What Alcohol is Gluten-Free?
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If you’re on a gluten-free diet, then the question, ‘What alcohol is gluten-free?,’ is probably a familiar one. The last thing you want when enjoying a drink after a long workday or with friends on the weekend is to be worrying about whether or not it contains gluten.
The good news: As far as alcohol goes, there are a LOT of gluten-free options. Read on to learn more about:
- What it means to be gluten-free
- 5 types of gluten-free alcohol
- How to choose gluten-free alcohol
What does gluten-free mean?
Gluten is an umbrella term for proteins found in barley, wheat, rye, and triticale. It can be difficult for our stomachs to digest and, well, read that first sentence again: barley…wheat…rye…these are used in a LOT of foods and beverages.
If a chain of gluten proteins manages to pass through the confines of the stomach sans being fully digested, it can cause unpleasant symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, skin issues, and brain fog.
And for people with bona fide gluten intolerances (celiac disease, wheat allergies, or non-celiac sensitivities), some or all of these symptoms are almost always guaranteed.
5 types of gluten-free alcohol
More and more companies are addressing the needs of those following gluten-free diets, either out of personal choice or necessity. And in the land of libations, there’s actually a lot of alcohol that’s naturally gluten-free. Let’s look.
Honey, water, and yeast are the staple ingredients of any mead, which makes the drink naturally gluten-free.
There are additional gluten-unfriendly ingredients that can be added to mead, so always make sure to check the ingredients first. But generally, the nectar of the gods is a safe choice. Not to mention – it’s delicious. We’re not biased or anything.
Oh by the way – all of Batch Mead’s mead is gluten-free. Just saying.
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Wine holds a similar narrative to mead. The fact that it comes from fruit (grapes) generally makes it gluten-free. Keyword again: generally.
Always check the ingredient list for added flavors that contain gluten. Otherwise, though, the natural gluten-free label should apply to all types of wine, including: white, red, rosé, and sparkling.
Another natural gluten-free option! Cider comes from apples, not wheat. Popular brands like Angry Orchard, Crispin, and Strongbow are safe options.
Again, make sure to always check the ingredient labels, even if just for peace of mind. Occasionally, a brewer might try and get all fancy-pants with a new-gen flavor that requires an ingredient that isn’t gluten free.
4. Distilled liquor
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It might surprise you to find things like gin, bourbon, whiskey, or vodka here, considering they are made from grains. Reason being:
Distilled liquor comes from fermenting plants. This makes what we’ll call “plant juice,” which is then heated to the point of vaporization. Said vapor is condensed into an alcoholic liquid (AKA: distillation).
During the distillation process, ingredients with lower boiling points are separated from those with higher ones. Gluten – ever the curmudgeon – has a high boiling point and doesn’t make it into the final drink.
So, gluten-free. BUT (you knew it was coming), there are some instances of people still experiencing gluten-intolerance symptoms from drinking too much.
An alternative is to select a spirit that’s made entirely from gluten-free ingredients, like rum or tequila.
5. Gluten-free beer
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A final option is gluten-free beer. As a whole, beer is probably the biggest culprit in terms of incorporating grains – after all, it’s typically made from wheat or barley.
Many brewing companies have entered into the gluten-free pool, but there are two kinds to be aware of:
- Gluten-free: As advertised. Gluten-free grains – like sorghum, maize, oats, etc. – have been used instead of wheat or barley.
- Gluten-removed: These are made with gluten-filled grains, and then an enzyme is introduced later in the brewing process that removes the gluten. There’s still a lot of doubt around how effective this is, though, so your best option (especially if you have a full-on gluten intolerance) is to opt for the ones advertised as gluten-free.
How to choose gluten-free alcohol
Alright, so now that you know which types of gluten-free alcohol exist, how do you go about shopping for it or ordering at a bar?
1. Avoid common gluten ingredients
Avoid the trifecta of gluten-ality (trademark pending): barley, wheat, and rye. Plus things like spelt and kamut.
2. Inspect labels
All the time. It might be laborious, but it helps. “May contain traces of gluten” means the drink was manufactured in a factory where gluten products are also made, so there’s a possibility of cross-contamination.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Especially when you’re dining out or at a bar. If something’s not clear on the menu, ask about it. The service industry wants to cater to a diverse range of dietary needs and restrictions, but it is a work in progress.
Gluten-specific questions are valid, warranted, and will help you figure out what’s safe for you to drink.
4. Stick with the tried-and-trues
You can always stick with those drinks you know to be gluten-free. Whether it’s your favorite mead, a sweet wine, or a tequila sunrise, having your go-to bevies top-of-mind makes for a fast and stress-free order.