What’s the story with alcohol and coeliac disease? According to Coeliac Australia, “All alcohol is gluten free with the exception of beer.” While this sounds fantastic, there are still questions being asked about the specifics. We have broken down alcohol by beer, cider, wine and spirits to really delve into the work of alcohol and coeliac disease and hopefully provide more clarity on the topic.
It’s important to note that Australia has the most stringent gluten free product standard in the world. Australia’s test for gluten free is a maximum of 3 parts per million, making the gluten content non-detectable. In the United States and United Kingdom, the legal limit is up to 20 parts per million (ppm). Due to this, there are products that Australia does not consider coeliac-safe that other countries do. We explain more in the article but hopefully some of your confusion will be resolved.
The only beers that are considered coeliac-safe in Australia are those not made from gluten ingredients and state ‘gluten free,’ meaning nil-detectable gluten.
Gluten-removed and low-gluten beers are not considered safe as they may exceed Australia’s standard of 3ppm and studies have shown a reaction in diagnosed coeliacs*. These beers are made from gluten ingredients and still contain trace elements of gluten. Additionally, there is controversy around whether or not barley fragments can be detected through the commonly used testing method, ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). These beers may be considered gluten free in other countries if they are below 20ppm, so be aware of this when travelling. Even popular gluten-containing beer brands have acknowledged that there is no accepted methodology for testing gluten in fermented beverages. It has been affirmed that due to this, accurate assessments of the amount of gluten in gluten-containing beers cannot be provided and traces may occur.
Thank goodness there are new truly gluten free beers being produced every year and they just get better and better!
*What is gluten-removed beer? Gluten-removed means that the beer was made from gluten-containing ingredients (wheat, barley, rye) and then an enzyme is added to break down the proteins (like gluten). The problem is that the gluten isn’t truly removed (as it is in the distillation process with vinegar and spirits… we’ll get to that in a moment), it’s simply broken down into smaller fragments – more like, de-glutened.
Cider should always be made with 100% apples but very occasionally this is not the case. Occasionally cider will contain malt as a sweetener or will contain trace amounts of gluten measuring under 20ppm. Have a list of ciders you know are safe and if you see a new brand on the scene, do a quick Google search or contact them directly.
The short answer: wine is gluten free and safe for those with coeliac disease. Yes, this includes red, white, sparkling, champagne, fermented and port. Cheers!
Worried about aged wine in oak barrels sealed with a wheat paste? This method has largely been replaced by sealing with a non-gluten wax. For those that haven’t, Tricia Thomspon, MS, RD and founder of the Gluten Free Watchdog did an interesting piece here. Verdict is, wine is generally considered safe across the board.
*Be aware, wine coolers are not pure wine and may contain barley malt for added colour or flavouring. This also applies to all dessert wines or flavoured wines.
There are a lot of questions around whether or not spirits (liquor) are gluten free and coeliac safe. According to Coeliac Australia, all spirits are gluten free and safe to consume. Due to the nature of the distillation process, gluten cannot exist in the end product. No proteins (gluten) of any kind can survive the distillation process as they are too heavy to vaporise so will not be found in the distillate. This “removal” process is different from the process in gluten-removed beers.
Across the board, rum, tequila and vodka are considered gluten free. Although whiskey and bourbon are as well, it is not common but may be worth contacting the manufacturer to ensure no malt was added after the distillation process.
A NOTE OF CAUTION: Spirits can be a cause for concern when considering mixers, pre-mixed drinks or flavoured spirits. Barley malt, flavours or additives are often added to these products as an inexpensive sweetener or preserving agent. Choose a spirit and opt for fresh ingredients instead. If the venue makes their own sugar syrup, ask when ingredients are used. Having a reaction to spirits and concerned about them being gluten free? Could you be reacting to preservatives or additives?
STILL SICK WHEN CONSUMING GLUTEN FREE ALCOHOL?
Is there a chance your cider or cocktail could have been cross-contaminated in the bar or restaurant? Concerned about the beer, cider, wine or spirit? Make a note of any occurrence and be sure to contact the supplier to see if there were additives in the making of the product not listed on the label or chances for cross contamination to occur. Please let us know of findings so we can share!
SO, WHAT CAN I DRINK AGAIN?
Glad you asked. Gluten free beer made from no gluten-containing ingredients, examples being beer made from rice, sorghum, buckwheat, corn, quinoa, etc. Most ciders are made from 100% apples. Wine is considered gluten free and safe for coeliacs. Be aware to check ingredients on wine coolers, dessert wines or flavoured wines. Non-flavoured straight spirits are safe for those with coeliac disease. Just be aware of pre-mixed drinks and cocktails. If you’re not convinced of the science behind the distillation process, stick to rum, tequila and potato vodka.
Have other questions like this one? What to join the conversation on this topic? Join the yum. Gluten Free Village and send through questions anytime. Click here to sign up today: https://thevillage.yumglutenfree.com.au/
A Note from yum. Gluten Free
Information has been gathered from a number of sources and delivered in a single article to hopefully bring some clarity to this complicated and controversial topic. Please note that yum. Gluten Free has not carried out this research and is not responsible for inaccurate information. The team at yum. Gluten Free has done their best to deliver clear, concise and accurate information but encourages you to do your own research and speak to your physician for individual health needs. As always, never hesitate to contact a supplier or brand directly for specific information regarding their products. They would love to support you. Content for this article was gathered from the following references.
Coeliac Australia: https://www.coeliac.org.au/faqs/
*PUBMED: The Celiac Patient Antibody Response to Conventional and Gluten-Removed Beer: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28118560
Mayo Clinic – GF Diet: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/gluten-free-diet/art-20048530
Wine Spectator: https://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/Is-Wine-Gluten-Free
Gluten Free Watchdog – wine: https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/gluten-content-of-wine-aged-in-oak-barrels-sealed-with-wheat-paste/
Gluten Free Watchdog – distillation: https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/why-distillation-is-compatible-with-a-gluten-free-diet/
SF Gate: https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/gluten-alcohol-5716.html