Can You Drink Bourbon on a Gluten-Free Diet?

Learn whether you can safely sip on bourbon

glass of bourbon on ice
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If you're on a gluten-free diet, you may wonder if bourbon fits in. Bourbon—a form of whiskey that's considered "America's native spirit"—must be made from at least 51 percent corn, which is a gluten-free grain. However, the rest of the mash that goes into bourbon (up to 49 percent of the total) generally comes from wheat, barley, and rye, all of which are, of course, the three main gluten grains.

But does that mean bourbon isn't gluten-free? It depends on whom you ask. Experts disagree on whether people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity can safely drink bourbon and other alcoholic beverages distilled from gluten grains.

What the Experts Say About Bourbon and Gluten

The National Institutes of Health and several major celiac societies in the United States say that distilled alcohol is considered gluten-free because the process of distillation removes the harmful gluten protein.

However, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which regulates alcoholic beverages in the United States, has a current policy that beverages made from gluten grains cannot legally carry the claim "gluten-free," since gluten (or fragments of the gluten protein) remaining in such drinks may not be detected easily with existing testing technology.

Instead, producers are allowed to truthfully explain on the label how the alcohol was treated in order to remove gluten, as long as it also contains a disclaimer that the product may contain gluten and the label is obvious.

The advantage of this is that if an alcoholic drink contains a gluten-free label, you know no gluten has been used in any part of the manufacturing process.

To Drink or Not to Drink Bourbon

The majority of people with celiac or gluten sensitivity don't seem to react to alcohol distilled from gluten grains, but a substantial minority do react, which is why there's some disagreement between the experts as to whether or not it's safe.

It's not clear how many people get sick from these beverages, but it's enough that if you're new to the diet, you should try bourbon and other gluten-grain-containing alcoholic beverages with major caution, especially at first.

A Corn Bourbon Option

There's one other potential option if you react badly to gluten-grain-based alcohol: Hudson Baby Bourbon, which is made of 100 percent corn. Be aware that this bourbon makes no claims to being gluten-free or free of gluten cross-contamination (it's made by a small distillery that also processes gluten grains). However, it may be an option for some people who crave bourbon but react to most of those out there on the market.

Other Alcohol Options

If you can't drink bourbon, don't despair: there are still plenty of different alcoholic beverages available for you to try, including wine, gluten-free vodka, rum and gluten-free beer.

Sources:

Beyond Celiac. Is Liquor Gluten-Free?

Celiac Disease Foundation. What Can I Eat?

Gluten-Free Alcoholic Beverages. Celiac.com. Published February 20, 2015.

TTB Weekly Newsletter: Weekly News, April 28, 2017. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Published April 28, 2017.

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