As a physician, I don’t encourage drinking alcoholic beverages in the early stages of the gluten-free diet —please give your gut time to heal before adding alcohol to your diet. However, consumption of alcoholic beverages can be part of a healthful gluten-free diet for many, so long as the beverages chosen are gluten-free and consumed in moderation.
There is no one definition of “moderation”, but generally the term is used to describe a lower risk pattern of drinking, as shown in various epidemiological studies.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, drinking in moderation is defined as having no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men. This definition refers to the amount consumed on any single day and is not intended to be used as an average over several days.
It can be frustrating trying to find alcoholic beverages that are gluten-free, primarily because alcoholic beverages are not required to display an ingredient label. Because alcohol is not regulated by the FDA, the FDA ingredient labeling requirements do not apply. How do you know if your beverage is gluten-free when there is no label and no ingredient list? It can be tricky!
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is has been petitioning the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau since 2003 to require ingredients and nutrition facts on alcohol labels, but so far, there is no law requiring ingredient lists on alcoholic beverages. You can help your lawmakers understand how important the labeling issue is to people with food sensitivies, check out this petition for more information.
Finding appropriate alcoholic beverages can certainly be a challenge, but Kitchen Table Medicine is here to help! Luckily, there are many choices that ARE gluten-free!
Alright, enough already—WHAT CAN I DRINK?
Previously, persons on the gluten-free diet were advised to consume only pure wine, potato vodka, rum and tequila. This is still good advice, and the safest approach possible, but I believe this approach is overly cautious and unnecessarily limits your choices.
False information about gluten and alcoholic beverages is rife on the internet, so it is easy to become confused. I agree that being cautious is incredibly important when following a strict gluten-free diet, but I also believe that causing unnecessary lifelong restriction of any food is unacceptable!
Newer wisdom on the subject dictates that all distilled liquors are gluten-free, even those derived from a gluten containing grain. Distilled liquors are gluten-free no matter what the original source ingredients are because the distillation process ensures that none of the gluten from the original ingredients can remain in the finished product.
It is reasonable to assume that all pure distilled liquors must therefore be gluten-free. For more information, check out this article on gluten and distillation. The only exceptions to the blanket statement that distilled liquors are all gluten-free are situations in which gluten-containing ingredients are added in after distillation.
I researched rumors about gluten-containing whiskey mash being added in after distillation of whiskey, but found no major manufacturers in the US who report adding gluten-containing mash to the distilled whiskey.
Another potential problem could be liquors in which caramel coloring is added. Caramel coloring may contain gluten, primarily if the ingredient is produced outside the USA, but not always. Thus, many on gluten-free diets may choose to avoid dark colored liquors because caramel coloring may be in the liquor and represent a potential source of gluten.
It is safest to avoid dark colored liquors because without food labels it is difficult, if not impossible, to know if caramel color is used in the liquor, and if so, if the caramel color is gluten-free. Individual consumers may be able to request this information from manufacturers, but most manufacturers are unlikely to promise the product gluten-free because manufacturers in mass-production environments are typically unaware of the source of an ingredient like caramel color.
If gluten-containing caramel color is present in a particular liquor, it is usually found in very small amounts, and people typically consume small amounts of liquor, so the amount of gluten in the alcohol may be negligible. Even so, I still recommend avoiding these suspect beverages as the safest long-term choice of action because there is no way to know how much gluten is in the drink.
I also recommend avoiding most prepared cocktails (strawberry daiquiris, margaritas, mojitos) when out, as the mixes commonly used contain lots of sugar, usually in the form of disgusting high-fructose corn syrup - a non-food best avoided by everyone.
If you want to order one of these cocktails, it is best to ask your bar or restaurant if you can see the ingredients on their mixer before you order. I found that many of my favorite restaurants carry a high-quality mixer made from real juices and pure cane sugar—but you can only get it if you order the “top shelf” drink with more expensive liquor.
If you mix your alcoholic beverage with another beverage, such as soda, tonic water, root beer, orange juice, be sure to check that your mixer is also gluten free. I have listed some popular mixers below, but did not mention sodas or juices. Most sodas and juices are gluten-free, but check the label to be sure.
Gluten-free alcoholic beverage choices- the list below is in alphabetic order.
Armagnac - made from grapes.
Beer: most beers contain gluten. However, there are now gluten-free beers on the market! Redbridge- easiest to find nationally, produced by Anheiser-Busch. Bard’s Tale brand (several varieties, most common is Dragon’s Gold) Green’s (several varieties)
Bourbon - Makers Mark is definitely GF.
Cider - fermented from apples or other fruits. Some are safe, however, many add barley for enzymes and flavor. Be sure to read labels or contact manufacturer. Spire Ciders are GF.
Cognac - made from grapes.
Kirschwasser (cherry liqueur)
Margarita Mix: Jose Cuervo. Mr. & Mrs. T.
Martini: traditional martinis are generally GF. Common mixes: Club Extra Dry Martini (corn & grape). Club Vodka Martini (corn & grape).
Mead - distilled from honey.
Mistico: Jose Cuervo Mistico (agave and cane).
Mixes & Cooking Alcohol: Club Tom Collins (corn). Dimond Jims Bloody Mary Mystery. Holland House - all EXCEPT Teriyaki Marinade and Smooth & Spicy Bloody Mary Mixes. Mr. & Mrs. T - all Except Bloody Mary Mix. Spice Islands - Cooking Wines - Burgundy, Sherry and White. However, I suggest cooking with REAL wine as cooking wines are poor quality. Stirrings- they make a variety of cocktail mixes, higher quality that most mixes.
Ouzo - made from grapes and anise.
Sake - fermented with rice and Koji enzymes. The Koji enzymes are grown on Miso, which is usually made with barley. The two-product separation from barley, and the manufacturing process should make it gluten-free.
Wine - all wines, including port wines and sherry, are gluten-free. Wine Coolers: Despite the name, most wine coolers are malt based and contain gluten. Bartle & James - wine-based beverages only. Boones - wine-based beverages only
Whiskey- Jack Daniels’ Black Label Whiskey is GF. Maker’s Mark Whiskey is GF. Seagram’s Crown Whiskey is also GF. Other whiskeys likely are, as per previous discussion, however are not confirmed by the manufacturer.
If you have any questions about celiac disease, you are welcome to ask them in the comments section and they will be addressed in future articles.
Dr. Selena Eon practices in Bellevue, WA and you may contact her at (206) 228-9537 or visit www.drselenaeon.com