Are Distilled Spirits Gluten Free? – Forget What You Know About Wheat(c) 2014


      Distilled and fermented products which are made from gluten containing source grains and are processed, treated or crafted to remove gluten cannot be labeled “Gluten Free” in the United States.

People on a medically necessary gluten free diet, generally refers to folks with NCGS (Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity) or CD (Celiac Disease), often complain of reactions to some distilled spirits.

Distillation is a process which ferments organic matter for alcohol.  The source is fermented, heated and the fermented alcohol (ethanol) is captured, leaving the fermented grain, fruit or vegetable behind.

The US TTB (Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) is responsible to promote and enforce regulations of distilled spirits, wine and malt beverages in the United States.  The TTB asserts that gluten free claims on any alcohol beverages made from gluten containing source grains are considered to be “misleading”(ix).

Distilled beverages and fermented wines from gluten containing source grains cannot be labeled gluten free “because products made from ingredients that contain gluten may, despite processing to remove gluten, still contain gluten that cannot be detected using available testing methods.” (viii)  This means, manufacturers can label spirits that are “processed, treated or crafted to remove gluten,” but they must also include a qualifying statement concerning the product’s gluten containing source grain(s). Concerning food and beverage manufacturing internationally, it is generally believed the distilliation process removes gluten. However, the TTB is clear on its posistion that distilled and fermented products which are processed, treated or crafted to remove gluten cannot be labeled “Gluten Free” in the United States because the product may still contain gluten which can’t be measured using avaialble testing tools.

Many manufacturers of distilled spirits refer to the European Union’s (EU) Food Law – which asserts that distilled spirits made from gluten containing grains (wheat, rye or barley) have left the gluten behind during the distillation process.  Absolut and other brands follow EU standards and claim their clean spirits without flavoring (e.g. Vodka as opposed to Vanilla Vodka) are free of gluten.  Many of these brands make statements like Absolut: “the gluten is removed in the production process…[i] In 2013 Jack Daniels stated that  “…it is generally recognized…that distilled alcoholic beverages, including bourbons and whiskies, are gluten-free, because the gluten is not carried over in the distillation process.”[ii]  Distilled Spirits Manufacturers of this perspective generally cite the EU Food Law EC/178/2002 and its subsequent amendments.  However, a closer look at EU regulation reveals something unsettling. The EU (by regulation) uses a private corporation (European Food Safety Authority – EFSA), to provide “independent scientific advice”  on questions of foods and food safety.  In 2007 EFSA provided an opinion for a “permanent exemption”[iii]  from allergen status on distilled spirits originating from gluten containing grains.  To draw this conclusion, EFSA’s research used only “current literature”[iv]   on the topic and “analytical data[v] on potential residual proteins (gluten.)  EFSA did not conduct clinical studies on humans and EFSA did not use double blind placebo controlled food challenge clinical studies.  Yet, EFSA concluded that it is “unlikely”[vi] distillates made from gluten containing grains elicit a severe allergic reaction.  EFSA also concluded that proteins (gluten) are not carried over into distillate during properly controlled distillation process.

What does this mean for those of us who can’t consume gluten?  Don’t drink the alcohol in question until you know the source grain.  If the source grain has gluten, you may have a reaction.  You can email customer service for just about any distilled spirit on the market.  I encourage you to ask directly which of their products are gluten free, and what guideline do they use to determine the presence of gluten.

Flavored spirits are becoming more and more popular.  I enjoy the occasional mixed drink, but have felt incredibly left out of this current trend.  Many food additives are derived from source grains which include gluten.  This includes flavorings, colorings and stabilizers.  Remember to always read the label and call or email the manufacturer for gluten verification if unsure.

Has this happened to you?  On many hot summer nights, I have sat watching and drooling over friends drinks containing vanilla vodka.  Click here to learn how to make Gluten Free Vanilla Flavored Vodka and Gluten Free “Cake Mix” Cocktail copycat.  Also visit my friends at Elm Brook Farm Craft Distilery Artisan Sipping Spirits:  Literary Dog Vodka and Rail Dog Barrel Aged Maple Spirit No Gluten Ingredients, Crafted in a facility which does not process Wheat or Gluten.  Made in East Fairfield, Vermont


[i]; Is there Gluten in Abosolut Vodka?”; http//us/about/qna; September 2013

[ii] Personal email correspondence with Jack Daniels; 5/20/2013

[iii] EU Regulation EC/68/2007

[iv] EFSA Opinion Summary:  “Opinion of the Panel on Dietetic Products, nutrtion and allergies [NDA] related to a notification from CEPS on cereals used in distillates for spirits” pursuant to Article 6, Paragraph 11 of Directive 2000/13/EC;; EFSA Journal June 2007

[v] IBID

[vi] IBID

[vii] US Department of the Treasury, Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau(TTB) Press Release 5/22/2013:  “TTB Issues Ruling  on Gluten Labeling for Alcohol Beverages”;

[viii] TTB Ruling No. 2012-2 May 24, 2012:  “Interim Policy on Gluten Content Statements in the Labeling and Advertising of Wines, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages”;

(ix) TTB Ruling 2014-2 : “Revised Interim Policy on Gluten Content Statements in the Labeling and Advertising of Wine, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages”;TTB;  2/11/2014;

“Are Distilled Spirits Gluten Free?” by Liz Conforti, Forget What You Know About Wheat(c) 2014

Related Kitchen Wisdom Gluten Free Articles:


“Gluten Free Vanilla Flavored Vodka”

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