Which Types of Brandy or Ouzo Are Gluten-Free?

Can you drink brandy or ouzo on the gluten-free diet?

tray with two glasses of brandy
Which kinds of brandy are gluten-free?. Paul Poplis/Getty Images

Generally speaking, plain brandy is gluten-free. Plain brandy usually is made from grapes, and (similar to wine) should be gluten-free down to a pretty low level. So if you're following the gluten-free diet because you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, plain brandy should be safe for you.

Pure grape-based brandy types include cognac, armagnac and pisco (a Spanish brandy). Popular brands of plain brandy in the United States include: Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Courvoisier, and Camus.

 

Flavored Brandies May Not Be Gluten-Free

However, the gluten-free status of brandy gets a little more confusing when it comes to fruit-based brandy and flavored brandy, since it's possible for the flavorings to contain gluten (usually here the culprit is a wheat-based natural flavor or a barley-based sweetener).

Unlike food manufacturers, the makers of alcoholic beverages do not need to list their ingredients, and many flavored brandy manufacturers keep their formulas a closely-guarded secret. This is considered an advantage for them in what tends to be a very competitive industry, but it can be problematic for people who need to know the ingredients so that they can determine whether or not it's safe for them to consume.

Companies that make flavored brandies include Paul Masson (which distributes apple, pineapple, peach, red berry, and mango brandies in addition to its two plain flavors), and E&J (which makes vanilla, apple, and peach in addition to its three plain flavors).

Neither company discloses ingredients for its flavored varieties, so I recommend avoiding them.

Calvados Considered Gluten-Free, But Ouzo Questionable

Pure calvados, an apple-based brandy, is gluten-free, as is eau-de-vie (French fruit brandy). Slivovitz, a brandy made of plums from Eastern Europe, also should be gluten-free (but as with any food or drink that doesn't list its ingredients, I'd advise moving cautiously and stopping if you seem to have a reaction).

Ouzo, a traditional Greek drink that contains anise and spices, also is considered brandy by some connoisseurs. Greek law requires ouzo to contain at least 30% grapes; the remainder can be other forms of fruit, potatoes or even grains, including gluten grains (distilled gluten grains are considered to be gluten-free, but many of us do react anyway; learn more in Is Alcohol Gluten-Free?).

The flavorings in ouzo can contain crushed grains (yes, including gluten grains), as well, although those flavorings usually are made up mainly of spices. If you're in doubt about the gluten-free status of a particular ouzo, contact the manufacturer (if possible) or stick with a more reliably gluten-free cocktail.

One potential option for ouzo lovers: Americanaki Ouzo, made by Old Sugar Distillery in Madison, Wis., is distilled from beet sugar and blended with other gluten-free ingredients, such as anise, in a facility that does not use gluten ingredients, according to owner and distiller Nathan Greenawalt.

Oak Barrel Flour Seal A Gluten Problem?

Most brandies are aged in oak barrels or casks, which brings up one small potential source of gluten cross-contamination—traditionally, oak casks used to ferment wine and brandy are sealed with a wheat or rye flour paste.

Any gluten from this seal that remains in the final product is definitely going to be too low to detect with current gluten testing technology—it's likely well below 1 part per million (for comparison, 20 parts per million of gluten is considered "gluten-free," although many people react to lower levels than that). However, if you try a brandy and believe you react to it, this flour-based cask seal is one possible reason, especially if you tend to be particularly sensitive.

A Word from Verywell

Plain brandy should be safe on the gluten-free diet, especially if you choose a brand such as Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Courvoisier, and Camus, all of which only make plain brandies.

However, you need to be cautious about flavored brandies, and you also need to be cautious about cocktails that contain brandy, since they may also contain gluten ingredients.

For example, an Old Fashioned contains brandy but also includes bourbon or rye whiskey (two types of alcohol distilled from gluten grains), and many people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity react to alcohol that's derived from gluten grains. Likewise, a Brandy Alexander contains creme de cacao, which can include alcohol distilled from gluten grains. Other brandy-based cocktails can include mixers that aren't gluten-free.

Source:

Celiac Disease Foundation. What Should I Eat? Fact Sheet.

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