Kosher-for-Passover beer? Maybe for next year

When Bryan Meadan was diagnosed with celiac disease, he did what any beer-lover would do: He started to brew his own gluten-free beer.

Meadan at the Mivshelet Ha’am shared brewing facility where he brews his gluten-free Buckwheat Malt Ale. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Meadan at the Mivshelet Ha’am shared brewing facility where he brews his gluten-free Buckwheat Malt Ale.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Eight years ago, Bryan Meadan, who lives in Har Halutz, near Karmiel, was diagnosed with celiac disease – an immune response to gluten that can cause serious damage to the intestine.
Since gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains, he was forced to make major changes in his diet.
“The thing I missed most was pizza,” he says, “but I also found it hard to go without a good, cold glass of beer on a hot summer evening.”
How his search for a gluten-free beer may lead to all of us enjoying kosher- for-Passover beer by next year is a story worth telling.
The Montreal-born Meadan, 51, says that at first he just wanted a brew that would taste like the beer he loved and wouldn’t cause a painful celiac reaction.
“There were a few gluten-free beers available in Israel, but they were all imported, expensive and not very good,” he explains.
So he did what any beer-lover would do: He started to brew his own.
He worked with buckwheat (kusemet in Hebrew), a grain that does not contain gluten. “I brewed the beer at home, experimenting at first with buckwheat, quinoa and honey. The first batch was terrible, the second was good, and the third was excellent, just the kind of beer I was looking for.”
Apparently other beer drinkers – and not only celiac patients – loved the beer as well. Meadan began selling the beer and eventually moved his brewing to the Mivshelet Ha’am shared facility in Even Yehuda. He changed the recipe, dropping the honey because it was expensive, and the quinoa because he thought it added an unnecessary sourness to the beer.
“Today we use only buckwheat and silan [date syrup],” he explains, “and lots of hops. We malt our own organic buckwheat – that is, we begin the sprouting process, which takes around two weeks to make enough for a batch of 200 liters of beer. We can’t make enough beer to meet the demand.”
Meadan Buckwheat Malt Ale is sold in several restaurants and stores in the Galilee and the Central Region, and in the Olam Hateva store near Mahaneh Yehuda in Jerusalem.
I tried the beer and found it had a very hoppy aroma (which I like), and a gentle bitter aftertaste. Not being used to the flavor of malted buckwheat, my first impressions were of bitterness without the “taste” of beer. I can understand where some beer drinkers would find this a bit of a hurdle. Still, Meadan Beer has its own style that would appeal to people who appreciate strong hops with a very malty taste.
By now, you’re probably asking: “What does this have to do with kosher- for-Passover beer?” Beer, to start at the beginning, is a delicious potion first brewed by humans maybe 7,000 years ago (archeologists have found traces of beer in ancient pottery vessels, but alas, not enough to enjoy with a portion of French fries).
The problem for Jews is that beer depends on the fermentation of barley or wheat, and is therefore the granddaddy of hametz, leavened grain, which is strictly forbidden for the seven (or eight) days of Passover.
The thing is, the same qualities that make a beer gluten-free have the potential to make it kosher for Passover.
The rabbis have decided that only fermentation in the following grains can make food hametz: wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oats. And these are the same grains that contain gluten. (Note: Even though oats are inherently gluten- free, they are usually contaminated with wheat gluten during growing and processing.) Therefore, if a food item is gluten- free, it probably cannot be hametz, and is therefore kosher for Passover.
“Not so fast there,” Meadan warns me. “There are other factors as well.
In the first place, even though buckwheat cannot become hametz, it is considered a legume [kitniya], which means that many Ashkenazi Jews do not eat it on Passover. There is also the problem that my beer looks like any other beer, and the rabbis may withhold certification because ‘people will see observant Jews drinking Meadan beer on Passover and think it’s okay to drink any beer.’ “But the biggest obstacle,” he continues, “is that I need a brewing facility which is free from any wheat and barley in order to get kosher-for-Passover certification.
The Mivshelet Ha’am facility, where I brew now, certainly does not qualify. There is no alternative: I have to open my own brewery.”
He is already in touch with a religious council in the area where he lives. One of the rabbis has told him that Passover certification is indeed possible – as long as the yeast is fresh, i.e., not having been used for a previous brewing, and there is no hametz on the premises.
In the meantime, Meadan, who immigrated to Israel in 1982 and has four children, is keeping his day job as a computer programmer and website builder for his own company, Cyber Steps.
Still, he has crunched some numbers and believes that demand for kosher- for-Passover beer would be huge.
“Our own poll shows that some 40 percent of Israelis would drink kosher- for-Passover beer if it were available.
For one week a year, we will be the only beer on the shelf. Even people who don’t care about the kashrut will drink it – and they will continue to buy it year-round because it’s good beer. The export potential to major Jewish centers is also there.”
But everything depends on him getting his own brewing facility.
“I am looking for investors who will also be able to work as partners,” he says. “Not only will our own facility enable us to approach the kosher-for-Passover market, but we will also be able to meet the daily demand for a quality gluten-free, celiac-friendly beer. Believe me, most people who are limited to drinking gluten-free brews rarely get the opportunity to taste something like this.”
Who knows? If Meadan is able to achieve his dream, beer-lovers at this time next year could be enjoying a “hoppy Passover.”
Bryan Meadan can be reached via his website at
The writer is the owner of MediawiSe, an agency for advertising and direct marketing in Jerusalem. He blogs on Israeli craft beers at