Drinking While Gluten-Free? Here's Your Survival Guide
Photo: Kelsey Chance
By: Jillian Rodriguez
You’re sitting poolside soaking in the summer sun with friends, and someone hands you a brightly colored drink with an umbrella in it. It’s the perfect summer day, right?
Not if you’re gluten-free. But with a quick crash course on what kind of alcohol is gluten-free, it can be. Summer is the season for fruity drinks and creative cocktails, so it’s crucial that gluten-free folks know which alcoholic drinks are gluten-free and which aren’t. And a quick reminder, products and ingredients may change, so always consult the manufacturer for the most accurate and up-to-date information.
Photo: Kaizen Nguyễn
Here’s your definitive guide to drinking while gluten-free — and a few of our favorite beers and cocktail recipes, too.
Alcohol That Isn’t Gluten-Free
Let’s rip off the band-aid and start with the bad news first. When you’re gluten-free, most traditional beers are off-limits. The good news? Almost all spirits are gluten-free thanks to the distillation process (more on that later!). Let’s dig into the kinds of alcohol that do contain gluten.
If you’re gluten-free, avoid:
- Traditionally-brewed beer. The biggest sacrifice most on a GF diet make is giving up traditional beer. Most beer is brewed with barley, rye, or wheat, making it a glass full of poison for people with Celiac Disease or on a gluten-free diet. Luckily, there are gluten-free beer options out there, and we’ll point you to our favorites later on.
- Malt beverages. For those new to the gluten-free diet, malt is an easy one to forget about. Malt does in fact contain gluten, which means that malt beverages like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Bud Light’s Straw-Ber-Rita are out of the picture.
- Wine coolers. Wine is widely considered to be gluten-free, so it would be easy to assume wine coolers are, too. But wine coolers actually contain barley malt, which is two strikes against wine coolers. Steer clear, gluten-haters!
- Certain Sake. While most distilled liquor is gluten-free, some Sake is reported to contain traces of barley. Your best bet is to request Sake that is purely rice-based or contact the manufacturer directly.
- Certain wine. I know, how could wine betray us?! While most wine is gluten-free, certain dessert wines, bottled spritzers, and wine with added flavors might contain gluten because of the additives. Either stick to traditional wines or do your research before pouring a glass.
- Certain flavored spirits. Sick of the word ‘certain’ yet? We are, too. But better safe than sorry — anytime you’re dealing with flavored alcohol, do your due diligence. Many flavorings are imported from all over the world and may contain gluten, even though the label will only say something like ‘strawberry flavor.’ Before buying flavored vodka, schnapps, or whiskey, find out if the added flavors are gluten free.
Our Favorite GF Bottled Drink: White Claw Hard Seltzer
Are Distilled Liquors Gluten-Free?
The short answer: yes. The long answer? Even though it’s counter-intuitive that grain-based spirits are gluten-free, the distillation process separates the alcohol from gluten-containing grains, leaving no physical trace of gluten in your rye bourbon or malt whiskey. That said, not everyone in the gluten-free community agrees — and while the science is there, no studies have been done to measure if the traces of gluten post-distillation meet the standards for gluten-free. What does that mean for you? Always do what works best for you and your health, and if you notice a bad reaction, stop drinking grain-based liquors.
Remember to check ingredient labels and be wary of flavors added after the distillation process. If you’re having cinnamon whiskey or vanilla bourbon, you’re going to want to confirm with the manufacturer that the flavorings don’t contain gluten.
Our Favorite Cocktail: A simple, summery Watermelon Margarita from Minimalist Baker
Are Gluten-Removed Beers Gluten-Free?
The short answer: maybe. The long answer? Gluten-removed beers, like New Belgium Glutiny and Omission beer, are traditionally-brewed beers (brewed using wheat, rye, or barley) that undergo a process to break down the gluten using a special enzyme. The key word there is ‘break down’ — the gluten isn’t actually removed.
The logic here is that the gluten in the beer is broken down to levels that are nearly undetectable, so your body shouldn’t detect it either, right? The jury is still out on this one. The research just isn’t there to prove if gluten-removed beers truly meet the standard for gluten-free (less than 20 parts per million), so the decision is yours.
Our recommendation? If you’re gluten-free for medical reasons, opt for a gluten-free beer brewed with sorghum like Redbridge and New Grist. Or, go for one of the many delicious, gluten-free hard ciders on the market. These products are verifiably gluten-free so you don’t have to worry about a bad reaction on your beach vacation.
Our Favorite Beers: Check out our Gluten-Free Beer List — and our favorite hard ciders, too!
What’s your go-to gluten-free alcoholic drink or recipe? Let us know in the comments below!