A SMALL North Yorkshire brewery is expecting to make tens of millions of pounds after launching its new gluten-free ale in the US.

Award-winning Hambleton Ales, an independent brewery based at Melmerby, near Thirsk, has shipped 20,000 bottles to 33 states in a bid to tap into the US gluten-free food and drinks market, which is assessed will be worth £1.7 billion by 2010.

Coeliacs in Britain, or people who suffer from intolerance of gluten found in wheat, barley and rye, have already benefited from the brewery's gluten-free range, which began with GFA, a wheat-free ale, followed by the launch in July of GFL, its first gluten-free lager.

Gluten intolerance means that some people find that gluten in their diet can cause damage to the process of absorbing nutrients and vitamins in the body.

But although many of the three million confirmed American coeliacs have been clamouring for the product via Hambleton Ales' website, and distributors in the US are enthusiastic, the marketing has not been easy.

Nick Stafford, who with his wife, Sally, started the brewery in 1991, said: "In the absence of an agreed definition of gluten free' approved by the US Food And Drug Administration, the brewery had to re-brand the beer and focused on communicating drinker benefits by calling it Toleration'.

"We were allowed to describe the process, but not use the word free' - for instance we could explain that it was made from sugar and not from barley sugar or rye.' "No matter - the word is quickly getting around. In Britain, where our gluten-free beer is on sale at Asda and selected Tesco supermarkets as well as independent stores, we have doubled our turnover since launch.

"We know of about 13 gluten-free beer brands in the whole world, but there is a tendency to sacrifice taste for the science, where ours is incredibly drinkable. We spent £30,000 perfecting it."

The US launch comes at an exciting time for the brewery, as GFA won gold in the "best innovation" category at Tesco's national beer challenge this year. And, opposite the brewery, a £1 million purpose-built plant is being constructed to cope with the expected increased demand.

Mr Stafford started his venture after he had been made redundant twice in seven months, latterly as a computer software salesman.

He said: "I was inspired by my brother who started a small brewery for his own pub in the Dales. I decided that if he could do it I could - only ten times better!"