Alcohol for Celiacs: Getting the Facts Straight (with 3 Popular Myths Debunked)

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Alcoholic drinks have been part of human culture and social activities for nearly as long as humans have existed on earth.

For the celiac who wants to enjoy a beer or a mixed drink at a dinner party or at the bar, the many myths and misunderstandings about the presence of gluten in alcohol can be discouraging.

Let’s set things straight by clearing up some myths about gluten and alcohol.

 

Myth or Fact? All beer is off-limits for celiacs.

MYTH. Most beer is off-limits for celiacs, as it is made from gluten-containing wheat or barley and not refined enough to remove the gluten protein from the final product.

Celiacs should avoid all mainstream beers, which are made with gluten. However, gluten-free beer is now widely available in Europe and the U.S. Massive beer-maker Anheuser-Busch made a brilliant move when they introduced Redbridge sorghum-based gluten-free beer a few years ago. This beer is now available in bars and at liquor stores all over the country. The Redbridge website has a search engine where you can look up where it’s sold near you.

The first gluten-free beer widely available in the United States was Bard’s Tale, a craft beer which remains a favorite. Imports and domestics you may also find include Greens, Hambleton Ales Gluten Free Ale or Lager, Lakefront Brewery’s New Grist, St. Peter’s Sorghum Beer, New Planet Tread Lightly Pale Ale, Schnitzer Bräu Gluten-Free Organic Millet Beers and Brasserie Brunehaut Bio Amber and Blonde. Try checking your local Whole Foods’ gluten-free beer section. See if you can speak with their alcohol buyer / stocker as they’ll be able to point out all of the store’s gluten-free drinking options.

 

Myth or Fact? Hard liquors made with gluten-containing grains should be avoided.

MYTH. If it is distilled alcohol, it contains no gluten protein in it, even if its origins were fermented wheat, barley or rye! Distillation is an extremely effective process in which all prolamines (the type of proteins that trigger celiac symptoms) are removed. This means that unless gluten-containing flavorings have been added, all pure vodkas, tequilas, rums, brandies, whiskeys and gins are gluten-free.

Liqueurs are distilled liquors that have flavorings added, and you will want to check that the flavorings are gluten-free. If the idea of drinking vodka that was distilled from a gluten-containing grain just makes you a little too uncomfortable despite all the evidence that it’s safe, check out Ciroc grape-based vodka or Chopin potato vodka. Jose Cuervo tequila has also confirmed that it’s gluten-free. It is advised that you avoid anything that has “natural flavors” listed as an ingredient until you have confirmed that the flavorings themselves are gluten-free.

 

Myth or Fact? Hard lemonade and hard cider are always gluten-free.

MYTH. Mike’s Hard Lemonade is a malt beverage and contains malt derived from barley and other gluten grains. The company’s testing originally showed that the gluten contained in the final product was below the limit for what can be called gluten-free, so they initially called all of their products gluten-free.

After numerous reports of celiac patients having symptoms after consuming their products, they now call only Mike’s Lite and Mike’s Cranberry Lite “gluten free.” They detect little enough gluten in these two products that they feel comfortable calling them “gluten-free,” but that doesn’t mean it’s little enough gluten for your body to tolerate.

Hard ciders, on the other hand, are almost always gluten-free. Most major brands are, but there are exceptions such as Hornsby’s and Harpoon which are not gluten-free. Some brands that have confirmed that their products are gluten-free include Woodchuck, Crispin, Bulmers, ACE, Fox Barrel, Gaymer, Strongbow, and Woodpecker. In fact, several of the bars that I frequent have Strongbow on draught.

Don’t forget to check with the manufacturer before you consume any product as the formulation is subject to change at any time. And as always, drink safely and drive responsibly!

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Comments ( 41 )

  • Renee Solano

    The last two times I had a drink with vodka in it, I had a reaction. Some people are more sensitive than others, so distillation isn’t always perfectly safe. I’d say it was safe for most, though.

  • Tammie Travis

    It would be nice if distilleries were required to list what their ingredients are. “Natural Flavors” isn’t always noted on the label. Furthermore, I have had a reaction to alcohol distilled from grain. Switch the alcohol from grain based vodka to ciroc in the same drink and I have no reaction. As a bartender, I have used myself as a guinea pig; I also find that brandies that are aged in whiskey barrels cause a reaction, but pisco- a type of brandy that is not barrel aged causes no reaction at all. I take exception with the idea that distillation renders beverages safe. (Including vinegar.)

  • Cara

    I have several recipes that call for sherry. Is it safe to cook with sherry ? I don’t know if that is distilled.

  • Sue

    If there is 1ppm then the product is not gluten free. Please list how many ppm are in a product and let us make a safe determination as to whether or not we want to risk our health! I have not had good luck with products that are said to be safe due to distillation, especially vinegar! So many products have crossed over from the unsafe list. So, please stop making it harder for me, others do not understand why I can’t eat items that are listed as gluten free!

  • John

    I too disagree that all distilled alcohol is safe. I have had severe reactions almost every time I drink alcohol. Ultimately, the only ones I find to be safe for me are Barcardi Rum as it is sugar based, Potato Vodkas, and pure agave tequilas. Also, use caution at any bar. I watch the bartender mix my drinks. If they put my drinks in a common shaker that previously had whiskey in it, then I run the risk of having a reaction. If you are ordering something that is going to be shaken or put in a blender, be sure to request that it be washed before your drink is made as this can contaminate your drink. I find for myself that the only safe finding is 0ppm.

  • Licoriceshoes

    Love this blog (and all of the comments below about distilled alcohol and vinegar)…VERY helpful! I have totally obstained from alcohol and have longed to have the occasional cocktail with friends! Thank you, thank you!

  • Deauxdi

    What about wine? Does anyone know anything about gluten in wine?

  • GlutenFreeBeer.org

    Sorry, I read every link you gave. There is not one study mentioned in any of those articles to show the truth of the statements. Just because a Jewish man wants to claim there is no gluten in wine barrel glue to keep is traditions does not make it true. It does make him feel better. Anyone that is gluten free should understand that 90% of corn starch is not gluten free. There is only one brand of corn starch that is gluten free so to claim that there is no gluten in envelope glue with out testing it is absurd! Now, if you can show me a validated study, not a one off, that says there is no gluten in the glue, then that I might believe (depends on who paid for the study). Even that though won’t change the fact that in my family we have been ill from wines on more than one occasion trying different brands in hopes of finding a safe one. They do exist but you really have to look.

    US sorghum is often combined with gluten products as well as the sorghum. We avoid US sorghum.

  • Cara

    From what I have read and from experience glue can contain wheat. When I was a child (70 yrs ago) homemade glue/paste was made from wheat flour and water. Wine barrels were sealed with a flour and water paste and I read recently that some wineries still use this. It’s not the kind of glue you buy in a tube at the store, although I haven’t a clue as to what that contains.

  • Frankie Lynn

    I have found another gluten free hard cider that wasn’t metioned in the above info. Samuel Adams has “Angry Orchard” hard ciders. There are currently 3 flavors and are very tasty. I like Angry Orchard better than the Woodchuck hard ciders.

  • Mark

    Brunehaut’s two gluten-free labels just won Gold and Silver medals in the US Open Beer Championships (for the second straight) year.

  • Sas

    I am the opposite of most Celiacs in the fact that mainstream beer (except wheat beer) doesn’t affect me but grain alcohol does so I’m sticking to rum and tequila!!

  • Trevor

    After being diagnosed with Celiac sprue my doctor told me “no more beer, but steak and wine are fine.” After reading this blog I’m wondering what is correct. I’ve never seen a wine with a gluten free label. Are you sure wine isn’t gluten free?

  • ReBecca

    Trevor,
    Wine is usually comes from grapes….however I have been cautioned that some contries allow grain alcohol to be added to wine to increase abv.
    I usually stick with Rum or Chopin Vodak!

  • Bill S.

    I’m dissapointed that no mention is made of Budweiser and Corona beer. It is true that they are not true “gluten free beers” but some tests have shown their gluten content at below 20 ppm, an accepted standard. I have Celiacs but I drink these beers (in moderation) and do not have symtoms; and I’ve read that others do likewise. If you are extremely sensitive to gluten contaimination, then avoid these – but if you can tolerate less than 20 ppm gluten, these may be an option – especially when at bars with limited choices.

  • GlutenFreeBeer.org

    Wow, Bill, if you really believe what you typed here you are either NOT a Celiac or living in a fantasy world of your own creation! No one with Celiac disease or even gluten intolerance should be purposefully drinking the beers you mention. Just because you don’t FEEL symptoms does not mean your small intestine is not being destroyed!

    I do understand us guys tend to ignore health issues, but you need to be more kind to your body instead of trying to convince yourself that you can still consume products that are harmful to you.

    Being safe and healthy is far more important than convenience!

  • Bill S.

    (Above should read “my opinions are based on…). Addl Info: The following articles note that villous atrophy will not likely occur with ingestion of up to 10 mg, possibly more but less than 50 mg, of gluten daily:

    http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/faqs/f/HowMuchIsSafe.htm

    http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/PreventingCrossContamination/f/How-Much-Gluten-Can-Make-Me-Sick.htm

    I do not buy the concept that even 1 mg of gluten is “poison to my body” but I certainly try to strictly avoid anything that exceeds 20 ppm gluten. And as the articles above note, it is nearly impossible to be 100% gluten free.

  • Bill S.

    FYI, I also found the following in a Celiac.com forum discussion: “I’ve reported in the past that I regularly drink Bud Light without any issues. For the third straight blood test ‘check-up’ my numbers are great and no sign of gluten entering my system… I also drink Corona without any issues. I think the key is to avoid all gluten from other sources.”

    I do agree that drinking a “true gluten free beer” is safer, but when at a bar that does not serve gluten free beer, I’m willing to consume a couple of Coronas. Of course, other daily sources of gluten must also be considered, so one must avoid going to the limits on one item.

  • Aaron F.

    Bill, thinking like that made it so that I ended up being super sensitive to even 1ppm – I kept pushing it – and other food allergies have sprouted up out of nowhere now, including: Chocolate, Carob, Corn Syrup, and all Caffeine.

    Like GlutenFreeBeers said, by continuing to knowingly ingest any amount of the substances your body is rejecting will further deteriorate your gut, allowing more larger-than-normal food proteins to escape into your bloodstream, where your immune system attacks it, and you form a food allergy.

    The only way you can start moving in the direction of healing, rather than further sensitivities, restrictions, and illness: ONLY put things in your mouth that are going to heal and nourish your body as cleanly as possible. Look into the GAPS diet to get an idea of what that looks like – it’s been proven to heal food allergies after 2 years. No room to tell you about supplements – also look into that!

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  • GlutenFreeBeer.org

    I completely agree, there is no proof that distillation renders a beverage gluten free. We have had reactions to whiskey as well. The barrels are not gluten free which affects wines aged in barrels as well. Asking the distiller or winery doesn’t always render a true answer either, unfortunately.

  • GlutenFreeBeer.org

    Sue,

    Until recently, and it is still being verified, there hasn’t been a test that would test to 1 ppm. The lowest test for liquids has been to 5 ppm. For my family, 1 ppm is 1 too many so I am hoping other labs can verify this new test. If the testing is accurate, there are “Gluten Free” Beers that have far more ppms than they claim. We should have an answer before too very long. Watch for the news on the Gluten Free Beer Association website, we will announce it as soon is it is available. :-)

    Cheers!

  • Renee Solano

    Glue and Gluten are not the same thing. There is a myth that envelope glue contains gluten, not true. There is definitely a possibility of cross-contamination in the barrels if something else was aged in them before the wine. I agree 100% that no one should assume anything is gf without testing or clarification (if you trust the source).

    Large size of gluten molecule? That’s an interesting one, I was out at a restaurant and the cook came out to talk with me about the menu and he said “allergens completely disappear after being heated to such and such temperature”, lol. I really wish people were better informed.

  • Renee Solano

    US sorghum is often combined with gluten products? Interesting. If that’s the case that might explain why I had that reaction. Where can I find this information? Also, where can I find a study that determined most cornstarch isn’t gluten free?

    The US stinks so far as far as labeling, testing, etc. There are some companies that disclose everything (wheat, rye, barley, etc.) in their products even though wheat is the only (gluten) ingredient that is required to be disclosed by law. I tend to buy from those companies whenever possible.

    The way I see it, if something makes a person ill, don’t touch it no matter how many studies tell you it’s safe.

    If you don’t mind me asking, what country are you from? If not the US, would be interested in discussing the labeling laws in your country off this board.

  • GlutenFreeBeer.org

    Correct, GlutenFreeBeer.org.

    Another reason you might like the Green’s is because it is an import made with EU sorghum instead of US.

  • GlutenFreeBeer.org

    Hey Trevor,

    Welcome to the world of Gluten Free. There are not many doctors that understand gluten intolerance or Celiac disease because there is no profit in it for them. Rest assured, once some company comes out with a drug they claim can help Celiac, people will fall for it and doctors will get interested and prescribe it. Until then they will stay in the dark.

    Our family has had numerous reactions to wine unfortunately. We love red wine but haven’t found a safe one yet though we have not looked that hard. If it is important to you, call the winery and find one that ages in stainless steel with oak chunks and does not fine with gluten in the fining agent. There are wineries that do both but it hasn’t been high enough on the priority list for us to figure it out, sorry. :-)

  • Renee Solano

    There shouldn’t be any gluten in wine. Or mead…

  • Lisa

    Be very, very careful. Be prepared to have a reaction. I have, and I don’t appreciate sites like this telling me that it’s perfectly safe to have distilled liqours. IT IS NOT.
    Since diagnosis, I have had 2 drinks, and I didn’t even think to wonder if they were safe. They were not. One was a whipped-cream flavored high end vodka, and the other was an amaretto sours.

    [quote name="licoriceshoes"]Love this blog (and all of the comments below about distilled alcohol and vinegar)…VERY helpful! I have totally obstained from alcohol and have longed to have the occasional cocktail with friends! Thank you, thank you![/quote]

  • GlutenFreeBeer.org

    Many wines do have gluten in them. Obviously, the initial ingredients should be gluten free, it is in the process that the problem occurs. The barrels that some wines are aged in have gluten in the glue that holds them together (which also affects aged distilled liquor). Some wines are clarified with gluten ingredients. Now, some want to claim that the large size of the gluten molecule is too big and removed from the wine with the clarifying agents but if that were true, no one would have to worry about cross contamination. Unfortunately, most wine makers don’t know if gluten exists or not so you have to ask about the aging and clarifying process to know for sure.

    Mead on the other hand should be gluten free. It is never a safe or good idea to assume something that is not tested is gluten free without investigation!

  • GlutenFreeBeer.org

    Gluten is present in the glue that is used to hold the barrels together. Whether envelope glue has gluten in it or not, I have no idea although all reports say it does but no matter, it is not the same product. Not all wine is aged the same, many wineries use stainless steel barrels which would only leave the clarifying process to check.

    That chef’s argument is the same one that is used for distillation. There is no evidence that distillation removes gluten and the new test that I mentioned has proved that gluten is not removed from beers that claim they have removed the gluten in the process. There are a couple of beers that use regular ingredients and claim gluten is removed in the process which is only true if you live in the UK where some gluten means no gluten. Absolutely absurd, any gluten is too much gluten if you are Celiac!

  • Renee Solano

    http://glutenfreemom.typepad.com/gluten_free_mom/2007/12/envelope-glue-d.html
    http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/celiacdiseasefaqs/f/EnvelopeGlue.htm
    http://glutenfreeraleigh.blogspot.com/2009/05/gluten-myths-envelopes-stamps.html
    Conflicting reports about wine barrels:
    http://oregonwinepress.com/article?articleTitle=crafting+kosher–1322684084–1029http://blog.seattlepi.com/wellredwhiteandrose/2011/11/16/the-problem-of-gluten-in-wine/

    What really stinks is that nothing is safe for everyone. On superbowl sunday, I drank a gluten free beer and had pretty much the same reaction I used to have when I drank regular beer (extreme fatigue, headache, a milder form of the indigestion, etc.) Just so no one assumes it was from drinking a ton, I had ONE beer, and no other alcohol. I can’t remember the brand name, but I do remember it was made from sorghum and corn and would recognize the bottle if I saw it again.

  • Renee Solano

    Thank you both for the info. There are so many factors, it can be frustrating. I didn’t consider cornstarch being processed with wheat, but that totally makes sense. There can be the same issue with oats. Thanks again.

  • Renee Solano

    Cara, good points. I’m not sure what labeling laws in US would say about glue, they pretty much only cover food. Then again, I recently saw “contains wheat” on a container of play-doh. Not sure if the company did this voluntarily or not.

  • GlutenFreeBeer.org

    Here is what my wife (who does much of the research) says in response to your questions.

    “I found out this info from calling companies after I had reactions. Corn starch is frequently processed in facilities with wheat. Always check… Also, I researched the shared combines problem…that is still a guess, but an educated one. I talked to several farmers about that as well. Most people don’t even think about shared facilities, much less shared harvesting equipment. I know of no studies in these areas… One last thought regarding these topics, if our guts are compromised, grains of any kind may cause problems as well. The proteins, they are all called glutens, can wreak havoc only because our guts are not functioning properly & proteins in grain is esp. difficult to digest. There are a few Doc’s talking about this, but not many. It’s not a popular position…”

  • GlutenFreeBeer.org

    We have definitely had a problem with oats.

    Another issue that is not being talked about except for by Dr. Huber but not specifically about gluten, is GMO’s. I believe an impaired gut is even more susceptible to GMO foods causing Celiac types of symptoms. Now I am opening a whole new can of worms though. :-)

    Back to gluten free beer, check out the reviews on the Association site, especially the imports to the US. Those will probably work best for you.

  • Renee Solano

    I will look at the reviews. So far I have tried Red Bridge (made by Budweiser, not that tasty but didn’t make me sick), Bard’s (decent) and Green’s (my hands-down favorite, might have something to do with the fact that I used to love Guinness). And that other one which I won’t be buying again lol. Is the site the same as your screen name?

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