Can I drink that?
Roll up, roll up, it’s party season! Time to sit in the sun and have a cocktail or dance the night away in your favourite bar with a sparkling wine. So what can you drink when you feel like a gluten free tipple or two?
The good news is that most alcohol is gluten free. According to Coeliac Australia “All alcohol is gluten free with the exception of beer. This means anything from bourbon to tequila, sparkling wines, spirits, port, sherry and even cider, in moderation, is safe as part of a gluten free diet. Listing ingredients on alcoholic products is not mandatory.”
There are still however a few things to be wary of. So what are your options and what should you look out for? When do you need to double check with manufacturers?
Wine and Champagne.
Plain wine and champagne are almost always safe, but double check ingredients on fruit flavoured wines, wine coolers and wine cocktails, since those may contain added gluten. Wine coolers sometimes contain added barley malt; sweet dessert wines may have added fruit flavours or spices, and a champagne cocktail may have anything added these days. When in doubt, stick with plain wine or champagne.
Beer, Ciders and sake.
Avoid all beer unless it's specifically labelled "gluten free." Beer is usually produced by fermenting malt barley. The fermenting process is not the same as distillation and does not remove the gluten proteins. Luckily there are lots of gluten free beers now being sold in Australia made from gluten free grains such as sorghum, millet, and rice. These beers will be clearly marketed as gluten free (not low gluten or gluten reduced).
Beware of any beers made from malt barley even if you experience no reactions. There are brands that claim to be low gluten or gluten free but contain malt barley. Fermenting changes the gluten protein and the protein can’t always be accurately detected with current technology. Tests may show nil gluten but the testing is considered inaccurate. Malt barley beers are a definite no-go for coeliacs.
Ciders are usually gluten free. Most are made from fermented fruits, such as apples or pears, making them naturally gluten free. Some might add ingredients like barley to enhance the flavour, so always check your labels.
Sake is usually made from rice (a gluten free grain). It can contain traces of barley, so just double check.
Spirits made from grains - Theoretically all distilled alcohol is considered gluten free. The distillation process removes the gluten. Lots of different spirits including vodka, bourbon, gin, and whiskey, are made by distilling gluten grains. Those with a wheat allergy or people with extreme sensitivity may still wish to avoid these; as they may for food with glucose syrup made from wheat.
Spirits not made from grains – Brandy, rum and tequilas are almost always gluten free. Exceptions to the rule may include flavoured and spiced rums and pre-made mixers.
If you particularly enjoy flavoured or mixed products, don't assume that it’s gluten free just because the base is. Read up on products, speak to manufacturers, and see how your body reacts.
Cocktails and liqueurs
Mixed drinks are often problematic because even if you order a traditional cocktail, made with gluten free ingredients, many bars will have their own twists on the traditional. This can include adding a special ingredient or gorgeous garnish, which may contain gluten. There can also be general cross contamination concerns including beer sloshed over ice and shared cocktail shakers and equipment. Make your bartender your friend and ask questions if you are a cocktail drinker.
And finally, alcohol is technically a poison. Any reaction you have, may or may not be from gluten. Use these tips to help you select a gluten free drink, but be sure to monitor how you feel during and after drinking. Drink responsibly and don’t forget the gluten free pretzels!