This Passover, wash down matzah with gluten-free beer

Meadan Brewing’s date ale won’t count as a bitter, but it’s certified kosher and has no legumes, either

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Gluten-free brewmaster Bryan Meadan stirs a batch of Meadan Ale (Courtesy Meadan Brewing)
Gluten-free brewmaster Bryan Meadan stirs a batch of Meadan Ale (Courtesy Meadan Brewing)

What’s different this Passover from most of the other Passovers in history? Gluten-free beer, that’s what.

The brew is courtesy of beer maker Bryan Meadan, whose date ale — made from silan, a date honey — is completely gluten-free as well as kosher for Passover, certified by Badatz Beit Yosef.

It’s the only one of the three Meadan Brewing gluten-free beers that is certified kosher for holiday, when leavened food is verboten. The other two Meadan ales, a chickpea malt ale and a buckwheat malt ale — that’s kasha beer for those in the know — are tougher to make kosher for Passover since they’re made with legumes, which some Jews eschew on Passover.

“It’s our first year, so we figured we’d stick with the one that’s good for everybody,” said Meidan.

The kosher for Passover date ale is also sold year-round. It requires a slightly simpler brewing process than usual because nothing has to be malted, said Meadan. Malted barley is usually the source of sugars that are fermented into regular beer.

Meadan has been malting his own chickpeas and buckwheat, as malted chickpeas are hard to obtain in Israel and malted buckwheat is difficult to find with the right kosher certification.

“With the date syrup, I don’t have to worry about any of that,” said Meadan, who wouldn’t share any information about the brewing process except that he uses silan made from dates grown near the Sea of Galilee.

All of Meadan’s gluten-free beers are ales, sweeter and more full-bodied than lagers, although he hopes to start working soon on a gluten-free lager.

“We’re going to keep tweaking all these beers,” he said. “Even with date ale I can make different kinds. I’ve been playing with a more hoppy kind of IPA,” added Meadan, referring to the flower of the hops plant, which is used as a flavoring and stabilizing agent in beer, and is commonly used in IPAs, or Indian Pale Ale. “And that’s interesting in itself. I don’t know if I can call it an IPA, but it’s more of a craft beer.”

Meadan produced 50,000 bottles of the kosher-for-Passover date beer, which is now being sold in most Israeli supermarkets, including the Green section of Shufersol supermarkets, the gluten-free section of Rami Levy supermarkets and Mega stores. It’s also available at the Yayin Ba’Ir liquor stores.

It’s a major jump in the production and marketing process for Meadan, who first began brewing in his basement eight years ago after he was diagnosed as a celiac.

At the time, Meadan was an educator-turned-sociologist who ran a small web company. He wasn’t a huge beer drinker, but found himself sometimes craving a bottle of cold suds. He began brewing his own in his basement when he couldn’t find a tolerable gluten-free beer.

“There was one gluten-free beer that was imported, and it tasted like water,” he said.

A glass of fruity, gluten-free ale, which tastes remarkably similar to regular beers, said brewer Bryan Meadan (Courtesy Meadan Ale)
A glass of fruity gluten-free ale, which tastes remarkably similar to regular beers, said brewer Bryan Meadan (Courtesy Meadan Ale)

That initial home brew was just for Meadan’s own drinking pleasure, based on a recipe that he had found and tweaked.

After his fellow celiac friends approved of the home brew, Meadan found a brewer in Even Yehuda willing to brew his gluten-free beer on a larger scale. His beer was brewed after the sterilization of the regular line of beer in order to ensure that no remnants of the regular beer remained in the brewing machinery. Meadan was the celiac guinea pig, tasting each batch to make sure it was gluten-free.

“I get pretty sick from gluten, so I was the right test subject,” he said.

Producing about 200 liters in total of the Meadan ales, which is about 600 bottles, every two months, Meadan began marketing his beer at festivals in Tel Aviv, keeping it as “sort of a hobby” alongside his web programming, he said.

The gluten-free market, however, was ready for more beer. Meadan estimates that 5 percent to 10 percent of the local Israeli population avoids regular beers.

“I saw what was going on with the market and gluten-free food, and there were two more imports of gluten-free beer,” he said. “There was room for an Israeli gluten-free beer.”

After putting together a business plan and obtaining some loans from small investors, Meadan put together his brewery and visitor’s center in Carmiel, which opened last September.

He also quit his day job.

Gluten-free beer, it seems, could garner a good section of the market.

For now, Meadan is working on additional ales for next Passover, and plans to export his gluten-free ales to Europe and the US.

The Meadan Brewery visitor’s center is open for tasting and drinking the kosher-for-Passover beer during Passover, between noon and six p.m. every day. Meadan recommends calling ahead to 054-810-5741, particularly if you want a tour, which is available in English or Hebrew.

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