In 2006, Sprecher surprised many when it added two new beers to its line-up: Mbege Ale, an East African style beer, and Shakparo Ale, a West African style beer. Those who expect only more traditional European style beers from Sprecher were a bit perplexed. Not only are these beers not European in origin, they are gluten free (made without any malt or wheat).
History: Sprecher’s two gluten free beers, Mbege Ale and Shakparo Ale were first brewed for Milwaukee’s African World Festival in 2006. Sprecher brewmaster Craig Burge researched African beers then brewed four test batches for sampling by the AWF taste testers. They settled on two: Mbege Ale, which is made with sorghum, banana juice and millet; and Shakparo Ale, which is made with sorghum and millet. In the years since these ales have become part of Sprecher’s lineup of distinctive beers.
Character: When first introduced both beers were critiqued for being too different, too sour, although they had some followers. Indeed, Mbege and Shakparo are very different from smooth lagers and hoppy ales in large part because they are reflective of their place of origin. But, because they are beer, they exhibit characteristics not unlike certain European beers. In fact, their profiles are similar to those of some Belgian beers. Mbege (7%abv) is reminiscent of a Belgian sour with a citrus, melon, fruity, sweet flavor profile, lightness on the palate and nice acid balance. Shakparo (5.7%abv) has more of a cider or winey character, but is also light on the palate with a nice refreshing acid balance. Both beers pair well with food, especially spicy foods or curries, but also cheese and everyday fare such as burgers, sandwiches and salads.
Gluten Free: What makes these beers truly unique is that they are authentically gluten free. These are not beers whose recipes have been altered to be gluten free; they are beers whose original recipe requires no malt, wheat or any products containing gluten. In the years since Sprecher first released Mbege and Shakparo, word of mouth, blogs and reviews have created a cult following among people suffering from celiac disease (people who have an autoimmune disease that makes then gluten intolerant) and craft beer lovers across the country.
Availability: Currently Mbege and Shakparo are available for purchase at Sprecher Brewery, 701 W. Glendale Ave, Glendale, WI, and at many retail outlets throughout the country. If you cannot find either beer, please visit www.sprecherbrewery.com to find contact information for a wholesaler or retailer near your location. Engage in a little grassroots activism: Ask them to carry these beers. Any decent business will if they know there are interested customers.