Are alcoholic drinks gluten free? Do beer, wine, mixed drinks or spirits contain gluten? The answer is yes... and no.
For the uninitiated, alcohol seems be a grey area when it comes to knowing if it contains gluten or not. For beer, most people know it’s made from barley and is off limits. However, there are now many varieties available on the market that are made using gluten free grains – so beer is not necessarily off limits anymore, you just have to do some research to determine which ones are safe.
But let's examine the rest of the alcoholic beverages to help you make more informed decisions at the liquor store.
Wine made from grapes is naturally gluten free. Although, in some manufacturing processes (mainly European wines) there may be a few ways that gluten can be introduced:
- As a fining agent used to clarify the wine
- In a wheat paste used to seal the oak barrels for aging
Both of these add a tiny amount of gluten to the finished wine, usually approximately less 10 parts per million (ppm), which is well below the 20ppm threshold for a food to be considered gluten-free (and where most people are symptom free).
Almost all wines manufactured in the US do not use these (gluten containing) methods, so you can be more confident in enjoying your glass of wine.
Fortified wines like marsala, vermouth, port and sherry are distilled from wine and are gluten free. However a few varieties may have added colorings or flavorings which could contain gluten, so watch for those. Any time you see added colorings or flavorings ask more questions!
Rice wine and sake are both made from fermented rice. However, some brands do add malt (gluten) to their mixtures, so be sure to check the label.
Any distilled alcoholic beverage, including vodka, gin, whiskey, bourbon, rum, brandy and tequila are considered gluten free. Although its source may initially contain gluten, the distilling process involved in its production removes the gluten in the end product, making it suitable for celiacs to consume. The US Food & Drug Administration recently ruled gluten levels of 20 parts per million (ppm) can now be classified as gluten-free. After extensive testing, this is the level that has been determined that gluten sensitive people should not be symptomatic or cause harm to their body.
Distilling, in its basic terms, is the process of heating a liquid, where the steam produced travels through a coiled apparatus where it is cooled and turned back into a liquid. This liquid or condensation, drips into a collection vessel. Gluten proteins are generally too large and heavy to be evaporated, which is why they cannot end up in the final distilled product.
However, if you're still concerned, below is a list of some spirits that are made from gluten free sources like fruits, vegetables, as well as a variety of other gluten free grains.
Traditionally it is made from wheat, barley and rye. However there are more and more varieties on the market made from non-grain ingredients like:
- Blue Ice (potato)
- Bombora (grape)
- Boyd & Blair (potato)
- Cayman Blue (sugar cane)
- Krome (corn)
- Smirnoff (corn)
Gin is made from a combination of grains (barley, corn, rye), which has been infused with juniper berries and spices. For some alternatives, Maine Distilleries' Cold River Gin is made from potatoes, while G-Vine Gin is made from grapes.
Whiskey is almost always made from barley. However Queen Jennie Whiskey is made entirely from sorghum.
Bourbon is a form of whiskey that is a blend of corn, wheat, barley and rye. I haven’t been able to locate a brand made from a gluten free source, so you may need to do your own research on this one.
Rum & Brandy
Rum is distilled from sugar cane, and brandy is distilled from wine, both are gluten free. Flavored varieties may be an exception to the rule, so be sure to check with the manufacturer if you are unsure.
If the bottle is marked with "100% agave", it is made entirely from the blue agave plant, and is gluten-free. If that is not identified on the label, it is called ‘mixto’ and contains added sugar and potentially gluten (due to cross contamination). So if you are concerned, save yourself the uncertainty and stick with the 100% agave brands.
A liqueur is a spirit (see above) that has been sweetened and flavored, and falls into one of these four categories: Dairy liqueurs (eg. Bailey’s Irish Cream, bean or kernel liqueurs (eg. Amaretto), herb liqueurs (eg. Crème de Menthe) and fruit liqueurs (eg. Grand Marnier). Most should be gluten free, but be sure to check the labels/manufacturers.
Beer is traditionally made with barley, which is not gluten free. However, with a growing demand, there are now many tasty options available on the market using gluten free grains like sorghum, buckwheat, rice, and millet.
If your local liquor store does not carry any gluten free brands, you can always ask them to order some in. Local micro breweries/bars in your area are also great places to check as well. If that’s not an option, most gluten free beers can be ordered online.
Here are a few tasty gluten free brews currently on the market:
- The Alchemist: Celia Saison
- Greens - Dark Ale
- Sprecher Brewing Co. - Shakpro Ale
- Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales - Tweason'ale
- Harvester Fresh Hop IPA
- Epic Brewing Company - Glutenator
- New Planet Gluten Free Beer - Raspberry Ale
- New Planet, Tread Lightly Ale
- Lakefront Brewery: New Grist
- Red Bridge
- Fox Tail Gluten Free Ale
- Green’s Tripel Blonde Ale
Cider is made from fruit juice, mainly from apples, and is gluten free, although (as always) some brands may use barley in its production, so you will need to check the labels to be sure. Here are a few gluten free ciders currently on the market:
- Strongbow Cider
- Crispin Cider
- California Cider Company
- Magners Cider
- Woodchuck Cider
- Fox Barrel Cider
- Ace Pear Cider
- Rock Creek, Big Rock Brewing Company
Mixed drinks can contain barely malt, and are therefore not gluten free, like Bartles & Jaymes and Smirnoff Ice (although Smirnoff Ice made in Canada is gluten free). The majority of wine coolers are gluten free, so you should have a lot of options to choose from.
Mike's Hard Lemonade is a considered to be a bit controversial as it does contain malt. However, according to their proprietary filtration process (similar to distillation), the gluten is removed leaving less the 5ppm in the finished product (which is well below the US government’s threshold of 20ppm to be classified gluten-free).
Here are a few gluten free wine coolers and mixed cocktails currently on the market:
- Arbor Mist Frozen Wine Blenders
- Boone’s & Boone’s Farm Coolers
- Bacardi Breezer
- Smirnoff Ice (Canadian made only)
Knowing which alcoholic beverages contain gluten is getting easier. In August 2013, the US FDA passed a law for foods containing gluten, stating that products must contain 20 ppm or less to be labelled gluten free, and therefore safe for celiacs to consume. However, the FDA does not monitor alcoholic beverages, which falls under the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The TTB's current labeling regulation (TTB Ruling May 24, 2012) has rules regarding manufactures who want to identify their products as gluten free, however there is no mandatory requirement to identify gluten containing ingredients or processes. The TTB does follow the FDA’s recommendations, so you may soon see mandatory labeling for alcoholic beverage in the US.
Although in Canada as of February 2011, any alcoholic beverages containing added allergens, gluten sources or sulphites at level of 10 ppm or more, must be identified on the label (exceptions to this are beer and all malt beverages).
With the popularity of gluten free diets and a greater awareness of gluten allergies, many companies that produce naturally gluten free products, are voluntarily labeling their products as such to help consumers make an easier choice at the liquor store.
Please note: Brands listed as gluten free in this article are current as of date of publication.