Is Vodka Gluten-Free?
In an age of heightened awareness toward food sensitivities, and what we put into our bodies generally, more people are asking questions about the foods and drinks they consume. That’s a good thing, as it keeps manufacturers honest and consumers safe. But it has also opened up an entirely new marketing channel, as those same manufacturers—from cereal magnates to gourmet retailers to liquor brands—have used this opportunity to target people with certain dietary restrictions. Some restrictions due to legitimate health reasons, and others due to lifestyle choices.
The result: labels touting everything from gluten-free alcohol to grass-fed beef and non-GMO vegetables. Overall, more transparency is a good thing, especially when it comes to our food and drink. But about that first one…
Is vodka gluten-free? Is whiskey? How about gin? The short answer to all of these questions is “yes.” But there’s more to it.
In many cases, spirits are distilled from potatoes, corn, agave, sugar cane and grapes, foods that do not contain gluten. So whenever imbibing a distilled liquor derived from such ingredients—regardless of what the label does or does not state—you can rest assured that you’re not consuming any gluten. Well, that’s provided that the company isn’t incorporating any gluten-laced flavors or additives before bottling—a rare practice.
What if its from Wheat, Barley, or Rye?
But is vodka gluten-free if it’s distilled from wheat, barley or rye? These grains absolutely contain gluten, a scourge to those suffering from celiac disease and other select digestive disorders. The question here isn’t whether the raw ingredients contain gluten, but whether the gluten from the grain carries over into the distillation process.
Conventional thinking—from scientists, mind you—is that distilled alcohol does not contain gluten because gluten peptides, which are amino acid-containing molecules, are too large to survive the distillation process and be carried over into the final product. Distillation turns the fermented, liquid-y grain mash into vapor, which travels through the still, where it’s cooled and condensed into ethanol. At no point do those gluten peptides join in the party—instead they’re left in the mash—so gluten won’t be present in the final product. At least, not enough to matter.
Technically, any product containing less than 20 parts per million of gluten can be labeled “gluten-free.” In this range, products should be safe for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities. Of course, everyone is different, and some people with severe cases of celiac disease have reported feeling ill effects after drinking spirits, though it’s rare.
Here’s a quote from the Celiac Disease Foundation, an organization that knows a thing or two about gluten and its effects.
“Alcoholic beverages, including wines and hard liquor/distilled liquors/hard ciders are gluten-free.” Source.
This organization takes gluten seriously, and doesn’t want to steer anyone with celiac disease toward an unpleasant experience. So their vote of confidence is worth noting.
So What’s The Deal?
And yet, despite the fact that alcohol is, indeed, gluten-free, you can still find splashy labels on liquor bottles touting gluten-free alcohol. It smacks of a marketing gimmick—a “me-too” mentality that capitalizes on this trend and values buzz words over candor.
The first liquor brand to receive the go-ahead from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to put “gluten-free” on its label was a potato-based vodka out of Idaho. This was back in 2013. Potatoes don’t and never did contain gluten. The company said this initiative was a proactive means of ensuring the increasingly gluten-aware population could be assured they were drinking a gluten-free product. Whatever the case, it started a trend, and today, dozens of spirits across several categories now tout their products as being free from pesky gluten.
So, to recap the question at top: is vodka gluten-free? Yes, and so is every other spirit, including grain-based whiskeys and gins, agave spirits like tequila and mezcal, fruit-based brandies and sugar cane-derived rum. If you see the words “gluten-free” on a spirits label, the product isn’t special—it’s simply following the same general production process of every other distilled spirit. The label isn’t a marker of quality, or even one of uniqueness. It’s just a marketing choice employed by a company in a climate where some people make buying decisions based on such labels.
A distilled spirit brand that opts to exclude this label is not selling products with discernibly higher levels of gluten. They simply chose not to announce what’s always been—the fact that alcohol is gluten-free.
Location, price, distilling prowess, heck—even a bottle’s artwork—are all legitimate reasons to pick up a bottle of vodka at the store. But choosing said vodka based on a disingenuous label… well, that one’s hard to support.
Our Glass Vodkas are all distilled from (gluten free!) grapes that are harvested from the rich soils of the Pacific Northwest, which is home to some of the world’s top wineries. The terroir you’ll find in the grapes and soil imparts nuanced flavors and characteristics into the vodka that leads to a light, floral nose, a silky mid-palate and a cool, clean finish.
For more on our award-winning Seattle-based vodka, check out the full lineup, from the flagship sipping vodka to flavored varieties infused with ingredients including cold brew coffee, Ceylon cinnamon and honey.