Increasingly people are limiting the amount of gluten they eat, whether out of necessity or curiosity or to achieve certain health benefits.
One of the greatest difficulties with a gluten-free diet is that it requires you to avoid many common foods and drinks, including some alcoholic beverages.
This can make it challenging to know what to eat or drink, especially when you’re ordering at a restaurant or bar.
In this guide, I’ll share everything you need to know about gluten-free alcoholic beverages — including the difference between gluten-free and gluten-removed beers. You’ll also get specific brand recommendations and useful shopping tips.
“Gluten” is a term that refers to hundreds of proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). The most common proteins in gluten are gliadin and glutenin (
Gluten is very resistant to enzymes that break down proteins in your gut, so it doesn’t always get digested completely.
When an incompletely digested chain of gluten proteins crosses over from the small intestine into the rest of the body, it can cause a variety of concerns, including (
- brain fog
- skin issues
People who are intolerant to gluten — such as in the case of celiac disease, wheat allergy, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity — are more likely to experience these concerns after ingesting gluten.
This inflammatory autoimmune disorder causes the small intestine to become inflamed when it comes into contact with gluten.
When people with celiac disease consume gluten-containing foods or drinks, the cells lining the inside of their small intestine become damaged. This causes concerns like nutrient malabsorption, diarrhea, and weight loss (
Other common symptoms of celiac disease include anemia, osteoporosis, brain fog, infertility, and skin concerns. Still, about half of people with celiac disease will experience virtually no symptoms at all (
Celiac disease can be diagnosed with a blood test or an intestinal biopsy. Currently, the only way to treat celiac disease is to follow a diet that’s completely gluten-free (
People who are allergic to wheat have an atypical immune response to the proteins found in wheat and foods made from this grain (
This allergic reaction can range in severity from mild nausea to life threatening anaphylaxis — a severe complication that makes it hard to breathe (
Gluten is one of the many types of protein found in wheat. So, it’s possible for someone to be allergic to wheat but still tolerate gluten from other grains, such as barley or rye.
It’s also possible for someone to have both a wheat allergy and celiac disease. Wheat allergies are usually diagnosed through a blood test or skin-prick testing, and treatment requires following a wheat-free diet.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity
Some people may still experience digestive concerns, such as bloating, pain, diarrhea, nausea, and reflux, when they eat gluten, even if they don’t have celiac disease or a wheat allergy (
In addition to intestinal symptoms, people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity often also experience a range of non-digestive symptoms after eating gluten.
These may include (
- blurred mind
- pain, including joint pain
- skin issues
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is diagnosed by first ruling out celiac disease and wheat allergy. The person can then be asked to follow a gluten-free diet for up to 6 weeks, after which gluten will be reintroduced to evaluate their reaction to it (
Most people who suspect having a non-celiac gluten sensitivity report they experience a reduction in symptoms when following a gluten-free diet.
People who do not tolerate gluten may have either celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. For different reasons, all three groups may benefit from drinking gluten-free alcoholic beverages instead of drinks that contain gluten.
Gluten-free alcoholic beverages may be a great option for people who want to limit the amount of gluten they consume yet still enjoy a drink.
Many alcoholic beverages are naturally free of gluten, while a few others may be modified to be lower in gluten.
Since wine is made from fruit, it is naturally gluten-free.
This applies to regular red, white, or rosé wines, as well as to sparkling wines, such as prosecco and champagne. It also holds true for fortified wines, such as vermouth, port, and sherry.
Alcoholic beverages that come from wine are also typically gluten-free. This includes cognac, which is a type of brandy made from distilled white wine.
That said, you should be wary of wines that contain added flavorings, such as those sometimes added to sweet dessert wines. Some of these flavorings may contain gluten.
When in doubt, double-check the wine’s ingredient list to make sure that it is completely gluten-free.
Distilled spirits are made by first fermenting plant materials. These plant materials may include gluten-containing grains but may also be naturally gluten-free, such as fruit.
The fermented plant juice is then heated until it vaporizes. This vapor is then condensed back into an alcohol-containing liquid in a process known as distillation (
During distillation, components with lower boiling points are separated from those with higher boiling points, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (9).
Gluten, like all other proteins, has a boiling point that’s very high. This means that it doesn’t vaporize during this distillation process. As a result, it’s left behind and not included in the distilled spirit.
This is why all distilled spirits are considered gluten-free, even if they are made from a gluten-containing grain (
That said, I have come across some anecdotal reports of people who experienced issues after drinking gin, whiskey, bourbon, or vodkas made from gluten-containing grains.
Their concerns include extremely fast intoxication and disproportionately strong hangovers.
If you find this is the case for you, consider opting for spirits made from gluten-free ingredients instead, such as brandy, rum, tequila, or gluten-free vodka.
You may also consider choosing a gluten-free beverage with a lower alcohol concentration, like wine or cider.
Cider is a fermented fruit juice, which makes it naturally gluten-free. The most popular kind is likely apple cider.
That said, it’s important to note that some cider manufacturers may add gluten-containing ingredients to enhance the cider’s flavor. Some ciders are also made in the same facility as gluten-containing alcoholic beverages, such as beer.
That’s why it’s still worth looking for a gluten-free label to ensure that the cider you’re considering is truly gluten-free.
Mixed drinks and liqueurs
Liqueurs such as amaretto, brandy, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Kahlúa, and schnapps are made from distilled alcohol to which sugar or other flavorings have been added.
This means that, in general, liqueurs are considered gluten-free. However, just as with cider, not all their ingredients are free of gluten.
The same can be said of mixed drinks, which contain a combination of distilled spirits, liqueurs, and drink mixes.
It’s always best to check labels to ensure that no gluten-containing ingredients have been added. When in doubt, stick to simple gluten-free mixed drinks, such as a gin and tonic or a martini made with potato-based vodka.
Most beer contains gluten. That’s because beer is most commonly made from wheat or barley — two gluten-containing grains. This makes this alcoholic beverage unsuitable if you have a gluten sensitivity (
However, some manufacturers have begun making beer from gluten-free grains, such as sorghum, maize, millet, oats, or from pseudocereals, such as amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa.
These gluten-free beers are suitable for people with celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (
In addition, some manufacturers have also begun producing gluten-removed beers and marketing them to people following a gluten-free diet.
These beers are made with gluten-containing grains but are later treated with an enzyme that breaks down the gluten protein.
However, this process doesn’t actually remove the gluten protein entirely, and many people report experiencing reactions to these drinks. Plus, some experts have questioned whether the gluten testing of these beers is accurate (
For now, the safest way to avoid gluten in beer is to pick one that’s brewed from gluten-free grains.
Most wines, ciders, distilled spirits, and liqueurs are naturally gluten-free. Beer can be gluten-free when made from a grain that doesn’t contain gluten. If you’re highly sensitive to gluten, consider staying away from gluten-removed beers.
When shopping for gluten-free alcoholic drinks, make sure to start by looking at the ingredients label.
Avoid any of these ingredients, which all contain gluten:
These ingredients are often bolded in the ingredients list, for emphasis.
It may also be useful to keep an eye out for gluten-free labels. This may be especially useful if you’re choosing beer because it helps distinguish those made with gluten-free grains from gluten-removed beers made with gluten-containing grains.
Finally, it’s best to avoid alcoholic beverages that state they “may contain traces of gluten” on the label. This typically means that they’re made in a factory that also makes gluten-containing foods, so they may be cross-contaminated with gluten from another product.
And you can always ask a salesperson if they have any gluten-free recommendations.
When shopping for gluten-free alcoholic drinks, avoid ones with wheat, rye, barley, spelt, or kamut on the ingredients list. Also steer clear of ones which “may contain traces of gluten.”
Here are a few alcohol brands that are considered gluten-free at the time we published this article:
- Wines: Almost all wines are gluten-free, but when in doubt, check the label.
- Ciders: Angry Orchard, Ciderboys, Ace Cider, Downeast Cider, Stella Cidre, Woodchuck Cider, as well as four out of five flavors from Strongbow Hard Cider are gluten-free.
- Distilled spirits: Brandy, rum, and tequila are naturally gluten-free. Chopin and Tito’s vodkas, Cold River Gin or Schramm Organic Gin, and Queen Jennie Whiskey are gluten-free.
- Liqueurs: Chartreuse, Cointreau, Disaronno, Grand Marnier, Hennessy, Kahlúa, Sambuca, and Martini are gluten-free.
- Gluten-free beers: Holiday Brewing Company, Burning Brothers, Glutenberg, Ghostfish, New Planet, and Ground Breaker are gluten-free.
Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive. To find out whether an alcoholic drink is truly gluten-free, always double-check its ingredients list.
Above you’ll find a few current gluten-free options. You can check the suitability of other brands by reviewing their ingredient label. Also consider asking a salesperson for help. They may have a few gluten-free go-tos.
If you wish to limit the amount of gluten in your diet, you still have a wide variety of gluten-free alcoholic beverages to pick from.
The safest to enjoy are those made from ingredients that naturally don’t contain gluten — for instance, beer that’s made from sorghum or millet rather than wheat or barley.
Be wary of mixed drinks and liqueurs, which may contain both gluten-free and gluten-containing ingredients. When in doubt, check the ingredients label or stick to safe combinations, such as a gin and tonic or a martini made with potato-based vodka.
Just one thing
Try this: To make the decision-making process simpler when you’re out for a drink at a restaurant or bar, consider opting for wine, beer, or cider that’s labeled gluten-free or a distilled spirit on the rocks instead of a mixed drink.