Will Whiskey Make Me Sick If I'm Gluten-Free?

Learn whether you should drink whiskey if you have celiac or gluten sensitivity

Glass of whiskey
Is whiskey gluten-free?. Getty Images/Steve Lupton

Question: Is whiskey gluten-free? Or, does whiskey contain gluten?

Answer: It depends on whom you ask.

Most experts in celiac disease have concluded that distilled alcoholic beverages made from gluten grains — including whiskey, commonly made from barley — are gluten-free (at least to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's standard of less than 20 parts per million), because distillation removes the harmful gluten proteins.

In fact, the National Institutes of Health's Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign advises that cocktails made with distilled alcohol are safe for celiacs to drink.

However, not everyone agrees. The Celiac Sprue Association does not recommend any form of Scotch or whiskey; instead, it advises those following the gluten-free diet to stick with potato vodkas, rum and tequila, all of which are made from non-gluten grain sources.)

In addition, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which regulates alcoholic beverages in the U.S., does not allow the use of the term "gluten-free" on alcohol products originally derived from gluten grains, even if they're distilled. That rules out "gluten-free" claims on whiskey produced from barley.

So Why Is There A Question About This?

Some people with celiac or gluten sensitivity can handle drinking Scotch or whiskey without any problems. However, others experience severe gluten reactions if we consume something distilled from gluten grains.

It's possible that distillation doesn't remove 100% of the gluten (studies have been mixed on this point), or that a tiny amount of gluten is added back in for flavor as part of processing after distillation, as a couple of manufacturers have argued. In some cases, whiskey manufacturers add caramel coloring (which may on occasion contain gluten) or even a small amount of the undistilled grain mash after the distilling process.

The Bottom Line

So should you consume whiskey as part of your gluten-free diet? I'd advise going slowly, especially if you're particularly sensitive. You may find that you tolerate it just fine, but you also may find you react. If you do react, try potato vodka or unflavored rum instead.

There is one other option for those who can't handle whiskey distilled from gluten grains: drink a whiskey made from sorghum. This gluten-free grain gives whiskey real character, according to aficionados.

Queen Jennie Whiskey, crafted by Old Sugar Distillery in Madison, Wis., is made entirely from sorghum in a facility that does not use wheat, barley or rye, according to Old Sugar owner Nathan Greenawalt.

In addition, New Southern Revival brand sorghum whiskey from High Wire Distilling is made from 100% sorghum syrup, which is sourced from a Mennonite farm in central Tennessee. Note that High Wire does make several spirits from gluten grains in the same facility.

Continue Reading