Monday, 23 June 2014

The Short(ish) Goodbye


So after many years blogging here and living through what feels like many versions of myself - the loss of friends and family members over the last year - has definitely thrown perspective of what I value into sharp focus. I think it is time to down tools and stop blogging. I shall be closing out my Facebook page and my Twitter feed too. I'm of two minds about it. I would like to stay on blogging, but quite frankly I'm just too busy in the real world to keep this as a hobby. So at the same time I am glad to be finishing up as I will now have more time to continue with my 'outside' life.

I think I am a bit disillusioned with the whole gluten free scene. Not the community - you guys rock, but with everybody outside of it. Mind, there are elements within the community that are stagnant and so in a way prevent things from evolving and improving through motivations that are are beyond my understanding. I'm an idealist at heart. 

To those bakeries, shops and restaurants that have offered me gluten free options that are actually NOT gluten free - a genuine screw you. Stop marketing your food as gluten free when they are clearly made in a cross contaminated environment. Don't advertise gluten free and then put in the small print (or maybe not even include small print) that they aren't suitable for people who have coeliac disease or for those who are intolerant. Just stop. They are not gluten free, so please why even write those words down, except to dupe some unsuspecting person who will just get sick. Just to be clear - if there is gluten present in your food because of cross-contamination, then your food has gluten in it - therefore not gluten free, no matter what alternative ingredients you use. 


So why do you even bother using gluten free ingredients? Clearly there is a cross contamination issue, so what's the point? At least there was a notice informing the buying public. There are far too many bakeries doing this sort of thing. I can actually feel my blood pressure rising.



Another classic. Friends with gluten? Honestly, I am NOT friends with gluten. I do not want food that is friendly with gluten. This sign was meant to indicate that there were gluten free options available (which incidentally were also not gluten free due to cross contamination, so I guess in a way, it is actually gluten friendly). Clear signage, eh.


To those bakeries, shops, restaurants, small businesses, big businesses and everyone who has ever offered me gluten free options that are actually gluten free - I am indebted. Thank you for showing this rather fed-up and jaded girl that there are decent people and businesses out there who really do want to go out of their way for their customers, who actually want to produce high quality, decent, SAFE food and environments to dine in. You have shown me that my options are not as closed off as I first thought they were when I first started traveling my (unfortunately, very necessary) gluten free road. *insert brass band and firework display of gratitude here*


Stock Image


I only wish I had the conviction and back bone to be a hard core, brilliant gluten free activist (see Gluten Dude  http://glutendude.com for inspiration), but alas, I am just one small voice on a small island that has lost some of its will to keep going.

So to close, thank you to everyone who accepted me with virtual open arms. You lot are an incredible backbone to rely on when isolation, seclusion, frustration and exhaustion seem to be my only friends. Your kind encouragement and brilliant debate kept things good. So I humbly thank you for your interaction, sharing your stories, general online banter and putting up with me when I didn't even make sense to myself or could not make sense of what I was trying to convey.

I will still keep this blog and its pages up and published and I will probably continue to update my beer blog on occasion. If anybody wishes to reach me for whatever reason - my email will still be active glutenfreephotos[at]gmail.com So apart from that - thank you for taking the time to drop by over the years and keeping me company here.

I'll leave you all with a summary of what I've learnt in the 9 years of being gluten free:

Always read the label, always.

Do look beyond the 'gluten free' label and make sure you're not poisoning yourself with other unhealthy & harmful ingredients.

Never chance a 'made in an environment that handles gluten' food item.

Try and eat natural, seasonal foods. The longer the shelf life of a product, the more likely it is not good for you. Avoid.

Go to your GP for regular check-ups and blood work. 

Don't ignore your health. If you feel something's up - that means there is something up! Look after yourself.

Accept the fact that you're going to get 'glutened' sometimes, no matter how hard you try not to. (There's secret gluten everywhere!)

Make sure you always carry emergency gluten free food rations before you go out the door.

Eat a gluten free meal before you go out with your mates for an evening. Sounds silly, but trust me - this is worth doing, especially if there is no advance planning of where you're heading out for the night.

It's okay to feel frustrated by the world and its lack of understanding.

Have a sense of humour, but not at the expense of who you are or your own personal struggle and dietary needs. You are not a target.

Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself. Whether to your family and friends who don't quite understand why you are gluten free, or to restaurant/hotel/B&B/etc., or simply demanding a better availability of gluten free food in shops - food is your only medicine, you should be allowed to eat decent quality, safe food and not be limited.

You are not alone - there are literally hundreds of thousands of people living on a necessary gluten free diet. Get onto social networking sites and start expanding your support base. Twitter is a great place to start. There are so many fantastic gluten free bloggers out there. 

Spread the word! Be your own gluten free campaigner. If you know people who are experiencing symptoms similar to coeliac disease or gluten intolerance or have family members who have coeliac disease, encourage them to get a blood test. Help educate your circle of peers. 

Don't give up on yourself or your diet. The health implications are tremendous. You are too valuable.

Like I said, most importantly - always read the label. Always. 

Yours,

Kel
The GFP x









Thursday, 19 June 2014

Product Review: Veronica's Snacks - Crunchy Creatures


Earlier in the week, I received an email from a representative over at Veronica's Snacks http://www.veronicassnacks.com inviting me to try their new range of gluten free baked corn snacks named Crunchy Creatures. Having previously reviewed some of the Veronica's Snacks range (http://glutenfreephotos.blogspot.ie/2013/07/product-review-veronicas-snacks-munchy.html) I was definitely game to try these out. 


 


I received 3 Cheese Crunchy Creatures bags x 30g and a Cheese Crunchy Creatures multi-pack that contained 5 x 15g bags. Crunchy, munchy happiness indeed. I do love a decent gluten free snack. I was delighted to try these out. I am more than happy to promote an excellent, Irish, gluten free business and Veronica's Snacks is just that. These are clearly aimed towards a younger audience and my daughter was very willing to help me taste test them.

The packaging is colourful and fun. The mascot is a tyrannosaurus and his dinosaur friends, which you will soon be able to read more about on the site, are known as the Crunchy Creatures. The bag is clearly marked with a gluten free label on the front and the back reads that they are suitable for vegetarians and coeliacs. The crossed grain symbol is present. They are also 100% organic - I love that.

These snacks are:

- Baked not fried 
- Contain no artificial colours or flavourings
- Organic
- Contain no trans fats
- Contain no GMOs

It's nice to see a child friendly gluten free snack coming onto the market. There will soon be three flavours to choose from: Cheese, Salt & Vinegar and Spicy Tomato. Yay!

I really liked these. There is something irresistible about eating a dinosaur shaped snack. The kid in me comes out. The cheese flavour is not over-powering and is well balanced so that the actual corn taste of the snack is not lost. I would not know this was a baked snack. Very crunchy, very, very moreish. They did not last long! They are a really great alternative to crisps and to be honest, I would choose these snacks over a packet of crisps any day - they are that tasty. The novelty of dinosaur shaped corn snacks is one that I don't think I could get tired of!

 



There's not much else to say, but go ahead and grab a bag when you see one. If you need an excuse, just say that you are buying them for some children and then sneakily keep them to yourself. Though it is fun to share - simply to play with the dinosaurs!


Copyright Veronica's Snacks


Read more about Veronica's Snacks story here: http://www.veronicassnacks.ie/our-story

Find Crunchy Creatures on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/crunchycreature 
Find Veronica's Snacks on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/veronicassnacks

Find Crunchy Creatures on Twitter: http://twitter.com/CrunchyCreaturz
Find Veronica's Snacks on Twitter: http://twitter.com/veronicassnacks





Sunday, 15 June 2014

Product Review: Glebe Farm Foods


Back sometime in the middle of May, I received an email from someone over at Glebe Farm Foods http://www.glebe-flour.co.uk/gluten_free/home.php inviting me to taste test their range of food. I've only ever seen Glebe Farm Foods in passing at the odd health food store, however I have never tried anything by them before so I was happy to be introduced to something new. 




So the fine people over at Glebe Farm Foods sent me a staggeringly generous selection of their products.

I received:

Gluten & Wheat Free Strawberry Oat Granola Crisp
Gluten & Wheat Free Maple & Pecan Oat Granola Crisp
Gluten Free Oat Fruit Muesli
Gluten Free Porridge Oats 
Gluten Free Oat Bran Porridge
Gluten Free Carrot Cake Mix
Gluten Free Sultana Scone Mix
Gluten Free Cranberry & Blueberry Muffin Mix
Gluten Free Chocolate Cake Mix
Gluten Free Seeded Brown Bread Mix
Gluten & Wheat Free Oat Flour


Glebe Farm 'Night Mission' Gluten Free Beer*
Glebe Farm Side-R Ciders**

*The review for the gluten free beer can be found over on my Gluten Free Beer Blog here: http://glutenfreephotos.blogspot.ie/2014/03/the-gluten-free-beer-blog.html

** I will not be publishing a review of the ciders, as I intend to hopefully, one day have a gluten free cider blog published, which will then include these ciders. I am making no guarantees as to when I will get around to doing this!!

How indescribably amazing is all that! I didn't know where to start. I was originally going to blog separately about each product, then I had a rethink and decided that it was probably best to keep the reviews in one place. So ready yourself for a lengthy post! You would expect lots of pictures of delicious muffins and cakes, but alas, my clearly deprived and famished family were too quick for my camera to get decent shots of the different mixes I baked with. Unfortunately porridge does not photograph well - so I didn't even attempt to take any photos.

~ ~ ~

So I began with the granola's. I'm a sucker for granola. It is one of my favourite things to have for breakfast (well, maybe apart from pancakes!) - it's always a treat to tuck into granola.

You'd expect to see tasteful shots of the granola about now, but I'm going to admit - the granola's were the first to go out of the lot. No camera work - I was too busy eating. I would personally love to see bigger bags of the granola - they weigh in at 370g, but to a granola fiend like me - I can horse that lot into me in two days!

The granola did not go soggy in milk. It was filling and the taste was good. The packaging clearly marked that it was tested to be gluten and wheat free and that they use wholegrain oats. I am thankfully in a position where oats do not bother me. I can eat them all the time. So I'm grateful that they are not off the menu for me. My only issue was with the Strawberry Oat Granola, there were raisins in it. I wasn't expecting that and they weren't listed on the front as an ingredient - so slightly disappointed.

If you like granola - I'd say Glebe Farm granola's are for you. Not too sweet. My favourite was the Maple & Pecan one. So good.

~ ~ ~

Next up are the Thanks For Franks bars - I'm going to be honest with you on this one, I am not a fan. Mostly because I do not like raisins in snack bars. The granola bars were filling, but I wasn't that keen on the taste.

They are clearly marked with the cross grain symbol on the packaging and looked very inviting to eat. If you like lots of fruit in your granola bars, these are for you. I gave them out to my friends who definitely enjoyed them. Straightforward and satisfying were the words given to me to describe them.

~ ~ ~

So moving onto the gluten free porridge, the gluten free oat bran porridge and the gluten free oat fruit muesli. Overall, these three porridgy (not a word, I know!) type cereals were a hit for me. Even the fruit muesli, though I had this one in small doses, due to the fruit content. Somehow I can take fruit better served in a hot breakfast - go figure!

The packaging clearly marks that these products are gluten free, high in fibre and made with sustainable wholegrain oats. Porridge is a great way to set yourself up for the day and it was pretty filling. The taste factor gets a thumbs up from me.

~ ~ ~

So on to the mixes - the packaging on all the mixes clearly marked them as gluten free. There were very straightforward instructions detailing how to bake everything. There were egg free suggestions that directed me to their website and there was a list on the front of each mix declaring what the mix is free from. For example, the cranberry and blueberry muffin mix lists itself as: gluten free, wheat free, corn free, dairy free, soya free and egg free. However, I used buttermilk or milk, eggs and butter (as required), when I baked with the mixes - so really, it all depends what your dietary requirements are and then bake as necessary. 

The mixes were great. The scones came out beautifully, the cakes, everything. No complaints. If you want something easy and convenient - these mixes pretty much tick all the boxes. So go forth and bake!

 ~ ~ ~

Everything reviewed for this blog post was clearly marked as vegan/vegetarian and gluten free.

Apart from the fact that you can pick up Glebe Farm gluten free foods and mixes in shops across the country (see their Irish stockists list here: http://www.glebe-flour.co.uk/gluten_free/stockists/Ireland.php), they also ship straight to your door. I'm all for convenience. So browse their online shop and treat yourself! http://www.glebe-flour.co.uk/gluten_free/shop.php





You can read more about Glebe Farm's story here: http://www.glebe-flour.co.uk/gluten_free/about_us.php 

Find Glebe Farm Foods on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GlebeFarmFoods
Find Glebe Farm Foods on Twitter: http://twitter.com/GlebeFarmFoods



Friday, 16 May 2014

Coeliac Awareness Week 2014 - See Lack Of Awareness Week?


So it's coming to the end of the week and not just any week, Coeliac Awareness Week 12th - 19th May 2014. I know how many causes and charities get their day or week in the calendar year, but Coeliac Awareness Week is the one I give my voice to. Why? Because so many people are silent sufferers of this disease and so many remain undiagnosed.

A little background: What is coeliac disease?

Firstly, coeliac disease is NOT a food allergy. Coeliac disease is an AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE = the autoimmune system attacks the bodies own tissues. When someone who has coeliac disease consumes gluten (which is a combination of two proteins glutenin and gliadin found in wheat, barley and rye), damage and inflammation occurs in the small intestine and prevents absorption of necessary nutrients from food. It is permanent and the only 'cure' is to be on a gluten free diet.

Gluten Dude http://glutendude.com/celiac/celiac-disease-symptoms published an Infographic on his blog that he created, with a number of symptoms that are linked to Coeliac Disease. A link to the full resolution of the infographic is here: http://glutendude.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/celiac-disease-symptoms.jpg


Copyright Gluten Dude


Statistics tell us that there are 1 in 100 people who suffer from this disease. I speculate in Ireland, that there are probably even more due to the genetic predisposition of coeliac disease. Ireland has one of the highest coeliac populations per capita, in the world. It is likely that if you have a family member suffering from coeliac disease you have a higher risk of being diagnosed with it. (Personal note: even if you are not suffering any symptoms associated with coeliac disease, I really think it is worth getting tested if you have a close family member/family history of coeliac disease. Coeliac disease can be silent and you can suffer with it for years without knowing, unwittingly doing tremendous damage to your body.)

So back to Coeliac Awareness Week. See lack of awareness week? Why am I asking this question? I am asking this because, although this week has been declared Coeliac Awareness Week in Ireland - there is very little awareness of what coeliac disease actually is. I am aware of it, because I am already involved in the online gluten free and coeliac communities and so through social media knew when it was happening.

So this begs the question, if you are not already a part of the gluten free and coeliac online communities, how do you find out about coeliac disease and why there is a week dedicated to raising awareness about it? Is coeliac awareness week only for coeliacs?

I conducted a small, simple straw poll, with the help of my friends on social media (I did not use my GFP facebook page as I wanted to ask people who weren't necessarily connected to the online gluten free community) and I also personally asked random strangers and acquaintances alike as well. I asked two simple questions: 'Do you know what coeliac disease is?' and 'Did you know that it is Coeliac Awareness Week this week?' I asked for a simple yes/no answer. The results:

Do you know what coeliac disease is?

28 respondents out of a total 73, said they knew what coeliac disease was. Those that I spoke to directly, or further explained their yes answer said they thought it was either an allergy or an intolerance to bread or gluten. There were 7 respondents who commented said they knew exactly what it was as they had a direct relative or friend diagnosed with it. There were 17 respondents who just answered yes.

Did you know that it is Coeliac Awareness Week this week?

50 respondents out of a total of 73, said they did not know it was Coeliac Awareness Week. Out of those that I was able to speak to directly, 2 knew it was Coeliac Awareness Week because they heard a mention on day time radio. 2 respondents who had close family members who were coeliacs did not know it was awareness week.The remaining responses were just a yes or no answer.

Further comments I received that are worth mentioning:

"It can be confused with IBS, can't it?"

"There was a church that arranged a coeliac first communion."

"It's an allergy/intolerance to bread."

"I have never even heard of coeliac disease before!"

"It means you can't eat wheat."

"It's an allergy to gluten, but I'm not too sure what gluten is."

It was a broad range of generations and people who were asked - professionals, parents, peers. I think the overwhelming feeling I get from the feedback is that there really is no true awareness of what Coeliac Disease is. 

I often encounter a dismissive attitude to coeliac disease. An 'I don't have it, I don't know what it is, I don't care', demeanor. I think this is quite a dangerous mindset. It is unfortunate at how misunderstood this disease is. I recently asked on my twitter and facebook page: Do you think there is a better understanding by the general public of what Coeliac disease is?

That sparked some interesting conversation. The whole point of asking the question was to try and get some honest answers from the gluten free community - and honest answers I did get. There seems to be an overall divide of flat-out 'no' to 'there is an improvement in awareness, but there is still a long road ahead to achieve true awareness.' The feedback that I received that really stuck with me was that someone wrote, 'Coeliacs give Coeliacs a bad name'. This person's experience was that even fellow coeliacs did not truly understand what it means to be diagnosed with this disease. I personally think that the medical profession is at fault here. If someone is diagnosed with a food allergy, that person is made very aware that they need to avoid those foods. If someone is diagnosed with coeliac disease and they are not clear about what their diet needs to be and what the consequences of veering from that diet are, there's a serious communication break down happening between the doctor and patient. There should be a positive knock-on effect from the medical community, not a negative one.

People were fed-up of coeliac disease being misdiagnosed or confused with IBS. There was a sense that there was no real support from the medical community. Feeling isolated was mentioned. No whole holistic approach, not just digestive health. The medical world does not look beyond the 'surface' symptoms.

It would be great if the medical profession took up the mantle of Coeliac Awareness Week and promoted understanding and education of what it is all about. That there was literature, posters and pamphlets in GP offices, hospitals, pharmacies and medical institutions explaining and promoting awareness of what coeliac disease is. I'd love to see the HSE or some other relevant semi-state body step-up to the plate and get the ball rolling. How can a population who suffers from this disease be so unsupported and ignored in the medical community - when this is the first step for most - talking to their doctor. It is shameful neglect and it is the misdiagnosed and silent sufferers who are hurt the most.

The usual complaints about eating out surfaced - cross-contamination, misunderstanding, ignorance, poor training and general confusion seem to rule the roost. It was noted that there are some really, proper, decent restaurants, hotels, etc., that do it right, but they are in the minority. 

The hospitality and catering industries need to embrace and understand coeliac disease. Flippant articles that I've seen published encouraging gluten free as a trend in restaurants, etc., explaining that a simple gluten free replacement is enough to provide for the gluten free community, is ridiculous. They need to have a clear understanding and proper training in how and what eating out as a person with coeliac disease really means. To be vigilant about cross-contamination. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland tweeted me this information, 'There's no national body which looks after food safety training. We provide advice on what to look for in a trainer.' I would love to see proper training and guidelines in the catering industry being actively pursued and continuously followed-up with visits from trainers who understand coeliac disease. There is clearly a gap and this industry should look into setting up a resource for themselves so that they can receive the training and education that is so desperately needed.

I would love to see some seriously hard core, continuous national media attention being given to Coeliac Awareness Week. Tons of radio interviews, roadside billboards, tv spots, newspaper articles, magazine features, full page informative advertisements explaining what coeliac disease is. I'm so tired of 'token' efforts from the media - a single article in a national paper or a small feature inside a supplement of a minor publication is not good enough. The message is clearly not getting out there. The media need to embrace this better, coeliac disease may not be a sexy headline, but that doesn't mean it isn't important.

I haven't seen any promotion of Coeliac Awareness Week in any of the big supermarkets or health food stores in my area. That's not to say it isn't happening elsewhere - I'm saying it should be happening everywhere. Coeliac UK http://www.coeliac.org.uk/home are doing a really great idea for awareness week promoting a gluten free guarantee - essentially ensuring a core basket of gluten free foods to be made available in the supermarkets. Read about it here http://www.coeliac.org.uk/get-involved/awareness-week-2014 - a super idea and something I think could really work here.

The point of this post is not to be negative. I'm just highlighting what I see, feel and hear around me. There has been some great promotion of gluten free foods in shops and some lovely giveaways during the week, not to mention some great blogs! Did you read Coeliac Page's diagnosis story? Find it here: http://coeliacpages.wordpress.com/2014/05/12/coeliac-awareness-week-12-19-may-2014/ Gluten Free Cailin recorded her diagnosis story on her blog: http://www.glutenfreecailin.com/index.php/2014/05/hi-im-donna-and-im-a-coeliac/ There was an article in The Irish Times: http://tinyurl.com/mh2kd3l  An opinion piece in TheJournal.ie http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/coeliac-disease-foods-awareness-week-1462324-May2014/ I would like to see more, more, more - greedy, I know but it would be great!

I wrote this on my facebook page already, but I think it bears worth repeating, I would like to think there is a time when the small, vulnerable percentage of the community does not feel like it has to resign itself to 'every coeliac for themselves', that there will be tolerance, empathy and patience for those suffering. That there is education and help, emotionally and physically, to hand. Ideal - maybe, but we should always aim high.

There needs to be a bright light shone on the ignorance towards this disease. Everything comes down to this: Education, Education, Education!

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Product Review: Honeybuns


At the very end of March, I was contacted on twitter by the lovely people over at Honeybuns http://www.honeybuns.co.uk, inviting me to review some of their gluten free cakes and bakes. I've tried Honeybuns products before, so it was a treat to be offered to test out some of their range.




The samples I received are:

1 Honeybuns minis Heathcliff Brownie http://www.honeybuns.co.uk/products/Browniesandcakes.htm

'Omnomnomnomnom!' (said in a cookie monster voice!)

The packaging and branding is inviting. Everything is clearly marked gluten free on the front. Any additional allergens are listed on the back. I like how once you open the packaging, on the inside there is a lovely little 'notice board' that has cool factoids, advertising of their own baking book or their Bee Shack café, there are neat tips that can be found for baking, and a brief history of Honeybuns. There's a lot of (interesting and fun), reading to be had.

The Snowy Hills shortbread is my favourite Honeybuns bake that I've tried. It's essentially a layered shortbread tray bake with polenta, ginger and ground toasted almonds, with lemon curd and a frangipane topping. The texture is good. Chewy with a nice feel in the mouth. Absolutely perfect with a cup of tea. It's the right amount of sweetness too. 

The Heathcliff Brownie is a gluten free brownie with almonds and orange zest. The brownie also had a nice texture. I'm not a fan of orange and chocolate together (I am definitely in the minority!), so it wasn't my thing, but I can attest that both my daughter and husband thought it was delicious and were looking for seconds.

The Amondi cookie was surprisingly chewy - I was expecting a crumbly, sharp texture, but instead got a lovely soft, chewy cookie. The orange oil really comes through and is very delicious. It is one of the nicest gluten free cookies I've had the pleasure to taste. It's also dairy free. I would happily buy a box of these to keep (for gluten free cookie emergencies!)

Out of the two flapjacks, I really enjoyed the plain one the best. So good. A straightforward flapjack - chewy, sweet, with a satisfying taste. The fruit flapjack was nice, but I am not a fan of raisins - though I liked the cranberries in it. If you enjoy fruit in a flapjack - this one is for you. Not listed is their cranberry and pecan flapjack, which is so tasty. I picked one up locally last weekend. I finished it so quickly, I just had to go and purchase another one, for later - of course!

Honeybuns are very proud of their green credentials. They go out of their way to create a sustainable, ethical and artisanal brand that tastes great. Their packaging film is biodegradable and you can recycle the cardboard. Even the inks they use are vegetable based!

I personally love that they bake with butter! So many brands these days use margarine - which is quite frankly, unhealthy. So it's brilliant to pick up a gluten free treat made with real butter. For that alone, Honeybuns gets a major thumbs up from me.




You can read more about Honeybuns and Emma's (the lady who started it all) story here: http://www.honeybuns.co.uk/about/index.htm

Find Honeybuns on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/HoneybunsBakery
FindHoneybuns on Twitter: http://twitter.com/HoneybunsBakery





Monday, 31 March 2014

Product Review: Áine Hand Made Chocolate


Earlier this year, in February, I received an absolutely welcome hamper of Áine Hand Made Chocolate http://www.chocolates.ie/ for review. Truth be told, I have been a big fan of her chocolate for a very long time. Reasons: it's Irish, it's gluten free, it's a quality chocolate, the range is phenomenal, it's award winning and most importantly, it tastes good. I mean that pretty much sums up my review, however, if you're not convinced - read on...




In the hamper I received:

A bar of Zesty Lime Dark Chocolate http://www.chocolates.ie/?ECProduct=247
2 x samples of Chocolate Ballotins http://www.chocolates.ie/?ECProduct=261

Generous, or what!! I was so busy enjoying the chocolate, I nearly forgot to grab a picture before I ate it all (ahem, I mean shared it amongst my family...) Those two boxes of chocolate ballotins shown in the photo above are in fact, empty - due to a small case of immediately being devoured!

You can read the story behind Áine Hand Made Chocolates here: http://www.chocolates.ie/?content=about-aine-hand-made-chocolate 

I'm so glad I received the Zesty Lime bar in the hamper - this is my favourite of the bars. It's the right amount of cocoa content without it being too bitter and the lime infused in delicious crunchy bits are spread evenly through the bar. So, so good. I also like to grate this chocolate bar over key lime pie that I bake, as a finishing touch. It really adds a bit of deliciousness to the dessert.

The hot chocolate swirl, does exactly what it says on the tin - swirl it in hot milk and voila!, tasty hot chocolate for your drinking pleasure. 

The chocolate bars and the individual hand made chocolates were all enjoyable. The milk chocolate doesn't have a waxy texture and it melts pleasantly in the mouth. To quote from the website, 'Áine Hand Made Chocolate - the luxurious taste of heavenly hand made Irish chocolate from award winning Master Chocolatier, Ann Rudden. This is chocolate as it should be - mouth watering, melt-in-the-mouth magic.' That pretty much sums it up for me. 

So ends, my admittedly very gushing, review. Go and taste for yourself.

Find Áine Hand Made Chocolate on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AineHandmadeChocolate
Find Áine Hand Made Chocolate on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Ainechocolate






Monday, 24 March 2014

The Gluten Free Beer Blog

This beer blog has been too many months (okay, actually years!), in the making. I know I've been mentioning this on and off in some of my previous posts, so it's about time I pinned this down. 




There are many reasons for the delay in this. *When testing up to 22 beers, the aim of the game is to not let yourself or fellow testers on the beer panel get drunk. Drunk = not real opinions or accurate descriptions of the alcohol being tasted and tested. Also, drunk = hangover and to be honest, I'm not interested in hangovers. Getting the 10 of us together at the same time to test these beers, has its own challenges, everyone is busy living their lives so it was a genuine effort on everyone's behalf to meet and test the beers around busy schedules. Also, because of the delay in publishing this post, there has been a change in the branding on some of the bottles. So their old labels are now recorded in my photos for posterity. There has been a small advantage that has come about with my delay. More gluten free beers have come on the Irish market in the past couple of years and I have been able to have a decent list of beers for testing. So here we go...!

We marked the beers out of 10. 10 being the best and 1 being hardly worth it. I am the only one on a strict gluten free diet who did the testing. Everyone else is on a 'normal' diet and they are very particular about the type of beers they drink. They like a decent beer. I consider them 'beer snobs', but in a good way. They know a quality beer versus a cheap beer and that's why I chose them for my testers.

Please note that all opinions and comments are genuine and made in the spirit of being honest about what was being tasted. There was no sponsorship, support from brewing companies or any outside financial influence attached to this post.

If you want to know more about each beer tested, I recommend that you visit the respective websites and read more about their products.


 

TESTER FINDINGS:

NameAppearanceAromaPalate/Flavour & General CommentsOverall - What We Say (out of 10)What It Says On The Bottle
Crabbies Original Alcoholic Ginger BeerGolden, Amber. Very fizzy.Spicy, lightSweet, Fizzy, Ginger, Lingering spice/heat aftertaste. Refreshing, Moreish. Easy to drink.10 out of 10 If you like the taste of ginger. A resounding favourite.‘The steeped ginger is combined with quality ingredients and matured for 8 weeks to release a deliciously distinctive flavour.’
Crabbies Spiced Orange Alcoholic Ginger BeerGolden, Amber. Very fizzy.Citrus, Orange, Spicy, Light, SweetnessSweet, Orange cordial flavour. Not refreshing. Orange oil aftertaste. Easy to drink.6 out of 10. Disappointing. It was neither orangey nor gingery enough.‘The steeped ginger is matured for 8 weeks. It’s then combined with real Orange Extract giving a deliciously distinctive flavour.’
Crabbies Raspberry Alcoholic Ginger BeerDeep pink. Very fizzy.Fruity - like jam, ginger and raspberry obvious as well, sweet.Very sweet upfront like children’s fizzy cordial. Spicy ginger finish which lingers after sweetness. Soapy.3 out of 10. Wasn’t to any of panel’s taste. Too sweet. Might appeal to a juvenile palate. Not suited to a mature palate. Like an alcopop.‘We steep our real ginger beer for up to 8 weeks then blend with natural flavouring made from real Scottish Raspberries to create a deliciously unique and refreshing taste.’
Crabbies Strawberry & Lime Alcoholic Ginger BeerPale pink. Very fizzy.Sweet, candied strawberry.Sweet. Fresh strawberry flavour. Ginger finish. Couldn’t really pick up any lime. Soapy.3.5 out of 10. Maybe good for a warm summer evening. If you’re looking for a strawberry drink, go for the Rekorderklig Strawberry Cider instead.‘We steep our real ginger beer for up to 8 weeks then blend with natural Strawberry & Lime flavours to create a deliciously unique and refreshing taste.’
Hollows & Fentimans All Natural, Alcoholic Ginger BeerCloudy, Pale. Light fizz.Sweet, Fruity, like a perry.Sweet up front. Ctirus. A finer effervescence. Ginger finish. Refreshing.7 out of 10. Satisfying.‘Made using a time-honoured recipe from just five ingredients: Ginger Root, Water, Sugar, Pear Juice & Yeast.
Mongozo Premium PilsnerGolden ale, Lightly carbonated.Sweet, Light, Fruity, Beery, a hint of maltSweet, Dry Finish, Fruity, Refreshing, Typical beery aftertaste. Moreish. Flavour really sings once it warms up a bit.8 out of 10. A good beer. A fine all-rounder.There is little description of the beer on the bottle. It is noted that they have a fair trade and organic certification & there is a cross-grain symbol marked on the front.
Celia  Gluten Free LagerGolden ale, Good carbonation.Vanilla, Light, MaltyFizzy, Bitter up front, Hoppy, Dry, Refreshing, Sweet aftertaste, Easy to drink.7 out of 10. Wouldn’t know it was gluten free. A really decent lager. Enjoyable.Little is written on the bottle. Their website says: CELIA complements fine food thanks to its unique use of 100% Saaz hops famous for their spicy, clean bitterness combined with a beautiful golden colour & pleasant malty aroma.
Glebe Farm 'Night Mission' Gluten Free AleAmber colour. Slightly cloudy. Light effervescence.Lightly sweet. Malty. Beery.Dry. Mildly hoppy. Sweet upfront. Slightly cloying/soapy finish.4 out of 10. Similar to a bitter in taste. Finish is a bit off. Serve just below room temperature.No mention of the ingredients anywhere. The bottle says it 'replicates a traditional British ale'.
Estrella Damm DauraGolden ale, Good carbonation. Sweet/caramel, FruityWatery, Cloying, Trying to be bitter – just getting a sour taste. Chemical aftertaste.1 out of 10. No one could finish the bottle. Tasted like a cheap pub beer. Everyone complained of a synthetic, cloying taste. It felt like it was trying to taste ‘not gluten free’, Unanimous low marks across the panel.Little description of the beer written on the bottle. There is a cross-grain symbol marked on the front.
Mikkeller 
I Wish Gluten Free IPA
Amber. Slightly cloudy. Standard carbonation.Fruity. Very sweet.Crisp, very bitter. Refreshing. Full on hops. Aftertaste sits well. No chemical vibe.8 out of 10.
A real multi-sensory beer. Decent IPA. Very distinctive. Recommendation: Breathe in the aroma while drinking.
Little is written on the bottle. Their website says: We’re proud to present the worlds first gluten free beer! A super hopped up American Pale Ale, designed, not just for the gluten sensitive, but for all beer fans alike.
I Wish is a fresh, tasty and risk-free experience.
In your face, gluten!
Omission Handcrafted IPAStraw coloured. Slightly cloudy. Standard effervescence.Fruity, very sweet. Not citrus.Sweet  and fruity upfront. Bitter, hoppy aftertaste. Very dry finish. Almost sour.5 out of 10. Disappointing IPA. It's very strong 6.7% It's too sweet/fruity. If you hadn't had the Mikkeller before, you might have thought this was a better beer. In direct comparison, it falls short. Nonetheless, worth a try.Tagline on the bottle reads: 'It isn't just what we took out, it's what we left in.' The label itself makes no reference to gluten.
Daas BlondGolden ale, Fine carbonation.Sweet, Light, Floral hops.Refreshing, Special, Sweet, Well rounded, Pleasant aftertaste, Pure tasting. No chemical aftertaste, Easy to drink, Moreish. 10 out of 10. Nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom….‘Daas Blond is the authentic strong Belgian golden beer. The honey spiced aromas and perfectly balanced bitter flavours are followed by a full rounded classic dry hop finish.’
Daas AmbreCloudy, Amber ale, Heavy carbonation. Heavy, caramel, malty, burnt hopsSweet, chocolatey, Hoppy finish, Roasted flavour, Coffee, Dark flavours, No chemical aftertaste, Satisfying.10 out of 10. More of the nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom….‘Daas Ambre is a traditional rich and complex Belgian Amber ale. The deep fragrant aromas with smooth caramel and discreetly mellow malt flavour finish with dry and delicately spiced hops.’
Against The GrainPale ale. Good carbonation, Not too fizzy.Fruity, Light, Sweet.Watery, Bitter up front, Fruity aftertaste, Refreshing4 out of 10. Tastes like a real beer. Just seems to lack the moreish quality. Not bad, not great.Text refers to the World Top Brewery location and the filtered water used in their range of beers.
Nick Stafford’s Hambleton Ales GFABronze/amber ale. Not much effervescence. Good carbonation.Hoppy, Sharp.Bitter, Cloying aftertaste. Heavy. Chemical aftertaste.2.5 out of 10. More complex than GFL . Would avoid drinking.‘Bronze, Amber, Fruity, Sharp, Tastes zesty, sharp & clean.’
Nick Stafford’s Hambleton Ales GFLYellow/golden ale. Not much effervescence. Good carbonation.Light, Sweet, Fruity, Pear drops.Light, Sweet, Fruity up front, Sticks at the back of the throat.2 out of 10. Starts like a good beer, but finishes like a cheap beer.‘Yellow, Straw, Fruity, Hoppy, Tastes fresh, clean, citrus, light.’
Green’s Premium PilsnerPale golden. Standard carbonation. Hoppy, light, fruitiness, malt.Instantly refreshing. Hops up front. Smooth finish. Moreish, drinkable, no chemical aftertaste. No cloying.8 out of 10. A great beer. Wouldn’t know it’s gluten free. Similar to Budvar.‘Is light bodied and smooth, with a light hop aroma and traces of citrus offering a crisp finish.’
Green’s Discovery (Naturally Gluten Free Beer)Dark ale. Light carbonation. Sweet, very malty, fruity, rich.Light ale, sweet finish. Vanilla flavour. Warming.7 out of 10. It’s 6%. Quite a strong beer. Tastes similar to Speckled Hen. Thumbs up. Enjoyable.Little description written of the beer on the bottle. There is a cross-grain symbol marked on the front.
Green’s Supreme Golden AleDeep golden. Steady carbonation.Sweet, beery, caramel notes.Malty up front, but a nice dry hoppy finish. Bitter balances well with the sweet. Refreshing, moreish.9 out of 10. It’s just an uncomplicated, great beer.‘Has a slightly hoppy flavour with a dry caramel background, and a light fruit and spice finish.’
Green’s  Blond AlePale yellow. Cloudy. Light effervescence.Smells similar to a fruity Weiss beer. Malty. Sweet.Sweet. Very much like an Erdinger. Malty, warm finish.8 out of 10. If you like Weiss beer, this one is for you. Good quality, not lacking in depth.‘Is a blond coloured, bottle refermented ale. The characteristic taste and aroma is a result of the specially selected de-glutenised barley malt and hop varieties and is brewed to an age old recipe.’
Green’s Amber (Brown) AleDeep Amber colour. Cloudy. Light effervescence.Fruity, caramel. Lightly sweet. Roasted malt. Hint of sweetness.Fruity upfront. Bitter finish.7 out of 10. Lacking a bit of body. A good flavour. Enjoyable.‘Is a brown coloured, bottle refermented ale. The characteristic taste and aroma is a result of the specially selected de-glutenised barley malt and hop varieties and is brewed to an age old recipe.’
Green’s Dark AleDark brown. Cloudy.Roast barley. Chocolate. Rich. Coffee tones. Hint of sweetness.Rich roasted tones. Not heavy – surprisingly light. Depth of flavour. A really good combination of burnt caramel, chocolate, barley, malty tones. Sweet with a light bitter finish.9 out of 10. Completely different to anything else tested. As close to a stout as can be. If you miss stout – this is the one for you.‘Is a dark coloured, bottle refermented ale. The characteristic taste and aroma is a result of the specially selected de-glutenised barley malt and hop varieties and is brewed to an age old recipe.’


Crabbies Alcoholic Ginger Beer Range www.crabbiesgingerbeer.co.uk 
Hollows & Fentimans All Natural Alcoholic Ginger Beer http://www.drinkhollows.com 
Mongozo Premium Pilsner Gluten Free Beer http://www.mongozo.com 
Celia Organic Lager http://www.celialager.co.uk  
Glebe Farm Night Mission Gluten Free Beer http://www.glebe-flour.co.uk/gluten_free/gluten_free_beer.php
Estrella Damm Daura Gluten Free Beer http://www.estrelladamm.com/en/daura_gluten_free_beer 
Mikkeller http://mikkeller.dk
Omission Beer http://omissionbeer.com/
Daas Gluten Free Beers http://www.daasbeer.com/eng 
Against The Grain Gluten Free Beer http://www.woldtopbrewery.co.uk/beers/against-the-grain 
Nick Stafford's Hambleton Gluten Free Ales http://www.hambletonales.co.uk/?page_id=64 
Green's Gluten Free Beers http://glutenfreebeers.co.uk




Winners & Losers

The top scoring beers in our test were Daas Blond, Daas Ambre & Crabbies Ginger Beer. What was interesting in the findings was that most of the gluten free beers were of a high standard. That surprised all the 'normal' beer drinkers in the group (which was everyone, but me!). It is unfortunate that the beers you are most likely to find are the ones that had the lower scores, which might explain gluten free beer's unfavourable reputation. I hope this changes in the future and we start seeing a bigger and better range available. Make your voice heard. Talk to your local off licence/gluten free beer supplier and let them know that there is a great range of very drinkable options out there.

I used to drink Glutaner, but it is no longer imported into Ireland. A representative of the previous importer for Glutaner told me that there was a limited market and it was too expensive to continue selling in Ireland. This is such a shame as it was a really decent gluten free beer. If you happen to see it on the shelves - let me know!

Green's, as a gluten free specialist brewery, have done the best job covering all the main types of beer. Chances are that if you have a specific taste preference, you're going to find it in the Green's range. Go Green's! They get a gold star from me.

Unfortunately, Estrella is the beer you will more likely come across because there is clearly an attempt to flood the gluten free beer market via their distribution channels here in Ireland. It is unfortunate that other breweries and importers do not do the same in order to offer a better variety of GF beers to the Irish consumer. In the UK, there is a far bigger variety of gluten free beers, that you just can't get here. That said, things are a lot better than when I started researching for this blog (I never thought I'd be testing 22 beers!). Off licences are really missing a trick by not putting proper investment in advertising or increasing their gluten free range of beers instead of tucking them away in a small corner on a shelf. This is a growing market. They would more than likely get a better demand from consumers if they just made the effort. Advertising works.

As for gluten free beer in pubs - that still needs a lot of help! Some do serve, but more often than not - there are just no options. 

As I come across new gluten free beers, I will update this list accordingly with the aid of my testers. So I hope this resource will continue to grow.


Where to buy? 

You can find gluten free beers dotted around the country's off licences & grocery shops.
(Stock can vary)

O'Briens Off Licences http://www.obrienswine.ie
Carry Out Off Licences http://www.carryout.ie

Independent Off Licences are worth checking out, such as:

Egan's Off Licence http://www.facebook.com/egansofflicence
Martin's Off Licence http://www.martinsofflicence.ie
McHugh's Off Licence http://www.mchughs.ie

Supermarkets:

Tesco
Dunnes
SuperValu
Sainsbury's (N. Ireland)
Asda (N. Ireland) 

Please tell me where you buy your gluten free beer and I'll add it to the list!


Where to buy online?

Martin's Off Licence

http://www.martinsofflicence.ie/gluten-free

McHugh's Off Licence
http://www.mchughs.ie/gluten-free-beer

Eco Direct The Gluten Free Shop
http://www.ecodirect.ie/catalog 

Gluten Free Shop
http://www.gluten-freeshop.co.uk 

Molloys Liquor Stores
http://www.molloys.ie/Shop/?Page=Browse&Find=gluten-free

O'Briens Off Licence
http://www.obrienswine.ie/catalogsearch/result/?q=gluten+free
 

Mikkeller
http://shop.mikkeller.dk/shop/beer/mikkeller-i-wish-ipa

 

Other worthy gluten free beer blogs to read:

http://gfbeerexpert.wordpress.com/about

http://www.glutenfreecailin.com/index.php/2014/01/gluten-free-beer-in-ireland/ 

http://www.coeliacsmatter.com/digestive_conditions_coeliac/cd_management/cd_manage_articles/gluten_free_beer.html

http://dublinwithfoodallergies.blogspot.ie/2012/03/drinking-gluten-free-beer-in-irish-pub.html

Know of any other useful gluten free beer blogs, online gluten free beer shops, great gluten free beer off-licences that should be listed here to help fellow Irish gluten free beer lovers out? Please comment and share your knowledge! Spread the gluten free beer love and don't forget to drink responsibly!  





*Updated 13/06/14 with two new beers : Omission IPA & Glebe Farm Night Mission.