Beer, Wine, and Spirits:
Gluten Free Alcohol

Beverages containing alcohol accompany many happy occasions for lots of people. It's the final insult, then, when we find out that - on top of everything else that just got taken away from us - we can't have our favorite beer when we grill out or watch the game.

On top of that, the list of what we can and cannot have changes, so no one seems to be sure just which beer, wine, or spirits are gluten-free and which are not.

When I first went gluten-free, the only beer, wine, or spirits selections I felt were safe for me were wines, because whiskey was made from grain - but no one told me wine coolers were malt beverages (and I never thought to check)!

So, what's the real deal, anyway? Read on and find out!


Wines, Sparkling Wines, and Champagnes

Wines made from grapes, apples, rhubarb, cherries & berries, melons, other fruits, or honey, are gluten- and grain-free; however, flavored wines may or may not be.

Natural flavors, often added to specialty wines in the United States, may include gluten- or grain-containing flavorings. You can certainly contact the manufacturers to ask about the flavorings used, but there's no way to know for sure that everyone involved in answering that question has all the facts about gluten and gluten intolerance.

Sparkling wines and champagnes, like still wines, are naturally gluten free. As long as no flavorings are added during bottling, they are all safe to drink, with this one caveat:

Some wines are aged in barrels used for grain-based distilled products like whiskey.  Again, you can ask the manufacturer, or the vintner; if you are dealing directly with a vineyard that produces wine, the vintner(s) will likely be able to answer your questions; if you are dealing with a large manufacturing house, you may or may not receive accurate information because this type of information is rather esoteric.

If the barrels were used for grain-based alcohols, gluten could contaminate the wine - unless those beverages were distilled.  Gluten does not pass through the distillation process, and if only pure distilled liquor went into the barrels, you should be safe, unless you have problems with other factors in grains.

To be certain the wine has not been cross-contaminated, buy and drink only wines aged in stainless steel barrels.

Recommendation: Stick with wines aged in stainless steel barrels, and with no added flavors, to be sure they're gluten-free.

Boones Farm

Finding accurate information on Boones Farm beverages has been difficult. What information I could find indicates that Boones Farm products are malt beverages, and are therefore not safe for gluten intolerant persons to consume.

My understanding is that they had traditionally been flavored apple wines, but the product has recently changed to a malt beverage.

If anyone finds any different information, contact me and I will post the information as soon as possible.

Wine Coolers

Wine coolers are, at least all of them that I have seen, malt beverages. This means they contain gluten. Who knew, right? I drank them for months, thinking they were basically wine with soda pop, and it turns out I was drinking malt beverages. I might as well have had beer.

Recommendation: Wine coolers are unsafe because they contain barley malt.

*See the bottom of this webpage for a recipe for a safe wine-based beverage similar to a wine cooler!

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Mike's Hard Lemonade

The jury is still out on this one. Here is what Mike's website says in response to the question of how a malt beverage can be gluten-free:

"Magic. Ok, it's not! We know those with gluten allergies are taught to stay away from malt products so it's important to explain Mike's patented filtration process.

"We start with a malt base of fermented barley, not unprocessed barley, and hops that are processed using a highly specialized, multi-stage filtration process. Step three of this proprietary filtration process - which Mike's has perfected - removes all the color, malt sugars, glucose and flavors from the malt base. The end result? An extremely pure neutral malt base that is gluten-free."

( Accessed 12-23-2011, 00:01 CST, -6:00 GMT)

Everything I have read indicates that filtration does not effectively remove all gluten, and gluten isn't even listed among the factors the filtration is supposed to remove; malt sugar is said to be removed, but gluten is a protein, not a sugar. Additionally, they mention that the barley is fermented. On many levels, that makes it a healthier food; however, fermentation does not remove gluten any more than filtration does.

The ELISA Assay test (the one used by Bob's Red Mill and other reliable G-F manufacturers) will catch minute traces of gluten. Here's what the website says about the ELISA test:

"Our products were put through highly sensitive tests that indicate they are gluten-free. The ELISA test, the most stringent test currently available for gluten quantification, indicates that they contain less than 5 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, meaning they can be considered gluten-free. The results indicate that the products also tested well below the FDA's current proposed limit of 20ppm for a product to be considered gluten-free.

"Fun fact: Two mike's employees - our directors of quality assurance and compliance - have gluten allergies themselves and have been highly involved in our gluten-free testing to ensure we're offering an authentic and high quality gluten-free product.

"mike's lite hard lemonade and mike's lite cranberry lemonade were tested in February 2011 through the University of Nebraska's Food Allergy Research and Resource Program using two different methods - including the ELISA test, the most stringent test currently available for gluten quantification. Test results show that both lite products contain less than 5 parts per million (ppm) of gluten, less than the 20 ppm needed to be considered gluten-free."

( Accessed 12-23-2011, 00:02 CST, -6:00 GMT)

Mike's products are not required to list their ingredients:

"mike's® products are classified as beer under Federal law which does not require ingredient or nutritional labeling on beer as regulated by the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)."

( Accessed 12-23-2011, 0:06 CST, -6:00 GMT)

Recommendation: I am not comfortable with this information, as presented, about the safety of Mike's Hard products. That being the case, I cannot recommend them as safe. This will have to be your call:  Go to the website and read it for yourself. If more satisfactory information becomes available from Mike's, I will update this page as soon as I find out.

Hard Liquors

Alcohols such as whiskeys, scotches, bourbons, tequilas, gins, vodkas, etc. fall into this category. Any alcohol that is distilled is gluten-free. Here's why:

The gluten molecule does not vaporize with the ethanol and other volatile ingredients that pass through the condensation tubes of a still, commercial or private. This is one of those things like gravity: it always just works, and it can't be done wrong.

Sometimes manufacturers add natural flavors, including malted barley or malt extract. If these flavorings are added after the distillation process is completed, the formerly gluten free alcohol now contains gluten. Read the label on any flavored liquor. When in doubt, drink something else.

Recommendation: All unflavored distilled beverages are gluten-free. Evaluate flavored distilled beverages individually or avoid them. Triumph Dining Guide has a list of gluten free beer, wine, and spirits that are safe for celiacs, at least when it was published. Check it out!

Find more information on your favorite liquors and liqueurs here!

Beers and Fermented Beverages

Ale, bitter, bock, lager, pale ale, pilsner, porter, stout, wheat beer: these terms and more describe fermented barley and hops beverages. Because they are fermented and not distilled, they contain gluten from the barley or wheat. (If they were to be distilled, they would lose the characteristic beer flavor that comes from the barley or wheat.)

Until a few years ago, beer lovers who were gluten intolerant simply had to give up their favorite beverage. Now, gluten-free sorghum and rice beers have been introduced, and they do taste like some of the American bottled beers. Of course, lots of beer aficionados will likely dispute that statement, while others will wholeheartedly endorse it. In the end, it's a taste issue: you either like it or you don't.

Recommendations: Regular beer by any other name is still gluten-rich. Steer clear of barley-  or wheat-based beers, ales, pilsners, stouts, etc. Gluten-free sorghum and rice beers are safe for drinking and cooking, but are not grain-free. Artisanal brewers are creating gluten-free ales and stouts, which give beer lovers more choices. Always read labels, and when in doubt, drink something else.

Also, watch out for beer in brats, batters, sauces and other prepared foods.

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Sangria Wine Cooler

1  750-ml bottle of unoaked light, dry red wine such as beaujolais or lambrusco, chilled

⅓ - ½ cup fruit nectar, or ¼ - ⅓ cup honey or simple syrup

½ cup Cointreau, Patron Citronge, brandy, armagnac, triple sec or other liqueur

1 cup fruit, such as citrus, berries, apples, peaches or melons, cut into bite-sized pieces if necessary

dash of cardamon, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, or other spice

1 liter of club soda or sparkling water 

In a large bowl, mix a few ounces of red wine with the nectar and liqueur until well-blended. Add spices and fruits and blend thoroughly. Stir in the rest of the wine. Pour into serving bowl or pitcher, add ice, and slowly add sparkling water. Mix gently to combine. Serve immediately, well-chilled.

For a quick and simple wine cooler, use 1 750-ml bottle of beaujolais or lambrusco, chilled, and gently mix in 1 liter of chilled lemon-lime soda.  This will have corn in it, so if you are avoiding all grains, this is not an option.  Diet sodas are not recommended for use with alcohol.  Add orange slices and serve immediately.

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Mimosa is easy! The basic recipe is 1 part orange juice to 1 part champagne, mixed gently together.

Vary the recipe by adding fruit nectar for more sweetness, or by using flavored champagnes or different juices.

I love 1 part peach juice, 1 part orange juice, and 2 parts pink champagne.

For a lovely Valentine's day mimosa, mix 2 parts white grape juice with 1 part cold water, and a splash of rose water or corn-syrup-free grenadine. Stir in 3 parts pink champagne and serve immediately.

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