Distilled Liquors: Are they Gluten-Free?

By  Val Vaartnou

I responded to an info line question requiring Grey Goose Vodka and whether it was glutenfree. I gave the standard response to the query that as vodka was a distilled alcoholic beverage like rye whiskey, scotch whiskey, gin and vodka they are distilled from a mash of fermented grains. Rum is distilled from sugar cane. Brandy is distilled from wine and bourbon is distilled from a grain mash including corn. Since the distillation process does not let the proteins enter the final product, distilled alcohols are gluten-free. (CCA Pocket Dictionary).

The individual asking the question said that after talking with a fellow celiac, he had been told this could not be true, as ingesting vodka causes significant celiac symptoms in his friend. I forwarded this to Sue Newell who provided this thoughtful response. I thought I would share it you as it may explain issues you may have with distilled alcohols.

I know I don’t have to tell you that not every reaction is due to gluten. Alcohol is rarely consumed in isolation from food, but somehow the alcohol always get the blame! In addition to alcohol, the other component that survives distillation is congeners. These are the flavouring agents and other components that are light enough to be carried in water vapour or that convert to gas at a lower temperature than the boiling point of water.

Most congeners are innocuous but some are rather nasty, including small amounts of chemicals such as methanol and other alcohols (known as fusel alcohols), acetone, acetaldehyde, esters, tannins, and aldehydes (e.g. furfural). If someone has a sensitivity to any of these items, they can show a variety of reactions and depending on the dose, can become quite ill. Usually, the first 5% of distillate is discarded to get rid of some of these substances. When you hear about alcohol that has been distilled multiple times, it is to
remove some of these compounds.

Different grains have different types and levels of congeners. As a result, it is possible for people to react to one brand but not another.  I can almost guarantee that this correspondent is not going to believe this information. That is common and is one of the reasons why so many rumors continue to exist.

Thanks Sue for your always knowledgeable response.