SIZE: 16oz Can
ABV: 5.7%, 5.1%, 7.5%
Beer tends to get a bad rap sometimes. You hear it labeled as “empty calories” or “liquid carbs” a lot, but it has also been something slightly out of reach of people who experience a gluten intolerance or dietary restriction. It can feel awkward to hit the pub with the squad after crushing a run if you’re not going to have a beer yourself. But there is a wind of change blowing through town, and the amazing crew at Sufferfest is helping fuel it. For this week’s in-depth review, I am excited to give you a little background on Sufferfest, and let me tell you, they have a really fun story to tell, so let’s dig in.
The dream child of Caitlin Landesberg, Sufferfest was born out of Caitlin’s desire to stay connected to her running community. This community had always been a part of her life, and something she held dear. She was one of the first employee at Strava (a social fitness application for endurance athletes) and a key member of their marketing team. She led the “1st Running” or early adopters program for them, and in 2008 joined the Endurable’s running club to gather insight from users.
As soon as I hit the trails for the first time “I was hooked,” she said. She ramped up her trail running and immediately signed up for the Double Dipsea at Stinson Beach in 2008 as her very first race. This sealed the deal for her. She continued this pursuit and has been an avid runner ever since.
She continued to do this for a couple years, but something began to feel off over time. After her races, she would feel terrible. This wasn’t your “I just ran hard” terrible, but as she describes it “I was breaking down from the inside. I was getting ulcers, my hips were throbbing. I was basically in constant pain”. These symptoms continued to follow her through her races until one day in 2011, during her leg of a relay race, she collapsed. She felt weak and was unable to move, incapable of completing the race. She was taken to the hospital where they discovered that she had been suffering from an autoimmune disease impacting her thyroid. On new medication and the recommendation to rebuild her diet, removing gluten entirely, her health and fitness improved dramatically.
Within weeks she was able to feel the physical changes in her joints and muscles. The ulcers began to subside and she was starting to feel good again. After some time, she began to feel a slightly different kind of discomfort, but it wasn’t physical. Her team and friends were a tight-knit group, and one of their traditions was to celebrate together with beers after events. Since Caitlin had cut out gluten from her diet, she didn’t feel that she was able to really join the team in their tradition. For her, and for many other runners, the celebratory beer represented community, friendship, accountability, motivation, and fun. She missed that and realized that she likely wasn’t the only one feeling this way.
She tried the gluten-free beers and ciders, but they just weren’t the same. The gluten-free beers just didn’t taste like beer, and the ciders were too sugary and sweet. This left her feeling out of touch with her community, and it ate away at her. Her boyfriend at the time (now husband) listened to Caitlin’s continued complaints about the lack of good gluten free-beer until the winter of 2012, when he bought her access to a beer making course and told her “if you don’t like the options, then figure out a way to make something better”. Shout-out to the supportive yet challenging love!
Not one to back down from a challenge (she is a competitive runner, people) she took the course and ended up loving it. She enrolled in more food science and microbiology courses at UC Davis School of Brewing and it opened up a whole new world for her. She learned so much about how food can impact the body, both physically and mentally. She also began to learn more about the naturally occurring health benefits that already exist in beer. With the levels of potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron in beer, beer is essentially a boozy recovery drink that can be pushed even further. At UC Davis she learned about an enzyme that eliminates gluten in beer and this was a game-changer and the genesis of Sufferfest Beer Company
As Caitlin’s recipes improved in taste and quality over the years more of her colleagues, running companions and workout buddies got hold of it and helped spread the word. Caitlin set out to make the healthiest, best-tasting beer out there and which was something that had not really been attempted before.
With more people asking for her beer, Caitlin took the dive into turning the idea of Sufferfest into a real business in late 2015. With the focus on the celebration of achievement and good, quality beer, she began producing and packaging her first beers. In March of 2016 she received her first orders, and within 6 months she had over 200 locations selling her beer. In the midst of this, Sufferfest took their beers and entered them into brewing competitions, and winning. We’re not talking gluten-free beer competitions; their beers were winning against traditional beers for flavor and profile. The team’s combination of quality ingredients and flavors was winning over the skeptics and changing the beer game.
By the end of 2017, Sufferfest had its first 5 employees and was being sold in 600 locations. At the start of 2018, there are 15 employees and distribution across 2 states – California and Colorado.
They started with a base of three beers:
- Taper IPA
- Shakeout Blonde
- Flyby Pilsner
Then, just this past week they released two more amazing beers!
- FKT (Fastest Known Time) Pale Ale
- Repeat Kolsh
Another fun thing, take a look at their mantra:
I love this company’s background and what they are doing. It is great to see two of my favorite things, beer and health, begin to merge together through the amazing work of passionate people. I also love the dedication and ingenuity that Caitlin displayed getting this company going. She didn’t have to start Sufferfest, but her desire for something she could enjoy drove her to create something that thousands, and likely soon to be millions, will enjoy.
Speaking of enjoying, let’s dive into the beers!
Before we get into the looks and taste, let’s look at something that I have never seen with a beer before, a stat line:
Gluten: <5 Parts/Million
Calories: 176 / 12 FL OZ
Carbs: 14G / 12 FL OZ
Protein: 1.7G / 12 FL OZ
They tell you the amount of gluten and protein! That’s amazing! For you macro counters out there, have you ever seen this before? I love it. This is the stuff that sets companies apart, and I really appreciate that Sufferfest includes this information with their beers.
Now that I’ve geeked out a little, let’s move on to the other important stuff:
This was my first try of any of Sufferfest’s beers, I was both impressed and hooked right away. The Shakeout pours a perfect translucent light golden yellow and produces a light, bubble heavy head. It is a good looking beer before you even taste it. When you actually dive in, you get a crisp, citrus presentation, with a subtle hoppy bitterness that follows through. I personally got a hit of slightly before ripe orange – the kind that has that little kick-back citrus taste mixed with a subtle lemon tone. I didn’t expect that being that this is a blonde, but I actually thought it brought a great balance to the overall flavor profile.
To bring in another perspective, my wife described the flavor as “spritely, (in the lively sense – not the pop/soda sense) kind of a lemony taste. I kinda like this”. Since she tends to like the darker more robust beers, this is a big deal, people. It might be one of the first blonde beers that she liked!
Overall it is a very clean beer, and in a blind taste test, you would never have known it was a gluten-reduced/free. There is great body, great presentation, and great flavor. This the kind of beer that you want after a sprint workout, hill climbs, or in my case earlier this week, doing Murph at the gym.
Hats off to Caitlin and her team on this one!
GLUTEN: <5 PARTS/MILLION
CALORIES: 170 / 12 FL OZ
CARBOHYDRATES: 14 G/ 12 FL OZ
PROTEIN: 1.4 G / 12 FL OZ
Woof. This tasted great after my last long training run.
The smell here is classic Pilsner, with a subtle earthy undertone. It pours a crystal clear gold with some good carbonation and produced a lively head. The aroma enhances the taste as you take your first sip, and you’re greeted with a very crisp, grainy flavor. It’s not a particularly strong flavor, but it is delightfully refreshing (if cold enough). The flavor expands and you get a good amount of malt and some subtle hops on the back end. With what feels like a fairly heavy carbonation, you get a good light mouthfeel and the effervescence brings out what I’m guessing is the pils malt.
It may not be the biggest or boldest flavors, but it’s dang good if you just put in some work. #willsufferforbeer!
GLUTEN <5 PARTS/MILLION
CALORIES 209 / 12 FL OZ
CARBOHYDRATES 14.8 G/ 12 FL OZ
PROTEIN 2.21 G/12 FL OZ
This one was my favorite. Yes, I’m a sucker for IPA’s, but the Taper claimed a spot in my top 5 go-to IPA’s.
A deep, semi-translucent caramel color paired with a hardy, sticky head, the Taper is a visibly good looking beer. You get a strong scent of pine and citrus, and there is a clean floral tone as well. When you finally take the dive, you’ll be welcomed by a delicious, hoppy treat. I got a good bitter bite at the front end, but it was balanced and in no way overpowering. At 67.3 IBU’s, you’re not going to get flooded with hoppiness, but I thought it was really approachable and made the beer easy to enjoy.
The flavor also has great tones of bright orange and maybe a little pineapple. It is super clean and leaves a zesty citrus aftertaste begging you to take another sip. I know it’s called Taper, but I’m considering it a Staple.
That wraps the Sufferfest story and beer reviews! I hope you enjoyed this little hybrid post, and let us know if you’d like to see more like this.
We’ll be posting some more reviews in the next few weeks, but in the meantime, be sure to get out there and Unleash Your Adventure!