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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