Is Gin Safe for People on Gluten-Free Diets?

gluten-free gin
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Question: Is gin gluten-free?

Answer: This is a controversial subject. Most experts say gin, a form of alcohol normally made from a mix of grains that can include wheat, barley, rye and corn, is considered gluten-free because it's distilled. But many people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity react to gin and to other gluten-derived forms of alcohol.

Here's the lowdown on gin and how it might fit into your gluten-free diet.

What Do the Experts Say About Gin?

Most—but not all—experts say distilled spirits such as gin should be safe on the gluten-free diet.

The idea is that even if the alcohol starts out as a mixture of gluten grains, distillation should remove the harmful proteins that cause reactions in celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Distillation actually vaporizes the pure alcohol, separating it from the non-alcoholic components of the grain mixture used to make that particular type of spirit.

The National Institutes of Health, as part of its Celiac Awareness Campaign, declares that gin and other alcoholic beverages distilled from gluten grains are safe for those on a gluten-free diet, since distillation removes enough of the gluten protein to render the drink gluten-free, at least to the accepted 20 parts per million standard.

However, the Celiac Sprue Association advises celiacs to drink only alcoholic beverages that are not derived from gluten grains.

And many people with gluten sensitivity or celiac report serious gluten reactions from gin made with gluten grains.

Gin Not Made from Gluten Grains

You may want to try a gin that's made from something other than gluten grains. Here are several you can choose:

  • Maine Distilleries' Cold River Gin is made from potatoes grown right on the distillers' farm. This gin, which is billed as "gluten-free," also uses pure water from Maine's Cold River. It's available in some states and in the United Kingdom.
  • G-Vine gin products is distilled from grapes.
  • Monopolowa Dry Gin is made with potatoes in Austria using a traditional Polish recipe.
  • Schramm Organic Gin is distilled in British Columbia using organic potatoes.

Why Do People React to Gin?

As we discussed above, distilled liqueur--including gin--is considered by most experts to be gluten-free. But despite this, many people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity still report reactions to distilled spirits made from gluten grains.

So why the disconnect between expert opinion and actual "on the ground" experience? That's not clear, but there are several possible reasons.

First, distillation may not remove every last bit of gluten, even if it removes enough so that the product meets the standard of less than 20 parts per million. Distillation typically is repeated multiple times to remove "impurities" from the final product, but it's possible that in some cases, it doesn't remove all those "impurities."

Second, it's possible that smaller fragments of the gluten protein could remain in the final product, even after distillation. Gluten is a large molecule that can be broken down into smaller molecules, but there isn't much research to show whether people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity might react to those smaller pieces of gluten.

Third, gin and other spirits made from gluten grains unquestionably are made in facilities and on equipment that process gluten grains. So it's entirely possible that some gluten cross-contamination creeps in after distillation, as the flavorings typically used in gin are added.

The Bottom Line on Gluten-Free Gin

So if you crave a gin martini, how should you proceed? I'd move cautiously, especially if you're newly diagnosed and still getting the hang of the diet.

You may find that you can consume gin without issue. But watch out for symptoms, such as a hangover that seems way out of proportion to the amount of alcohol you consumed.

Remember that it's very common to have bad reactions to gluten-containing foods and drinks once you've gone gluten-free, so don't be surprised if that gin martini you used to enjoy without issue now makes you sick as a dog.

If you find you're reacting badly to gin, you may want to consider switching to potato vodka, rum, wine or gluten-free beer, none of which use gluten grains as ingredients. Or, if you really like your gin and tonic, you can look for one of the brands of gin that's made with gluten-free ingredients.

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