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While some spirits actually advertise that they are gluten-free, most distilled liquors can make the claim. Even ones made from wheat, barley or other gluten-containing grains are considered gluten-free because of how they’re made.
The process of distillation converts a liquid into a vapour that is then condensed back into liquid form. Spirits producers seek to separate alcohol from everything else. Since gluten doesn’t vapourize along with other proteins, it doesn’t pass through the distillation process, if done properly.
Unless a flavouring or additive containing gluten is added after distillation, distilled liquors are considered safe for gluten-free diets.
A number of additives that can contribute colour, texture or flavour to finished spirits are legally allowed without requiring labelling. Concerns have also been raised about cross-contamination in facilities that process products containing wheat, barley or rye. It’s always best to check with producers about their methods and handling for a particular product. As a rule, premium brands are more likely to be pure expressions than cheaper products.
Gluten-containing grains are often used in the production of whiskey, bourbon and rye as well as vodka and gin. Thankfully popular vodka producers have been encouraged to promote what their base ingredients are, such as corn for Tito’s Handmade Vodka, grapes for Cîroc or potatoes for Luksusowa. Canadian distillers will be required to state which products are used to make their vodkas on their labels by December, 2022.
Other safe bets include rums made from sugar cane, traditional tequila made from a base of 100-per-cent blue agave or brandy, which is spirit made by distilling wine. Wine is naturally gluten-free and safe for those with celiac disease.
According to Canadian labelling laws, manufacturers of alcoholic beverages must state the presence of gluten. It can be declared within the ingredient list if an ingredient list is provided. If not, it must be stated within a “Contains” statement.
Gluten-free marketing hasn’t been commonplace in the spirits world, in part due to different countries’ labelling laws. But the continuing success of White Claw and other hard seltzers, which frequently advertise their low-alcohol, gluten-free and vegan-friendly nature as part of a health-conscious message, is sure to change how others in the industry market themselves.