In this post I will attempt to answer your most pressing questions when it comes to which alcoholic beverages are safe to consume when you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity and you’re on a gluten-free diet. Please check labels and do your own homework on any product discussed as information can rapidly change. Please see my disclosures.
I’m not much of a drinker, but on occasion I like to imbibe. I guess you could call me a social drinker. I enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail every now and then, especially when I’m out with my friends.
I find information about what is and isn’t gluten free very confusing when it comes to alcoholic beverages. I don’t know what’s safe, what’s not safe, and rarely does a bottle of wine have a label that I’m able to read and decode.
In fact, when it comes to purchasing and drinking liquor, it’s up to you, the consumer, to do your homework to decode what isn’t and isn’t gluten free.
In this article, I answer 11 of the most common questions I get about alcohol. I will attempt to answer them to the best of my ability and as clearly as possible.
Q1: I heard distilled liquor is always gluten free. Is this true?
Technically all distilled alcohol is gluten free even if it’s distilled from a grain that contains gluten (wheat, rye, barley or spelt). This means that if the label on a bottle says distilled, it is safe for you to drink it.
However, a lot of people, especially people with celiac disease, are nervous to drink anything that is distilled from a gluten grain. I, too, feel this way, even if it’s irrational thinking.
Whiskey (malted barley), bourbon (wheat), and scotch (malted barley), for example, are distilled from gluten-containing grains.
Some brands of vodka are also distilled from wheat (including Absolut, Grey Goose, Ketel One, Orloff, SKYY and Smirnoff), although you can get vodka distilled from corn, grape, rice or potato too. Vodka brands that are distilled from gluten-free grains include Tito’s (corn), Ciroc (grape), and Chopin (potato).
Gin is typically made from a combination of wheat, rye, barley and/or corn.
Again, technically all distilled alcohol is gluten free, but you should drink only what you feel safe drinking.
Q2: What types of liquor are typically distilled from gluten-free grains?
There are several alcoholic beverages that are distilled from gluten-free grains, including:
- Brandy: Brandy is distilled from grapes and fermented fruits, although added coloring and flavors may not be free from gluten.
- Cognac: Cognac is distilled from grapes. Avoid cognac with added colorings and flavors.
- Rum: Rum is typically derived from cane sugar. Watch out for added coloring, spices and flavors, which may not be gluten free.
- Tequila: Tequila is naturally gluten free as it’s distilled from agave. Enjoy those margaritas!
Avoid any of these distilled beverages if flavorings, such as malt, have been added to the final product.
Q3: Is wine gluten free?
Wine is almost exclusively made from grapes and is therefore naturally gluten free and safe for anyone on a gluten-free diet.
Wine barrels used to age wine are often sealed with a wheat paste, which could leach into the wine, although if it did, it would be a very trace amount likely below the 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten threshold set by the FDA. If you don’t react when drinking wine, you can continue to drink wine without worry. If you find yourself feeling sick after a glass of wine, the wheat paste seal could be the reason and you should avoid wine aged in oak barrels.
Q4: Is beer gluten free?
Beer is fermented (vs. distilled) and almost always comes from wheat, rye, or barley, or any combination of these grains. It is not gluten free.
Q5: What brands make safe, gluten-free beer?
While beer is off-limits to those on a gluten-free diet, there are several dedicated gluten-free breweries that enable you to still still enjoy beer. The following beer brands use dedicated gluten-free equipment and only gluten-free ingredients when making their beers.
I can attest that Holidalily tastes like craft beer despite it being made exclusively from buckwheat, millet, sorghum and other gluten-free grains.
Here is a list of the dedicated gluten-free breweries in the U.S. or Canada (please let me know if I’ve missed any by leaving a comment):
- Alt Brew (Madison, Wisconsin)
- Aurochs Brewery (Emsworth, Pennsylvania)
- Bierly Brewing (McMinnville, Oregon)
- Burning Brothers Brewing (St. Paul, Minnesota)
- Eckert Malting & Brewing (Chico, California)
- Evasion Brewing (McMinnville, Oregon)
- Ghostfish Brewing Co (Seattle, Washington)
- Glutenberg (Montreal, Canada)
- Ground Breaker Brewing (Portland, Oregon)
- Holidaily Brewery (Golden, Colorado)
- Moonshrimp Brewing (Portland, Oregon)
- Neff Brewing (Tulsa, Oklahoma)
- Rolling Mill Brewing Company (Middleton, Ohio)
Q6: Can I safely consume “gluten-removed” beers?
Gluten-removed beers, or beers “crafted to remove gluten”, are beers made from barley and/or other gluten grains. They are all the rage these days as it’s a low-cost way for traditional brewers to market and sell their beer to the gluten-free community, and it’s a way for the gluten-free community to enjoy beer that tastes exactly like the beer they remember.
Manufacturers of these confusing gluten-removed beers use enzymes, such as Clarity Ferm or Brewers Clarex, that are marketed to breweries and promise to break down the gluten protein to the point that it’s undetectable or “significantly reduced” in the final product.
However, many experts in the gluten-free community caution anyone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity from drinking gluten-removed beer for many reasons.
For starters, there is no validation testing available to understand if these beverages are harmful to someone with celiac disease, making it difficult to assess if they’re safe or not. There is no guarantee that all the gluten has been removed or if it’s simply been “significantly reduced.” There is a difference!
A 2019 study attempted to understand if traditional testing methods could detect and quantify gluten in hydrolyzed foods. The researchers of the study concluded, “It is currently impossible to accurately quantitate gluten in fermented/hydrolyzed foods and assess its potential immunopathogenicity using antibody-based methods.”
Furthermore, a study by the Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO) found that some people with celiac disease reacted to the gluten-removed beer, and this suggested that there may be “residual peptides in the product that may be specifically recognized by persons with celiac disease.”
As of this time, persons with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities should avoid gluten-removed beers. Only gluten-free beers brewed using gluten-free grains on dedicated gluten-free equipment are safe for consumption for people on the gluten-free diet.
Q7: I heard Corona beer is gluten free. Is it true?
When I heard this I was astonished, as Corona beer is made with barley. However, according to information published on Wikipedia, testing conducted by the Argentine Coeliac Association (ACELA) and the Swedish National Food Agency found several brands of beer including Carlsberg, Corona, and Pilsner Urquell contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, which the FDA says would allow them to use the label “gluten free.”
In all honesty, I’m completely skeptical of these beers and avoid them. Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy yes or no answer for you, but if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, why take the risk?
Q8: Are hard ciders gluten free?
Yes, hard ciders are fermented from apples and other fruits or fruit juices and are therefore naturally gluten free. Always check labels and/or with the manufacturer if the labeling is unclear.
Q9: Are wine coolers gluten free?
The majority of wine coolers are made from barley malt (and are “malted”) and therefore they are not gluten free. Some wine cooler brands tout that they have been crafted to remove the gluten, including brands like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Seagram’s Escapes. See Q6 to understand if it’s safe to consume any fermented beverage in which the gluten was removed from the final product.
Q10: Is sake gluten-free?
According to Beyond Celiac, “premium” sake is gluten free as it’s fermented from rice. If it’s not labeled “premium” sake, you may need to do further investigating with the manufacturer. Non-premium sake is allowed to add other additives and flavors and therefore may contain gluten. For a list of premium sake brands, visit this site.
Q11: How is alcohol regulated?
While the FDA regulates gluten food labeling in the U.S., the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulates alcoholic beverages.
The TTB says beverages that do not contain any gluten ingredients can be labeled “gluten free” as long as good manufacturing processes were employed to avoid cross contact with gluten.
The Bureau also says that beverages made with gluten grains where the gluten is removed, such as the cases of gluten-removed beer, must use the words, “Processed” or “Treated” or “Crafted” to remove gluten together with a qualifying statement that informs consumers that (1) the product was fermented or distilled from a grain that contains gluten; (2) the gluten content of the product cannot be verified; and (3) the product may contain gluten. (Source: TTB)
Got More Questions?
If I didn’t answer your question, please leave a comment and let me know. I plan to add to this FAQ over time. Cheers!