Sunday, March 1, 2020

Is There Gluten in Bourbon?

With concerns about gluten allergy (i.e., Celiac Disease), people often ask "is there gluten in bourbon." The short and correct answer is no, but with an explanation.

Gluten is a group of proteins found in many but not all cereal grains. Wheat and rye contain gluten, corn and rice do not.

Because there is no reliable way to test for the presence of gluten in consumer products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says no product may legally be labeled 'gluten free' unless none of its ingredients contain gluten. The U.S. Treasury Department's Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which controls alcoholic beverage labeling, echos the FDA's direction.

Since a whiskey made from 100 percent corn can be labeled as bourbon if the other requirements are met, a bourbon made from 100 percent corn may be labeled gluten free. Most vodka is made from 100 percent corn and can also be labeled gluten free. Most bourbons, however, contain rye or wheat and those grains contain gluten. Therefore, those whiskeys may not be labeled 'gluten free.'

But are they, in fact, gluten free? Is there gluten in any straight spirits? Almost certainly the answer is no. Proteins such as gluten shouldn't be able to survive the heat of the distillation process. The slight hedging is because (1) I'm not a chemist and (2) the aforementioned inability to reliably test for gluten in the final product.

So if 'highly unlikely' is good enough for you, then you shouldn't worry about gluten in bourbon.


Richard Turner said...

A few things here, Col. Cowdery
Another grain commonly used in the mashbills of Bourbon also bears gluten: Barley. ...And, there actually are tests available (not necessarily readily or inexpensively, though) to determine if gluten is present in consumer products. (Most of these tests however, are less reliable when alcohol is present, and even less so as alcohol content rises in proportion; and most do not give accurate ppm results, which can be important to gluten-intolerant people when deciding whether or not to partake.) Lastly, Bourbon by the nature of it's column distillation is quite likely gluten-free (as you mention) if it is 'unadulterated'; and since no caramel coloring (which can sometimes contain gluten) or other additives are permitted, Straight Bourbon may be considered safe for all but the very most gluten-sensitive people... and maybe even them. This is of course not medical advice and should be used as a suggestion only, when deciding about consuming Bourbon.

CocktailVirgin said...

An allergic reaction to gluten that has been heated can still occur; proteins will denature (unfold) in those temperature ranges but that does not negate an immune response. However, gluten and other proteins do no pass over the still during distillation which is why spirits are assumed to be gluten free.

Mark Fogleman said...

Chuck, great article! I just researched this a couple of weeks ago and from what I read another reason many spirits can't claim "Gluten Free" on the label is the same reason food products cannot claim "Peanut Free" unless they are made in a peanut-free facility. Most distilleries produce other spirits in the same facility using gluten-containing ingredients (wheat, barley, etc.). Unless a facility is dedicated to gluten-free spirits production and there is zero chance of transfer hoses, pumps or other equipment being used that could be a source of "contamination" the claim Gluten Free cannot be made. The first product that comes to mind that makes the Gluten Free claim on the label is Tito's. Since it is the only product produced in their facility, assuming the base ingredients are gluten free (corn, potatoes, rice, fruit, whatever) they can confidently and legally claim Gluten Free on their label.

Unknown said...

"Alcoholic beverages, including hard liquor/distilled liquors/hard ciders are also gluten-free. Beers, ales, lagers, malt beverages and malt vinegars that are made from gluten-containing grains are not distilled and therefore are not gluten-free. There are several brands of gluten-free beers available in the United States and abroad."