Gluten free living can be complicated and confusing, especially when it comes to alcohol. There are many different types of alcohol made using a variety of processes, some of which are gluten free and some of which are not.
So how do you know which alcohols are safe for gluten free consumption? That’s what this Ultimate Guide to Gluten Free Alcohol is for!
The table of contents is going to be really helpful in this article because you can use it to jump straight to your favorite alcoholic beverage, or if you’re curious about them all, keep reading.
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The gluten-free guide below is based on personal experience and research. Always be sure to discuss any medical changes with your doctor for your personal medical needs. Additionally, this post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. My full disclosure isn’t that interesting, but you can find it here.
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Is alcohol gluten free?
Some alcohol is gluten free and some is not. Whether or not a particular type of alcohol, or more specifically a type of alcoholic drink is gluten free depends on both how it is made and which ingredients are used.
To make matters more complicated, using gluten containing ingredients to make alcohol doesn’t automatically mean that the finished product contains gluten. Ugh! Before you panic, stick with me, and it will all make sense soon.
You likely already know that gluten is a protein found most commonly in wheat, rye and barley. When it comes to food, if you have a gluten allergy, you would completely avoid anything that contains those grains. However, you don’t necessarily have to do the same when it comes to alcohol.
Alcohol is actually very interesting because most alcohols are made with gluten containing grains, yet despite their ingredients, many of them are considered gluten free. So, how is that possible?
Hard liquors are created using a 2-part process. First a mash of grains is fermented and then the fermented liquid is distilled. Which grains are used in the mash depends on which type of spirit is being made.
Distillation is the relevant part of the process when it comes to gluten. Distillation is the process of separating the actual alcohol from other substances like gluten and water. This process is so effective at removing gluten that pure distilled alcohol meets the FDA’s requirements of less than 20 PPM of gluten. Fascinating, right?!
Now, where you have to be especially careful, is with added ingredients. This is a big part of the reason why it isn’t as simple as putting all alcohol into a ‘yes or no category’ in terms of its gluten free status.
Take rum for example. In its purely distilled form it is considered a gluten free product. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the strawberry daiquiri or pina colada you’re thinking about having is also gluten free.
Alcoholic beverages are available in a massively wide selection and many of the ones that contain gluten free spirits are not actually safe for gluten free consumption.
In simplified terms, as a general rule of thumb, for any alcohol to be gluten free it must meet these 2 criteria:
- It must be distilled, and
- It must be pure
Now there are some exceptions to the rule, like if an alcohol is made with entirely gluten free ingredients, it can be gluten free too. But in general, alcohol is typically made with gluten containing grains, and in that case in order for it to be gluten free the 2 rules above must apply.
TTB ruling on gluten free alcohol
With alcohol, just like with any other food product, the easiest and most reliable method for choosing gluten free options is to look for gluten free labeling and certification. If it’s labeled gluten free then we know it must comply with the FDA’s criteria.
While food is regulated by the FDA, alcohol is regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The TTB policy indicates that in order for a gluten free claim to be made regarding alcohol, it is required to meet the same definition set forth by the FDA.
The unique difference between food and alcohol led the TTB to update their ruling in regards to gluten free claims for alcohol. The original policy was revised to “allow the term “gluten-free” on labels and in advertisements for distilled spirits distilled from gluten-containing grains as long as good manufacturing practices are followed that prevent the introduction of any gluten-containing material into the final product.”
The reason this update is important is because the TTB is ensuring that any alcohol with a gluten free claim is free from cross contact. Cross contact is what happens when equipment, like aging barrels, that are used to make gluten free alcohols have also been in contact with gluten containing ingredients.
What makes alcohol not gluten-free?
Alcohol is not gluten free when it is not distilled and/or it is not pure. Products like pre-made drinks or beer are good examples of these scenarios.
While many pre-made drinks start with distilled alcohol that is gluten free, they also contain many additional ingredients like flavorings or syrups that can contain gluten.
Beer on the other hand is made with gluten containing grains like many hard liquors, however it is not distilled. Because it isn’t put through the distillation process, there is nothing to remove the gluten from the original grains.
Keep reading for alcohol, by category, and gluten-free options.
Where can I buy gluten free alcohol?
At least some of the options below should be available at your local liquor store (or even grocery depending on your state regulations). However, you can also find many of these options at TotalWine.com or even GoPuff (both of these options feature delivery too!)
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Traditional beer is never gluten free. Most beer is traditionally with malted barley, which is one of the most common sources of gluten. The reason beer is not gluten free, when other types of alcohol is, is because unlike hard liquor, beer is not distilled.
Since beer is fermented but never goes through the process of distillation, there is no way for the gluten to be removed from the alcohol. Fermentation is believed to reduce the amount of gluten somewhat, but not to safe levels for gluten free consumption.
Bourbon (and Whiskey)
Did you know that all bourbon is whisky but not all whisky is bourbon? That’s because in order to be called bourbon it has to be made in the United States.
Bourbon (and whisky) is a distilled alcohol, so as long as nothing has been added back into it, it is considered gluten free.
Here’s a Complete Guide to Bourbon that will help you understand what makes Bourbon unique and how to tell if your favorite Bourbon is gluten free.
The ingredient that makes gin unique is juniper berries. Gin is basically flavored vodka. It’s made from a mash of grains that are distilled and therefore gin is gluten free.
Check out this post to learn more about Gin and how to tell if it’s gluten free.
Hard Cider is usually gluten free, but still requires carefully reading labels. The addition of gluten containing ingredients and cross contact can make a typically safe beverage unsafe for gluten free consumption.
The other thing you have to be mindful of when it comes to hard cider is that it is easy to confuse apple beer, which contains gluten, with hard cider.
Hard Seltzers come in both gluten free and gluten containing varieties. The best thing to do with hard seltzers is to figure out which brands make gluten free seltzers and stick to them.
Be VERY careful when it comes to hard seltzers if you are buying them outside of the United States. In other countries like Canada, they are less likely be gluten free.
Liqueur is similar to schnapps but they are not the same thing. Schnapps is typically clear in color and has a higher alcohol content. Liqueur, on the other hand, is a sweet flavored alcohol made from different flavors and extracts, including schnapps.
Liqueur can be gluten free, but quite often has added flavorings that may not be gluten free. Some liqueurs that can be gluten free include Kahlua, Bailey’s and Grand Marnier. When choosing liqueur, it’s important to read the labels and ingredients list very carefully.
What makes rum distinct in the world of spirits is that it is made from sugarcane products. It follows the same process of fermentation followed by distillation which makes pure rum gluten free.
Rum is unique in that it comes in dark and light varieties. Some producers age their rum and the type of aging barrels they use determine the final color.
Here’s a complete guide to rum that will tell you everything you need to know about gluten free rum.
Sake is an alcoholic beverage, originating in Japan, that is made from fermented rice. Since rice is a naturally gluten product, premium sake is considered gluten free.
There are many varieties of sake available. Generally, premium sake is considered gluten free. While some other non-premium sake may be gluten free, it should be approached very cautiously.
This complete guide to sake tells you which varieties are gluten free.
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Schnapps is a flavored alcohol, made by combining distilled fruit with a neutral grain spirit. For example, peach schnapps is made with peaches, while peppermint schnapps is made with peppermint.
A neutral grain spirit is a highly concentrated, unflavored alcohol that has been purified through the process of distillation. As you probably guessed by now, pure schnapps is gluten free as long as the flavoring used is gluten free.
Keep in mind that pre-mixed drinks made with schnapps may not be gluten free, so it’s critical to read the label.
Click here to read more about Schnapps and gluten here.
Spiked Lemonade and Tea
Like most other alcoholic beverages made with hard liquor, spiked lemonade and tea can be gluten free but it depends on each one. Spiked lemonade and teas can be made with a variety of alcohol including gin, bourbon or vodka, all of which are gluten free in pure form.
Where things get more complicated is in the ingredients that get added to the alcohol to make spiked tea or lemonade. Always check the ingredients list or look for a gluten free label to confirm.
Tequila and Mezcal
Both tequila and mezcal are made from the blue agave plant. In pure, distilled form they are both gluten free.
Flavored tequila or mezcal can have ingredients added back into the alcohol after it has been distilled. If any of these flavorings or additives contain gluten then the alcohol would no longer be gluten free.
Pure distilled vodka is gluten free! Vodka can be made with both gluten based grains and gluten free alternatives such as potatoes or corn.
Since vodka is distilled, both options are considered gluten free and safe for consumption. Pre-mixed drinks made with vodka may contain gluten and the ingredients list should be carefully reviewed first.
Wine and Champagne
Good news wine lovers! Almost all wines and champagnes are gluten free. The original ingredients themselves (like grapes) are naturally gluten free.
There is still the possibility of cross contact for wine and champagne, however it is believed that any levels of contamination are low enough that it would still be considered gluten free.
Keep in mind, this gluten free status does not apply to wine coolers or wine cocktails. As always, look for gluten free labels and certification to confirm.
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