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!