Distilled Alcohol and Gluten, Part 2

In part one of this discussion, I provided information from the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), the Celiac Sprue Association (CSA) and The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) regarding the gluten free status of distilled alcohol. Even though  documentation to prove that there are not gluten peptide fragments in a distilled alcohol is not currently possible with current testing methods these organizations assume that distilled alcohol from gluten-containing grains are gluten free because these alcohols are distilled.

While the lack of documentation doesn’t affect health recommendations, it does affect gluten-free label claim policies on distilled alcohol. In the past, the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has not allowed gluten-free claims on beverages, but now, in order to meet industry demand, new TTB policies will allow gluten-free claims. Soon you will see “gluten free” on certain distilled alcohols and not on others.

Regulation of gluten free claims on alcoholic beverages

Click here for details on the TTB policy explained by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD.

In brief, distilled alcohol may be labeled gluten free when made from a gluten-free grain only if the raw materials and the finished product are not contaminated with gluten. When a gluten-containing grain is used it cannot be labeled gluten free unless this statement is included on the label: “This product was distilled from grains containing gluten, which removed some or all of the gluten. The gluten content of this product cannot be verified, and this product may contain gluten.”

I am all for accuracy in gluten free label claims but I suspect that this new policy is going to cause a lot confusion. Alcohol manufacturers and sales reps, bartenders and others in the alcohol industry will begin to distinguish between brands of alcohol in new way even though the evidence that distilled alcohol is gluten free has not changed.

In my opinion validation tests to document that gluten peptide fragments are not found in distilled alcohol are nearly unnecessary; they will likely tell us what we already know since distillation removes gluten. But validation is necessary and I hope that the tests will be done.

Bottom Line:

GIG, AND and CSA have not changed their positions. Nonetheless, attention has been called to the fact that it has not been validated that distilled alcohol is completely gluten free. This may be new information for some of those with gluten intolerance and this may change their perspective on distilled alcohol. While there is well documented research to show that distilled alcohol does not contain complete gluten peptides, some people may want to avoid distilled alcohol from gluten-containing grains until it can be proven that not even gluten peptide fragments are found in distilled alcohol.

As a nutrition practitioner and someone with celiac, I feel confident that all distilled alcohols are safe for those on gluten-free diets. I have never reacted to an alcohol from a gluten-containing grain. I have pretty distinct symptoms if I accidentally eat gluten and I’ve never suspected it. But there are people who feel that they don’t tolerate distilled alcohol from gluten containing grain. If you react to alcohol from gluten-containing grains, it is not likely due to gluten exposure, however, you should eliminate it from your diet and do a very clear challenge to be sure of your reaction. If you clearly react, eliminate it from your diet.

Since I intellectually know that all distilled alcohols are likely just fine for me, I won’t be seeking out distilled alcohol labeled gluten-free. However, I imagine that if I am faced with the choice to have one that is labeled gluten free versus one that is not, I will likely choose the one labeled gluten free…unless it’s 3 times more expensive. We’ll see how my perspective changes, or perhaps it won’t, now that I understand that there hasn’t been complete testing done on distilled alcohol.

Material on this blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is general information that may not apply to you as an individual, and is not a substitute for personalized nutrition or health advice or healthcare. Never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read or accessed through this website.

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