gluten in alcohol

detail from print by claudine crangle
The misinformation out there on alcohol can make you dizzier than downing a mickey of rum. To start, I'll share that that said rum would be gluten free. Actually, anything purely "distilled" is a safe bet. Yep - even if that vodka was made from wheat. Distilled alcohol does not contain particles large enough to carry the gluten protein. Drink up Johnny. 

There are two different processes for making alcohol: fermentation and distillation. very simply put, fermentation is the addition of yeast to sugar (like grapes). Yeast acts on sugar, creating carbon dioxide and alcohol. Beer and wine are both made this way.

Distillation is the addition of an enzyme to starch, which creates sugar. Yeast is then added, and the result is fermented alcohol. The liquid containing this alcohol is then heated. The alcohol, which contains very small molecules, evaporates faster than the other liquid in the vat. The actual grains used to make this product are protein molecules too large to evaporate with the alcohol. So the grain remains in the "mash" or mush left at the bottom of the vat. The result is pure alcohol with none of the characteristics of the product from which in originated. To this end, a distiller of vodka could use corn one year and wheat the next and his product will not change. Gin is made in the same manner, but what makes it different from vodka is an infusion of herbs and flavorings. 

The reason it's important to note the difference between these two processes is because in fermentation, the ingredients all go into the bottle. In distillation, only the vapors from the ingredients go into the bottle. These molecules are not carrying any of the grains made to use the by-product. It's been suggested that the quantity of gluten left after the distillation process is so minute you'd have to drink a barrel of it to experience any side effects. I suspect you'd have bigger problems than a gluten reaction!

All this said, I'm a wine drinker. Not a fussy one. I just like wine. Oh, and Campari. big fan. That Campari is a "fortified" wine beverage - meaning it has distilled alcohol in it too.

I get it if you still aren't sure. Check with the distributor of your favorite booze if you want a second opinion - I got mine from a meeting with an expert from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. I interviewed him for my book (much of what I've posted here is an excerpt of Living Well with Celiac Disease). 

Oh, and I'd be remiss not to mention all of the new gluten-free beers on the market... no need to go without anymore! Isn't it shocking that alcohol can be so widely distributed without an ingredients listing? It's no wonder everyone is so confused.

1 comment:

  1. I was surprised to find out that some wines are refined with egg and fish products, I have a friend who has to be very careful what they drink. I certainly think ingredients should be listed on alcohol as well.