Getting ready for holidays: Is there such thing as gluten-free alcohol?

Today I decided to supplement my Instagram post with this blog, so that we can go into a bit more detail here, and of course, to reach those of you without Instagram!

So, the question we raised on Instagram and that I am being asked quite often: "Is there such thing as gluten-free alcohol?" And since Christmas holidays are rapidly approaching too, I thought this is just a perfect time to chat about some of our favourite drinks!

The short answer is, "Yes, indeed there are gluten-free options!"

BEERS (assuming pure beers without additives and/or cross contamination)

Some people diagnosed with celiac disease or other gluten-related disorders are disappointed that they need to give up beer. Nope! You still can drink beer and enjoy your time with friends (once COVID restrictions are over, of course!) However, you will need to look for different kinds than you may used to. “Regular” beer is made out of malted barley (sometimes wheat is added too) and therefore contains gluten. Generally speaking, the beermaking process is a fermentation process, and thus original proteins will remain in the final product. This means that for a gluten-free fermented product, you need to look for drinks made out of gluten-free foods. For example, beers made of rice, sorghum, buckwheat, etc. will be safe for people with celiac disease. Since people with wheat allergy may need to avoid regular beers as well, these options will be safe for them too as they are wheat-free! For the same reason, other fermented purealcoholic beverages, such as hard ciders made from fermented apples or other fruit juices, are sold as gluten-freeliquor (since fruits are naturally gluten-free).

One important note of caution should be given to the labelling of “gluten-free beers”: there are some attempts to produce special barley/wheat beers by breaking down gluten during the manufacturing process. Technically speaking these beers can be considered as “gluten-reduced”, but not necessarily “gluten-free”, as there are no good techniques to detect the residual amount of gluten in these products. Due to associated controversy and uncertainty, Health Canada recommends people on gluten-free diet to avoid these drinks.

WINE (assuming pure wine without additives and/or cross contamination)

Like beers above, all types of regular wine are made through the process of fermentation. Just as with ciders and beers made from gluten-free grains, all pure wines that are made from grapes or other fruit without any additives would be naturally gluten-free (unlike many mixed wine beverages). The biggest point of controversy here is that some manufactures may use wheat as a fining agent at the end of the process, or seal casks with gluten-containing paste for aging the wine. Upon various investigations and scientific analyses of different wines, it was concluded that even if these techniques are used, the amount of gluten is undetectable. Moreso, it seems that both methods are rarely used now, and therefore wine lovers can enjoy their favourite drinks safely!

DISTILLED ALCOHOL (assuming pure alcohol without additives and/or cross contamination)

Distilled alcohol is a bit different from wines and gluten-free beers described above, which are fermented products that can be used as gluten free drinks simply because their original source doesn't contain gluten.

However, in the case of distilled alcohol, all of them (including wheat, rye, and barley-based varieties) are assumed to be gluten-free spirits, since the process of distillation removes the proteins (including gluten) from the final product. These drinks include vodka, tequila, brandy, rum, rye whiskey, Irish whiskey, bourbon whiskey, scotch, gin and others. Unlike simple fermentation, distilled products undergo a stage when the alcohol is separated from the rest of heavy particles (including gluten), thus making the final product gluten-free.

The important thing to remember is that we are all different, and of course, some people may still have adverse reactions to foods for an unknown reason. The internet is full of very concerning and controversial statements that are confusing or just incorrect, so be careful! If you find that wheat vodka doesn’t agree with you, simply switch to vodka from other ingredients, such as potato or corn, and so on. The main point here, however, is that distilled alcohols are gluten-free regardless of their source (due to chemical processes occurring during the process of preparation), unless addition gluten-containing ingredients were added later as part of the flavouring.

In any case, as always make sure to always carefully read labels and avoid drinks you are unsure about. Have a wonderful holidays and stay safe!