Gluten free foods have been confined to health food aisles for years but are now suddenly popping up everywhere. A bounty of products now proudly carry the “gluten free” label and many restaurants offer menu items sans gluten. But what about the alcohol industry? Are there certain liquors that are gluten free?
Most celiac disease experts have concluded that distilled alcoholic beverages made from gluten grains, which includes whiskey since it’s commonly made from barley, are gluten free (this is according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s standard of gluten free which is less than 20 parts per million). But this is not to say some people with a gluten sensitivity would never react to alcoholic beverages distilled from gluten grains. So what’s the real scoop?
Is whiskey gluten free?
People with celiac disease can’t tolerate gluten, even in small quantities. Just 50 milligrams of gluten—or equivalent to one small crouton—is enough to cause trouble. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, whiskey is gluten free regardless of the grains used to make it. The reason? The way it’s made. However, it is possible that there could be hidden gluten added back into whiskey after distillation through flavorings or other additives. And there’s also a risk for cross-contact with other products containing wheat, barley or rye, which means individuals with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity may still react to consuming whiskey.
Then there’s the issue of the actual labeling on a whiskey product. In the United States, the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is the sole regulatory agency with jurisdiction over the labeling of distilled alcohol. Labeling regulations prevent products made with wheat, rye or barley ingredients to be labeled gluten free. So even though these products are free from gluten and considered safe for celiacs, they cannot be labeled as such.
It’s all due to distillation
There are many popular types of whiskey enjoyed around the world. And that means the drink can be made from a variety of grains and grain combinations, including corn, barley, rye and wheat. Despite using gluten-containing grains, the beverage is still considered gluten free. And the reason boils down to the distillation process.
The process of making whiskey includes distilling a fermented grain mash and aging in barrels. Distillation happens when the fermented mash is heated into a vapor and then condensed back into a liquid. During this step of the process, alcohol gets separated from the grain mixture and since gluten doesn’t evaporate, it stays behind with the solids. Because of this process, products using distilled gluten-containing grains can use the statement, “Processed or treated or crafted to remove gluten.” Plus, these products must state that they’re made from gluten-containing grains and cannot verify that 100 percent of the gluten was removed during distillation.
The final verdict
Many experts would agree that because of the distillation process, all whiskey is gluten free. However, there’s no guarantee that 100 percent of the gluten is removed during distillation. And flavored versions of whiskey could have ingredients that contain gluten added back in after distillation. There’s only one way to guarantee that your whiskey is free from gluten. Opt for whiskey that is made from 100 percent gluten free grains, such as corn, millet or sorghum.
If you’re looking for a new way to enjoy different types of craft whiskey, check out RackHouse Whiskey Club. RackHouse scours the U.S. looking for the best distilleries with the most interesting stories to curate a unique subscription box filled with full-sized bottles of hard-to-find small batch whiskey. We’re building a community of premium craft whiskey drinkers and you’re invited. Join us!