Your guide to gluten-free alcohol: Bottoms up

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Enjoying social drinking can be difficult when one has to consider food allergies and intolerances, but it doesn’t have to be a minefield. This comprehensive guide will help you navigate the world of gluten-free alcohol safely, moderately and enjoyably for everyone.

A martini with pomegranate garnish and whipped cream.
Gluten-free pomegranate martini. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

In case you were wondering, gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, which can trigger health issues like celiac disease and gluten sensitivity in some individuals. As many alcoholic beverages are made from gluten-containing grains, identifying safe alcoholic options is crucial.

This article aims to be a comprehensive guide to gluten-free alcoholic beverages, providing insights into which drinks are made from gluten-free grains and, therefore, safe to consume on a gluten-free diet. It will also clarify common misconceptions and help people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity make informed choices when it comes to ordering alcohol.

What makes alcohol gluten-free

The gluten status of alcohol depends largely on the specific processing methods, as well as the starting ingredients. While wheat, barley and rye may be used in the production of alcohol, the distillation process of these drinks typically removes gluten proteins, making distilled liquors such as regular and infused vodka, gin, rum and tequila gluten-free.

Distillation is a purification process that separates compounds based on differences in boiling points. Alcohol’s boiling point allows it to vaporize, leaving behind heavier proteins like gluten that then get discarded with the waste.

In contrast, alcoholic beverages made from naturally gluten-free ingredients — such as potato, corn, grapes and sugar cane — are considered as naturally gluten-free alcohols. They are inherently safe for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

For non-distilled alcoholic beverages like beer, hard cider and wine, the story may be a bit different. In these cases, the question comes down to the liquor base. In the case of beer, traditional beers are made from wheat, rye and barley and therefore contain gluten. Luckily for gluten-free beer lovers, today there are gluten-removed or specially crafted gluten-free options available made from alternative grains such as sorghum or millet.

Unlike beer, most hard ciders are gluten-free as they are mainly fermented from apples. Similarly, wine is generally gluten-free since it’s fermented from grapes. However, in the case of both of these alcohols, it is important for consumers to be aware of hidden sources of gluten and review if they have been treated or stored in ways that could introduce gluten.

In all cases, those with severe intolerances or celiac should check labels for gluten-free certification. One should always be mindful of potential cross-contamination in facilities that process gluten-containing products.

Types of gluten-free alcohol

A group of glasses with different types of drinks.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Today’s variety of gluten-free alcoholic beverages ensures that those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can still enjoy a range of drinks safely. This list will help you navigate the world of gluten-free drinking:

Distilled spirits

Distilled spirits, like vodka, rum, gin and tequila, undergo a distillation process that typically removes gluten, making them safe for those on a gluten-free diet. Notably, vodkas and rums made from inherently gluten-free ingredients like potatoes and sugarcane are also available.

Gluten-free beer selections

Gluten-free beers are crafted using grains such as sorghum, buckwheat and millet instead of wheat or barley. It’s important to note that beers labeled as gluten-removed may not be safe for all individuals with gluten sensitivities.

Cider and seltzer options

Hard ciders, made primarily from apples or other fruits, are inherently gluten-free. Similarly, hard seltzers are also suitable for a gluten-free diet owing to their fruit-based composition.

Wines and champagne varieties

Wines and champagnes are typically gluten-free as they are made from fermented grapes. Wines aged in barrels sealed with wheat paste may pose a risk, although this is rare.

“It’s always a good idea to keep some gluten-free choices on hand when hosting. Rum and tequila are great options that aren’t made with grains, so you can easily and safely mix up mojitos or margaritas everyone can drink. Vodka is another excellent choice, but be careful that it isn’t made with grains; a potato or corn-based vodka is the safest choice.”

— Susannah Brinkley Henry, Feast + West

Tips for drinking gluten-free

A group of people toasting beer bottles outdoors.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.

For individuals with celiac disease or severe gluten sensitivity, eating out gluten-free and choosing alcohol that is safe to consume requires careful consideration. To be safe, it’s best to opt for gluten-free spirits such as:

  • 100 percent agave tequila: A pure form, without gluten-containing additives. To ensure it’s free from gluten, select tequila labeled as 100 percent agave.
  • Gluten-free vodka: Typically distilled from corn, potatoes or grapes.
  • Gluten-free rum: Made from sugarcane and safe if not flavored with glutenous additives. Makes for a good base for tropical cocktails.
  • Gluten-free hard cider: Usually a safe choice, as it is made from fermented apples.

For mixed drinks, individuals must ensure that all components, including mixers and liquors like Campari or Jägermeister, are free from gluten. The FDA regulates labeling, so verifying that each ingredient complies with gluten-free standards is crucial. Here are additional tips:

  • Read labels carefully: Look for gluten-free certification.
  • Avoid cross-contamination: Educate the bartender on your requirements.
  • Remain vigilant with cocktails, as mixers may contain gluten.
  • Remember that distillation removes gluten proteins, making most distilled spirits safe; however, watch out for any post-distillation additives.

“As a gluten-free foodie myself, I make sure to triple-check how brands make their spirits so I don’t run into issues — many vodkas are made with grains. Titos is one of my favorite gluten-free Vodka brands and is easy to mix with juice or liqueurs to make easy cocktails.” 

— Shelby, Fit as a Mama Bear

Bottoms up

When considering gluten-free alcohol, individuals have numerous choices. Tito’s Vodka and Patrón Silver are popular distilled spirits that are inherently gluten-free. For those who prefer something fruitier, Blue Curacao and Amaretto are excellent liquor alternatives. One can also enjoy a glass of wine or celebrate with champagne, which is safe for a gluten-free diet. As with all allergies, one should always check labels for hidden gluten and drink moderately. Whether attending a social event or relaxing at home, being gluten-mindful will allow everyone to partake without worry.

Ksenia Prints is a food writer, blogger, photographer and recipe developer from Montreal, Canada. She blogs over At the Immigrant’s Table, a food blog showcasing healthy, beautiful international recipes for adventurous home cooks. She loves to highlight ethnic cuisines and immigrant cultures by working with chefs from relevant countries and adapting those recipes to gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, sugar-free and other dietary restrictions.

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