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A medical diagnosis was the catalyst for Australia’s first gluten-free beer brewery. Since then, it’s twice beaten conventional beers at international beer awards. Samantha Schelling reports.

Like many blokes, John O’Brien enjoyed a beer on a hot summer’s evening. That is, until a 1998 diagnosis from his doctor of coeliac disease confirmed why he didn't feel 100 per cent.

All was good until O’Brien’s GP then told him that beer was off the menu. In the words of the unassuming O’Brien, he “just wasn’t going to stand for that”.

With the only gluten-free (GF) beer available in Australia being spasmodically imported from Europe, the consulting engineer set about trying to make a GF beer himself.

“But first I needed to convince my wife to move house – I needed a backyard shed where I could experiment!”

O’Brien had no knowledge of brewing, but turned his innovative skills in electronic and security project engineering to learning the craft of creating beer.

Backyard to business

He says initially his beers “weren’t very good”, but careful trial and error gradually resulted in “consistently good GF beer”.

While O’Brien’s original idea had been to brew just for himself, he then began thinking there could be a business opportunity.

Discovering up to 1.5 per cent of Australians are gluten intolerant convinced him this was the case, and O’Brien went looking for investors.

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