This article is gluten-free, and so is vodka and whiskey. This is great news if you have been avoiding these spirits because of concerns of adverse effects. There are a lot of myths about all alcoholic beverages, and we like to think that we are experts, and we tell our friends and relatives things we have heard, without actually looking up the information to make sure that it’s correct. So if you have Celiac disease, or are avoiding gluten as part of a weight-loss diet, you do not have to miss out on your favorite drinks.
Want proof? Here are the facts.
First, a short lesson in how spirits are made. Start with fermentation. This is the process by which yeast breaks down sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide gas leaves the fermenting mixture, and a mixture of ethanol and water results. Then distillation takes place. The ethanol and water are heated, and the ethanol vaporizes first because it has a lower boiling point than water. The vaporized ethanol is collected (this is the spirit), and is cooled, causing it to condense back into ethanol liquid. The National Institutes of Health Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign states, “All distilled spirits are gluten-free.”
For those who know someone who swears to have adverse effects when consuming spirits distilled from wheat or barley, here are some things to consider. First, let’s not forget the placebo effect. One in three people will feel the effects if they truly believe that it will affect them, but it’s all psychosomatic. Second, there are other additives that are legally allowed in spirits without necessitating labeling, such as caramel coloring, artificial flavoring, citric acid, casein and glycerin (for mouthfeel). That being said, people with a gluten sensitivity should avoid flavored spirits, as they may contain malt. It is more likely that one of these additives are causing ill effects, or it could also be something used as a mixer, an underlying medical condition, or combining with certain medications (did you read all that microscopic print?). One thing is for certain, it’s not the gluten. So have a shot of that 20-year-old Scotch you received for your birthday – you deserve it!
Heather Hitson, Wine & Spirits Specialist – Lady Lake