Typically, seeing if something is gluten free is simple. You look at what the ingredients are. If they contain gluten, it is not gluten free. It is easy to see what is safe. Or not. One of the rare exceptions is the topic of gluten free alcohol. And it gets complicated. This seems pretty obvious – if you start with an ingredient that contains gluten then it won’t be gluten free. But when it comes to alcohol it goes a little bit deeper than that. We need to get into the actual process that the grain goes through during the process. With a little science thrown in there for good measure to see – is alcohol gluten free?
Fermentation v Distillation
Fermentation is when the sugars are broken down into ethyl alcohol. This applies to gluten grains – wheat, rye, and barley. It is also done with other grains like corn or even potatoes. Distillation is a completely different process. During distillation, the particles separate into volatile and non-volatile. The lighter volatile bits will evaporate. The heavier ones sink to the bottom which is separate and discarded. This is a very simple explanation of the two processes. But there are obvious and important differences. Fermentation does not remove any substances – they are merely converted. And ones that have not transformed still remain. There is no separation. Distillation separates substances and part is actually removed. It can come into contact with gluten after the distillation. One example is any spirit that is aged in beer barrels. So is alcohol gluten free? It depends.
Implication – Fermentation
While we’re looking at this for gluten free alcohol, fermentation is not used only to make alcohol. The best example is sourdough. Some people who do a “gluten-light” diet will do what they call true sourdough. This is a process of fermentation and they claim that it removes the gluten and is safe for them to consume. Yet, it is not safe for people who need to be gluten free. This process does remove some of the gluten, but it does not remove all. Even true sourdough contains well over 20 ppm gluten. Being under 20 ppm gluten is the standard for being gluten free. Any beer that starts with gluten-containing grains should not be considered safe. If you need to avoid gluten for medical reasons. This pertains to any beverage or other substance made with the fermentation process.
Implication – Distillation
Gluten containing grains used at the beginning of the distillation process do not make it to the end. The very simple reason for this is the scientific process of distillation. The heavier bits fall to the bottom and which are discarded. Gluten is a protein. As the gluten protein is not volatile, it will not be collected in the tubes used in distillation. Therefore, gluten is not found in distilled products. Unless handled or processed afterwards in a way that introduces it. So made in this way, is alcohol gluten free? Yes, it meets the standards of less than 20 ppm of gluten.
But it’s not always as simple as that. Another allergy to consider is wheat allergy. This process would not be safe for someone with a wheat allergy. Other people do not feel safe knowing that they are drinking something made from wheat, rye, or barley. In the end, it’s a personal choice when you look at different research that was done and make up your own mind. For more information check out this link.
Gluten Free Alcohol
Keeping the above in mind. This list is put together with the idea of not having gluten-containing grains. That means in any part of the distillation or fermentation process. We recognize that distillation is probably safe for most people avoiding gluten. But it cannot be for others. And the level of comfort will vary from person to person. So here is a list of wheat-free, gluten free alcohol. As much as possible, the included items on this list are made in gluten free facilities. Always do your research. This was designed as your best resource for your safest choices.
Be careful for “gluten removed” beer as this is the fermented version as explained above. The brands below are made from gluten free ingredients and are not made in a facility that processes gluten. Please do your own research and read labels! Beers as your gluten free alcohol:
Ciders are made from apples, pears, or other fruit. This means that they are naturally gluten free. However, some do add barley so make sure to read the labels. Cider as your gluten free alcohol:
Vodka is traditionally made from potatoes. However, many vodkas are made from grains. The ones listed below are made from potatoes, grapes, or other gluten free ingredients. They do not share a facility with gluten made ones. However, do your own research and read labels. Vodka as gluten free alcohol:
Rum is traditionally made from sugar cane. Another alcohol that should be naturally gluten free. However, some brands do use grains that contain gluten. The ones below are not made from cereal grains and do not share a facility with them. Please do your own research when looking into what is safe for you. Be careful with flavored or spiced rums. Rum as gluten free alcohol:
Most gins are made with grains that contain gluten. Keep in mind that distilling is considered to produce a gluten free product even when starting with gluten grains. However for those not comfortable with that, here are some made from ingredients that never contained gluten such as grapes or potatoes. Gin as gluten free alcohol:
Whisky and Bourbon
Unfortunately, this is another that is traditionally made with cereal grains. In other words, grains that contain gluten. I will note again that the distillation process is considered safe and traditional whiskeys and bourbons would qualify. Here is the (very short) list of whiskey and bourbon made from ingredients that are free of gluten. These are not made in dedicated facilities. Always look into every product before consuming. Whiskey as gluten free alcohol:
The good news is that tequila made in the traditional way is gluten free from start to finish. Traditionally made from blue agave, a cactus, it is naturally gluten free. As always look into every product before consuming. Here is a list of tequila made from agave. Tequila as gluten free alcohol:
This list and the information in this article have been provided with the best intention and research. Ultimately it is your decision on which products to consume. Do your due diligence. All brands listed have been linked to the best possible site.
All current research says that the process of distilling takes out the impurities as well as the gluten. Most are distilled multiple times in order to produce the purest possible product.
The decision is ultimately up to you. If you have a wheat allergy or another intolerance, the distillation information may not apply. Always use your best judgment. And look into the information for yourself.
This has been provided to help guide you, not to tell you what to do.
Interested in how to start a gluten free diet? Read our tips here.