How Holidaily Brewing created a gluten-free utopia in Golden – The Know

Terri Grenola, co-owner and chef at Espy’s Street Eats, displays how to make a plate of tacos at Holidaily Brewing Company on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 in Golden. Espy’s Street Eats is one of two gluten-free food trucks that frequent Holidaily Brewing Company, which is also gluten-free. (Rachel Woolf, Special to The Denver Post)

There is a corner in Golden where gluten does not exist. In this gluten-free utopia (glutopia?), the sun shines brighter, the mountains rise higher, the sky burns a few shades bluer. It’s a downright bucolic wonderland for the wheat-free set. A regular Xanagluten-free.

Its residents, Holidaily Brewing Company and its small posse of gluten-free food trucks, are a happy, peppy sort of people. They smile big smiles and overuse words like “camaraderie,” “community” and “support.” They cheerlead and promote each other. They are so, so happy to be talking to me about their gluten-free brewery, food trucks and community.

That is, until I use the word “trend” to describe what’s been happening on the gluten-free front over the past several years. Then it’s not so peppy. Then it gets a little hostile.

Without a doubt, for those with celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, eating gluten-free is serious business. But while somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of us are avoiding or reducing the amount of gluten we eat, only about 6 percent of us are doing so because it’s truly medically necessary.

Gluten-free evangelists may not like calling this a fad diet, but the term fits. Most people do not need to avoid gluten for medical reasons, and research — including a recent study published in the Gastroenterology journal — has found that there are no negative effects of eating gluten for people who don’t have celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. For the majority of us, studies and experts say, gluten-free diets aren’t actually healthier after all.

Anecdotally, though, people swear by it. Ditching wheat changed their lives. They feel so much better, have more energy and eradicated chronic health problems. There are those people, yes, and there are also the people who really, truly must avoid gluten, and then there’s the rest of us, the ones who cut out gluten to shed some pounds, but pizza just tastes too good.

Whether we use the word “trend” or not, where does that leave us? Are we ready to let glutenous bread back on our plates? Or is this new way of eating sticking around?

Bags of buckwheat and millet marked “certified gluten-free,” seen at Holidaily Brewing Company on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 in Golden. (Rachel Woolf, Special to The Denver Post)

Gluten-free’s meteoric rise

It usually goes something like this: We vilify something, like, say, fat, and replace it with something else, like, say, carbs. That was the 1980s and 1990s. When we realize we were wrong, we do an about-face. We load up on fat and ditch the carbs. That’s been the 2000s and 2010s, when Atkins became a household name and gluten became a dirty word.

From 2009 to 2014, the number of people eating gluten-free tripled. There are a lot of reasons for this, but a big one is perceived health. For awhile there, we thought eating gluten-free was healthier, and millions upon millions of us gave up the gluten in an attempt to lose weight. (Spoiler alert: We’re still fat.)

“A gluten-free diet is not equivalent with being healthier,” said Dr. Marisa Stahl, pediatric gastroenterologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “You can see more weight gain and obesity with a gluten-free diet.”

There’s no question that the gluten-free lifestylers (those choosing to drop gluten for non-medical reasons) have driven the trend (yes, I used that word). The gluten-free product industry experienced tremendous growth over the past couple of decades. Estimates differ on the exact valuation, but they all agree that the industry is worth multiple billions of dollars. So, yeah, we’ve spent a lot of money on our quinoa pasta and rice flour bread.

“When someone’s on a fad diet because they think it’s healthy, they do it only as long as it’s convenient,” said Dr. Edwin Liu, director of the Colorado Center for Celiac Disease at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “People who have celiac, the diet has to be very strict. They can’t just do it when they feel like it.”

Ironically, the surge in popularity of gluten-free diets has made it more difficult for those who suffer from celiac and other gluten allergies to eat out because they may not be taken as seriously. With the fad diet association, some restaurants don’t do their due diligence to keep food truly gluten-free, like using separate production and storage areas and avoiding cross-contamination.

Still, many restaurants have tried to embrace this sort of eating. Gluten-free options are as ubiquitous on restaurant menus as sliders and brussels sprouts these days, although they do usually come with a heftier price tag.

Sara Horsman, owner and chef at Dedicated Bistro & Bakery, poses in her food truck at Holidaily Brewing Company on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 in Golden. Dedicated Bistro & Bakery is one of two gluten-free food trucks that frequent the gluten-free brewery. (Rachel Woolf, Special to The Denver Post)

The Golden glutopia

But back to the gluten-free bubble in Golden.

Karen Hertz opened Holidaily Brewing Company in February 2016. Two things led her to this destiny: one, she worked in the beer industry (at Coors), and two, she got cancer.

After her (successful) treatments to annihilate the cancer, doctors advised her to eliminate gluten from her diet. This was all well and good, but the woman worked in the beer industry! There weren’t that many gluten-free beers available at the time, and the ones she tried were, well, lacking. So Hertz made it her mission to home-brew a great gluten-free beer.

You see where this story goes. She succeeded, opening Holidaily in an industrial park in the shadow of North Table Mountain. But the story keeps going.

People get hungry when they’re drinking beer, and while Hertz tried getting food trucks to come serve her little corner, there just weren’t enough willing to feed their tiny, gluten-free population seven nights a week. That’s when the customers decided to make some career changes of their own.

Holidaily’s Favorite Blonde Ale, photographed at Holidaily Brewing Company on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 in Golden. Holidaily is a gluten-free brewery. (Rachel Woolf, Special to The Denver Post)

First, it was Patty Herrera and Terri Grenda. The Holidaily regulars (who, by the way, are not gluten-free eaters; they just really love the beer) were hanging out at the taproom and got hungry on a night when a truck wasn’t around. On a whim, they decided to start their own gluten-free food truck.

“I love cooking, and I love people, so we decided to give it a shot, and it’s been so rewarding,” Herrera said. “This crowd appreciates what we do more than other people. When people leave, instead of going to their cars, they come and say thank you. It’s that level of appreciation.”

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Herrera’s and Grenda’s truck — actually an open barbecue trailer named Itsy Bitsy — is called Espy’s Street Eats, and it serves Mexican barbecue fusion every Wednesday outside the taproom. It wasn’t hard to make the tacos, tamales and enchiladas that Herrera grew up eating gluten-free. She just subs out some flours and uses a Blanco tequila to marinate the smoked chicken.

Soon, Sara Horsman, another regular, saw the need for more food options. A self-diagnosed gluten-intolerant who’s been gluten-free for the past five years, Horsman, too, started a truck on a whim. She focuses on creating safe versions of the comfort foods that gluten-free people normally can’t order. The biggest seller at her Pinterest-worthy truck, Dedicated Bistro & Bakery, is the fish and chips, but the sweets go quick, too.

Now, thanks to its intrepid customers, Holidaily has food trucks serving the brewery and taproom every day. And it’s not just the gluten-free food options that are expanding. In May, Holidaily moved into a 10,000-square-foot facility catty-corner to the existing brewery and taproom. It went from a capacity of 190 barrels of fermentation at a time to up to 10,000 barrels. While its beer is currently only available in Colorado, it keeps getting requests to expand out of state.

“We just couldn’t keep up with the demand,” Laura Ukowich, Holidaily’s operations manager, said of the need to build the new facility.

Their reputation is likely to continue to grow: Holidaily’s Boombastic Hazy IPA just took gold in the Great American Beer Festival’s gluten-free category. The beer is good, whether you care about gluten or not.

The people at Holidaily, though, care about gluten. Or, more specifically, avoiding it. They are zealous, if not cheery, apostles for the gluten-free way of life. Horsman, the customer who started the fish-and-chips truck, uses the term “we” when she talks about the brewery. A family; a team. She’s the one who doesn’t like it when I call the gluten-free diet a trend.

But, really — isn’t it? And if it is a trend, shouldn’t it be winding down right about now?

A line-up of beer at the gluten-free Holidaily Brewing Company on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 in Golden. The brewery recently won a gold medal — for its Boombastic Hazy IPA — at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival. (Rachel Woolf, Special to The Denver Post)

The future of gluten-free

Dr. Liu said that, yes, for the majority of people, eating gluten-free is a trend. But it’s a trend he believes will stick around.

“I don’t think it’s going to die off,” Liu said. “These fads tend to come and go, but there’s always a base of people who need to be gluten-free for medical reasons.”

The celiac experts at Children’s Hospital Colorado said that the number of people who need to be gluten-free for medical reasons is only going to grow. The reason is a combination of doctors being better at diagnosing these types of issues and environmental factors that will increase the incidence of celiac and other autoimmune diseases.

If we look at the numbers, well, they’re big. Market research projections have the American gluten-free products market doubling between 2018 and 2025, which translates to several billions of dollars. Surveys conducted by the National Restaurant Association, however, reveal a decreasing percentage of chefs calling gluten-free cuisine a hot trend, falling from 74% in 2013 to 44% in 2018.

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Based on my conversations with local chefs, some are seeing fewer requests for gluten-free dishes these days, but Jennifer Peters, founder of the entirely gluten-free restaurant Just BE Kitchen (who also does not, by the way, have a gluten allergy) says that her sales have steadily climbed since opening in April 2017.

“Our business has been growing. I almost feel like it’s no longer a trend, it’s a way of life, and it’s not going anywhere,” Peters said. “At the beginning, it was a fad, and now it’s a lifestyle commitment.”

The glutopia crew at Holidaily agrees with Peters. It’s changing lives, Horsman tells me hotly. Eating gluten-free is most definitely not a trend.

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On my way out, I again marveled at their beautiful little corner of Golden. Then I grabbed a gluten-filled biscuit on my way home.

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