Is Alcohol Gluten-Free? What About Grain Alcohol?

There are plenty of options, even if you can't drink gluten grain-based alcohol

Which alcoholic beverages are gluten-free?. Kathrin Ziegler/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

As someone with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you actually have plenty of choices in alcoholic beverages.

That being said, experts disagree on the question of whether celiacs and those who are gluten-sensitivve can consume distilled alcoholic beverages originally made from gluten grains.

Alcohol Distilled from Gluten Grains: Safe or Not?

Many authorities, but not all, say that people with celiac disease can safely drink distilled alcoholic beverages made with gluten grains, because distillation removes all of the gluten protein molecules responsible for reactions, rendering the drinks gluten-free.

However, some people react anyway, so you should proceed with caution.

Here's what those experts have to say:

  • The National Institutes of Health's Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign makes a point of saying all distilled alcohol is gluten-free, regardless of its original source.
  • The Canadian Celiac Association concurs, saying in part, "distilled alcoholic beverages such as gin, vodka, scotch whisky and rye whiskey are made from the fermentation of wheat, barley or rye. Since they are distilled, they do not contain prolamins [i.e., gluten proteins] and are allowed unless otherwise contraindicated."
  • However, the Celiac Sprue Association does not necessarily agree. When it comes to alcoholic beverages, the association recommends celiacs consume only potato-based vodka, rum and tequila (all made from non-gluten grain sources), along with preservative- and dye-free wines and brandies and gluten-free beer.

    What Research Shows About Celiac and Distilled Alcohol

    Why such a difference in opinion between celiac experts on distilled alcohol?

    In truth, no study has actually considered whether people with celiac and gluten sensitivity can safely enjoy alcoholic beverages distilled from gluten grains without damage.

    A few researchers have tested gin, whiskey and gluten grain-based vodkas for gluten content, with mixed results — some have found gluten in them and some have not.

    Theoretically, distillation, if it's done properly, should remove all the gluten. But not all makers of alcoholic beverages distill enough times to purify their beverages completely. In addition, some add in a little of the grain "mash" (which does contain gluten) following distillation to improve color and flavor, and there's always the possibility of cross contamination from gluten grains in the manufacturing facility following distillation.

    Regardless of the expert opinions on the safety of gluten-grain-based alcohol products, many people have reported getting serious gluten symptoms after drinking them. 

    More on gluten grain-derived alcohol:

    What Alcoholic Beverages Can You Drink?

    If you're newly diagnosed, I recommend you proceed cautiously to determine if you can tolerate alcoholic drinks distilled from gluten grains, which include most gin, whiskey and some vodkas.

    Don't drink very much initially, and watch carefully for symptoms.

    One symptom reported frequently on various forums (and one I've experienced myself) is extremely fast intoxication and then a hangover that seems wildly out-of-proportion to the amount of alcohol you've consumed. In other words, if you get roaring drunk from one gluten grain-based drink and the next day have the worst hangover you can remember, you may not be able to tolerate gluten grain-based alcohol.

    Fortunately, there are plenty of options for you even if you can't drink gluten grain alcohol. Almost all wines are gluten-free and manufacturers offer plenty of decent gluten-free beer options.

    You also can try vodka made from potatoes and grapes, which many people find they even prefer to grain-based vodkas. Most types of rum are gluten-free, as are some tequilas.

    So if you find you no longer can drink gin (generally made from gluten grains), try a vodka martini instead. And get a nice bottle of wine to enjoy with your gluten-free dinner. Going gluten-free definitely does not mean you need to go on the wagon.

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