black Oak Brewing Co., took their set-up to Black Oak’s brewery, and made a licensed batch of a new recipe, their “Pail Ale” pale ale. This will be released in an ultra-limited amount, at Burger Bar in Kensington Market, on December 21st 22nd (booking problem sorted, now it’s on the 22nd), starting at 7pm. So while you still can’t just pop into your local LCBO and grab a case, we’re moving in the right direction. So, now it’s time to revisit that first recipe of theirs I had, the Brown Ale. Kevin and Hirsch have grown as brewers, has the beer?

Brown Ale - Snowman Brewing

Brown Ale - Snowman Brewing

From a nude 341ml bottle, Snowman Brewing’s Brown Ale pours an opaque red/brown with about 1/2″ of slightly off-white head that drops to a ring and leaves a little bit of lace here and there. Aroma is lovely and malty, hinting at a light rye; a bit bready with some sweet caramel notes as well as a touch of apple. There’s a nearly toffee-like hint to it, along with some leafy slightly herbal hops. There’s also a little pop of yeast that adds a little tang to the aroma. Time to taste. Wow. I’m floored. I honestly thought The Rambam was going to be my favourite of their line. I was wrong. Hops are much more present in the taste, bitter and drying, but without being over-powering. Very British in approach. Those sweet caramelly malts are still there on the very tip of your tongue, but are much more a support to the lovely dry herbal hoppiness that carries across most of your palate. This is not aggresively hoppy, like an American Pale, but still has a much more prominent bitterness than, say, a Newcastle Brown. Still, the accuracy to the style is remarkable. The weight on the tongue is perfect; I’ve found in the past getting beers “big” enough has been a challenge for them, but it seems that they’ve nailed it here. Carbonation balances the medium-light body, with a gentle effervescence. Critical feedback would only be that I would like the appearance to be on the brighter side, and the head dropped a bit too quickly, but these are fairly small “issues”, if you can call them that. Without naming names (aside from Newcastle), this is better than a bunch of the brown ales you can buy at the LCBO. If this were just a home-brewer’s brown ale, I would say it was a great job, very drinkable, with a few minor suggestions for improvement. That it is made with no gluten, out of grains that Kevin and Hirsch malted themselves, this is an insanely massive success. Seriously, when these beers go fully commercial, they are going to destroy the current gluten-free market. They will be the gluten free beer equivalent of Ussain Bolt among over-weight joggers. Not only smoking past the pack and setting records, but grinning from ear to ear while doing it. This beer seriously lays down the gauntlet for all other gluten-free brewers out there. It is incredible. I would drink it everyday and be totally happy with it.

Cheers to Snowman Brewing. I’m truly thankful you gave me that bottle last year, and I’m so thankful you’ve let me watch you guys develop into a truly awesome pair of brewers. Now get a brewery and a license already.

RSVP to the Burger Bar party here:

About the Brewery

Snowman Brewing is the garage-brewing team consisting of Kevin Snow and Hirsch Goodman. We are the only Ontario brewers who brew exclusivley Gluten Free.

We use the freshest 100% celiac friendly ingredients including: hand-malted gluten free grains, fresh hops, and yeast grown on pure gluten free cultures.

We are only brewing 5 gallon batches at the present time, but If you are interested in tasting a sample or watching the brewing process, find us on facebook at


  1. Rob Miller
    Posted January 29, 2012 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    I live in BC and wondering how I can taste your beer?

  2. Dany J Born
    Posted March 6, 2014 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    When can i taste your or buy your beer ?

    Thank you

One Trackback

  • By Crabbie's Ginger Beers — Toronto Beer Blog on July 28, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    […] a great option, but if you are 100% gluten-free, stick to a great cider, or keep your eyes open for Snowman Brewing, who are at last producing large enough volumes to sell around […]

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