Friday, May 10, 2013

3 There's Gluten in my Alcohol?

This past week I posted a recipe for tequila lime chicken. In the post last weekend, I referenced how tequila is one of the few consistently gluten free alcohols. The amount of questions I received regarding gluten in alcohol led me to writing this post as part of my Celiac Awareness posts. This post isn’t meant as a way of answering the gluten content in every single alcohol, but I hope it helps provide some information as to why some alcohol has gluten, and how I pick and choose my alcohols.

How does gluten get into alcohol?
It’s a very odd thing to think that gluten can be in alcohol. But once you gain an understanding of how alcohol is made, it can help you in choosing which alcohols you can consume safely. (Note that when I mention alcohol, I’m referring to alcoholic beverages, not alcohols such as rubbing alcohol.) There are two methods of producing alcohol: fermentation and distillation. Fermentation is a process of producing a mix of carbohydrates and yeast. The yeast converts the sugars into alcohol and other by-products. If a beverage is distilled, then the ethanol in the fermented mix is distilled out of the mix, producing a spirit that is high in alcohol. Fermented beverages will always contain gluten based on the carbohydrate base of the mix. Distilled beverages may contain gluten based on the carbohydrate base of the mix, depending on processing and what evaporates with the distilled alcohol.

If gluten comes from the carbohydrate, then which alcohols should I avoid?
There are three main types of alcohol: beer, wine, and spirits. An understanding each type makes it easier to expect which alcohols may contain gluten.

Beer is produced by fermenting a grain mash (this grain is the source of the carbohydrates). The most common grains used in beer are barley, rye, and wheat. Beers based on these grains will contain gluten and should be avoided. Ciders and sorghum, rice, or millet beers are normally gluten-free and safe to drink. I find beer to be one of the easiest to know whether to avoid or not, since the base grain is normally always identified.

Wine or mead is produced by fermenting fruit, using the sugars in the fruits as the carbohydrates. I normally always trust wine to be gluten free due to the lack of grain in the carbohydrate base.

Distilled beverages are the trickiest to know if they are gluten free or not. I find these normally don’t advertise what the base carbohydrate is, so this is where learning what each spirit is comes to be helpful. What I like to do is learn what each spirit is normally made of, and choose my spirits based on these. Also, always avoid the cheap stuff. Not only do they normally taste bad, but there's a potential for the manufacturer to use wheat or barley to cheapen the carb mix. Below are a few common spirits listed, and what they’re normally made from. 
Should I avoid this?
Rye, corn, wheat, potato
Know your brands
Know your brands
Brandy or cognac
Normally Gluten Free
You can see that alcohols based on sugars or fruits are normally safe to consume (I still recommend always checking the brand on the internet.) Bourbons can be tricky because additional grains may be used with the corn, which could lead to some gluten being introduced into the distilled alcohol. I personally don't react to Maker's Mark, but that doesn't mean it is universally okay for everyone. This reminds me of the CSA's three step self management guide ( In step two of the process, once you've gotten your gluten under control, you can expand your diet by researching, learning, and experimenting with foods. Distilled alcohols are under their expansion step, and I believe bourbon falls under this category.

Vodka is the trickiest of them all. As you can see, a wide variety of starches can be used to make vodka. The ones that are normally safe are corn or potato vodka, but I 100% recommend checking the brand of a vodka before consuming it. If there’s no information available about whether it’s gluten free or not, avoid it. I personally just avoid vodkas all together.

I hope this article helps!


  1. I didn't realize that Maker's had corn in it! That's interesting to know. However, I looked it up and it seems that Maker's Mark is made from corn, winter wheat, and malted barley. Most bourbons are made from rye, wheat or barley.

    There are varying opinions and practices on what is gluten-free in the world of distilled spirits. The distillation process should remove 100% of the gluten from the alcohol. However, some people avoid anything that has a gluten-based origin. Better safe than sorry. I've always wondered if there could be a chance of cross-contamination of the product after distillation and before bottling.

    As for tequila, if you want to avoid grain alcohol make sure you buy a tequila that says 100% agave on the label. Some cheaper tequilas mix grain alcohol with the tequila to cut costs.

  2. Yeah, I definitely recommend always checking with manufacturer for gluten content.

    Higher quality is also a great recommendation as well!

  3. The CSA does also recommend distilled liquors as part of the expansion step (experimentation and education) of their three step diet. It is truly about education and learning before putting something in your body as you recommended. It's all about learning what your body can handle.