Drunken Speculation

#31 O’Brien Gluten Free Pale Ale

O'Brien Pale AleA brewery dedicated to brewing beers that are gluten free: a sign of how far the Australian craft brewing industry has come or a sign of how many people in this country are gluten intolerant? Either way I thought it was about time I reviewed one.

O’Brien beer is the brain child of John O’Brien who, diagnosed with Coeliac Disease and unable to find any decent gluten free beers, set out on a mission to create his own. Not an easy task considering this meant starting from scratch in just about every way imaginable. I recommend checking out the website to learn more about their brewing process.

The Pale Ale, like all beers in the O’Brien range, is made using millet and sorghum instead of your usual barley and wheat. It’s an American style Pale Ale and is described on the website as “[a] light golden ale with abundant citrus, tropical fruit flavours and a light sweetness.”

It’s a medium to dark golden hue and impeccably clear. It doesn’t have much of a head but what little head there is does its due diligence and lathers nicely on the glass. There’s hardly any bubbles rising to the top of the glass, hinting at the beers extremely mild carbonation.

The aromas coming off the pour are sickly sweet and it’s a little worrying. It’s that kind of smell you get when boiling sugar and water when making toffee. I’m guessing a variety – if not in whole, at least in part – of sweet sorghum has been used and as I continue to inhale I get syrupy whiffs reminiscent of silage time down on the dairy farm.

It tastes kind of sugary too, though thankfully not to the same intensity as the aroma. It’s kind of like having a toffee in liquid form minus the overt sweetness. There’s a mild snippet of bitterness on the finish but not a lot else apart from that and the (un)sweet toffee flavour. Very reminiscent of the homemade toffees in patty papers you’d find at most school fetes (at least back in my day anyway) and a feeling of warm nostalgia is starting to set in. I also feel like I might need to clean the ol’ pegs after this one.

It’s tasty but I can’t help wishing it had a few more bubbles and that there was a bit more to it than being the reincarnation of toffee in a drinkable form.

I’m going to give this beer two ratings. I doubt it’s what Mr O’Brien would have wanted for his beer but nevertheless I feel there is a handicap to brewing without the usual suspects i.e. barley, wheat, rye, etc. Moreover, with all the Coeliacs at my work, I’ve tried my fair share of gluten-free substitutes for ‘normal’ foods and for the most part they’re a shadow of the product they’re trying to imitate; so let’s stop comparing apples with oranges. Considering this beer is gluten-free and that one of its main consumers will be the gluten-intolerant, they’re used to some pretty bland shit thus two scales are needed; no offence intended.


  • Website
  • Genre: Pale ale
  • Regionality: Ballarat, VIC
  • Strength: 4.5%
  • Rating: 1 / 3 taste + 1 / 2 ancillaries = 2 / 5
  • Coeliac rating: 2.5 / 3 taste + 1 / 2 ancillaries = 3.5 / 5
  • Plus: Good effort considering the brewing constraints.
  • Minus: Lacks depth with the sole characteristics of toffee.


  1. Joshua

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but this (as well as Brewbake) has already been covered 250 Beers! Right? I read both of your blogs and notice a similar pattern happening. Weird. Cheers, Josh.

    • Correct, Josh. The Brewbake blog post on 250 Beers inspired my own (very different) trip up there whereas the O’Briens review is just a coincidence, as this post was written a few weeks ago.

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