Whiskey, which is named after the Irish-language phrase for “water of life,” is a popular alcoholic beverage enjoyed around the world.

There are many varieties of whiskey, including bourbon and Scotch, and the drink can be made from a variety of grains and grain combinations, with corn, barley, rye, and wheat being the most common. 

The process of making whiskey includes distilling a fermented grain mash and aging the resulting alcohol in oak barrels. Despite many types being made from gluten-containing grains, the beverage is often thought to be gluten-free due to the distillation process (1). 

Essentially, distillation is when the fermented mash is heated into a vapor and then condensed back into a liquid. During this process, alcohol is separated from the fermented grain mixture. As gluten doesn’t evaporate, it’s left behind with the solids (2, 3). 

However, there are still some concerns over whether the beverage is truly gluten-free. 

This article discusses whether all whiskey is gluten-free. 

Regulations and labeling

The Celiac Disease Foundation has concluded that whiskey — regardless of the grains used to make it — is gluten-free as a result of the distillation process (3, 4). 

Yet, some individuals with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity may react to whiskeys made from gluten-containing grains. 

To discuss whether whiskey is gluten-free, it’s important to understand the regulations on the gluten-free labeling of distilled beverages. 

In the United States, the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is the sole regulatory agency with jurisdiction over the labeling of distilled alcohol.

It does not allow for any distilled alcohol made from gluten-containing ingredients to be labeled as gluten-free. Products using distilled gluten-containing grains can use the statement, “Processed or treated or crafted to remove gluten” (5). 

Additionally, these products must state that they’re made from gluten-containing grains and that it can’t be verified that 100% of the gluten was removed during distillation (5). 

Summary

While the Celiac Disease Foundation considers whiskey gluten-free due to the distillation process, some individuals may react to trace amounts. The TTB is the sole regulatory agency with jurisdiction over the labeling of distilled alcohol.

Why some people may experience symptoms 

There are several reasons why some individuals may have negative reactions to consuming whiskey. 

While distillation separates most of the gluten, there’s a chance that it doesn’t remove 100%, especially if the distillation process wasn’t performed correctly (5, 6).

Additionally, there’s a risk of cross-contamination if the whiskey is processed in a facility that handles gluten-containing ingredients.

What’s more, gluten-containing ingredients may be added to whiskey after distillation, such as undistilled grain mash for flavor or caramel coloring made from barley malt. 

Unfortunately, it’s often impossible to tell if these ingredients were added by simply looking at the bottle. Therefore, the best way to know whether a product is safe to consume is by contacting the distillery directly. 

Plus, when it comes to mixed drinks, it’s important to check with your bartender to make sure that all of the ingredients used are gluten-free. 

Summary

Some people with gluten sensitivity may react to whiskey due to trace amounts of gluten, cross-contamination during processing, or gluten-containing ingredients that were added to the product after distillation.

Many popular brands of whiskey are made from a mash made with gluten-containing grains. However, people with gluten allergies or sensitivities may still be able to tolerate them due to the distillation process.

Examples include: 

  • Crown Royal Canadian Whiskey 
  • Glenfiddich Scotch 
  • Jack Daniel’s Whiskey 
  • Jameson Whiskey 
  • Jim Beam Bourbon 
  • Johnny Walker Scotch 
  • Knob Creek Whiskey 
  • Wild Turkey Bourbon 

That said, even if whiskey is labeled gluten-free, those who are particularly sensitive to gluten should be cautious about consuming whiskey made from gluten-containing grains, as there’s no guarantee that 100% of the gluten has been removed. 

Additionally, flavored versions like Fireball contain third-party ingredients, which may have been exposed to cross-contamination. If you’re curious about the ingredients in your favorite flavored beverage, it’s worth contacting the distillery directly. 

Summary

Though many people with gluten sensitivity can tolerate whiskey, some may experience symptoms when consuming versions made from gluten-containing grains or flavored varieties.

Gluten-free whiskey brands

If you have had reactions to grain-based whiskeys or are concerned about how much gluten may remain after the distillation process, there are gluten-free options available. 

As mentioned, whiskeys and bourbons can be made from a variety of grains, including gluten-free options like corn, millet, and sorghum. 

Here are some brands to look for: 

  • Hudson Baby Bourbon: made from 100% corn
  • James F.C. Hyde Sorgho Whiskey: made from 100% sorghum 
  • Koval Bourbon Whiskey: made from 100% corn and millet mix 
  • Koval Millet Whiskey: made from 100% millet 
  • New Southern Revival Sorghum Whiskey: made from 100% sorghum
  • Queen Jennie Sorghum Whiskey: made from 100% sorghum 
  • S.S. Sorghum Whiskey: made from 100% sorghum 

Additionally, depending on where you live, you may be able to find small, local distilleries that make beverages using only gluten-free grains

Still, keep in mind that some distilleries may also produce other alcohols made from gluten-containing ingredients. If you’re concerned about cross-contamination, it’s always a good idea to reach out to the distillery directly. 

Summary

Whiskeys made from 100% gluten-free grains, such as sorghum or corn, can be a good option if you’re allergic or sensitive to gluten.

The bottom line

Whiskey is a type of distilled alcohol commonly made from a fermented, gluten-containing grain mash. 

Due to the distillation process, many experts argue that all whiskey is gluten-free.

However, some people may still react to these beverages, as there’s no guarantee that 100% of the gluten is removed through distillation. Plus, some versions, especially flavored ones, have ingredients that may contain gluten or be cross-contaminated added to them after distillation.

The only way to guarantee your whiskey is free from gluten is to purchase a product made from 100% gluten-free grains, such as corn, millet, or sorghum.

And remember, regardless of which type of whiskey you choose to drink, enjoy it in moderation. Stick to the recommendations and don’t exceed one standard drink per day for women and two for men (7).