Drinking Gluten-Free: Which Alcoholic Beverages are Safe to Sip? (Part 2)

Photo: Josh Staiger/Flickr

In our last post, we discussed how, for any type of food to be gluten-free, you should be able to answer “No” to the following questions:

  1. Is it made with ingredients that contain gluten?
  2. Is there a risk of cross-contamination?

We then took a look at the different categories of alcoholic beverages, and examined how each was made. Now let’s revisit each category, and answer the above questions:

  1. Beer: Beer is usually made from either wheat, barley, or rye, all of which contain gluten. During the brewing process, the gluten remains in the beer, which means any regular beer is not gluten-free. Some beers are made with barley and attempt to remove the gluten during the brewing process, but it’s not clear whether these beers are actually safe to drink (and cannot be labeled gluten-free according to the TTB). Best to stick with beers that are certified gluten-free and made from naturally gluten-free ingredients.
  2. Wine: Wine is made from grapes, which do not contain any gluten. However, concerns have been raised because some vintners ferment the wine in barrels sealed with wheat paste, could potentially cross-contamination. However, this practice is not as common in the US, the wheat paste used is minimal, and research performed by a group of dieticians found that wine made using this method tested below the recommended levels of gluten. This means that most wines are naturally gluten-free and safe to drink (according to the CSANFCA, and CDF).
  3. Liquor: Liquor can be made from a variety of ingredients, some of which may contain gluten. Whiskey, for example, can be made from wheat, barley, or rye. Liquors are made by distilling the fermented mixture, separating the water from the alcohol, which is more volatile and therefore boils at a lower temperature. Theoretically, because gluten has a very low volatility, this process should separate out the gluten as well. However, this is not foolproof, and there is also a risk of cross contamination, particularly because some distilleries add back some of the grain mash for color and flavoring. The safest bet is to drink liquors that don’t use gluten-containing grains, including potato-based vodkas, rum, and tequila (as well as some other, less popular beverages), and avoiding liquors like whiskey, gin, and some vodkas (again, according to the CSANFCA, and CDF)
  4. Liqueurs: Liqueurs are made by mixing distilled spirits with other ingredients. Since it’s difficult to determine what was fermented, as well as what was added, probably best to avoid the liqueurs and stick to gluten-free mixers like juices and sodas.

So, if you want to drink alcohol, how do you make sure to avoid gluten? Follow these simple rules:

  1. If you aren’t sure, don’t drink it!
  2. If you want to be as safe as possible, stick to alcohol that is specifically labeled or advertised as gluten-free.
  3. Only drink beer that’s brewed from gluten-free ingredients and is labeled as such.
  4. Wine is gluten-free in nearly all cases. Check the winery’s website if you’re in doubt.
  5. Avoid liquors made from gluten-containing ingredients. Stick to potato vodka, rum, and tequila (as well as a few others).
  6. Avoid Liqueurs.