Celiac Disease and Happy Hour: What You Need to Know

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Just when you thought you were safe with your gluten-free pantry and several local, “safe” restaurants, you’re asked out for drinks to celebrate an event. Or you’re invited to Napa for some wine tasting. Or a friend wants you to sample her perfect Margarita. Are these libations safe for someone avoiding gluten? That’s a very important question!

As it happens, individuals with celiac disease or gluten intolerance do have a fair array of choices in alcoholic beverages, if they wish to partake. According to the National Institutes of Health’s Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign, all distilled alcohol is gluten-free, regardless of its original source.

Other experts agree that people with celiac disease can safely drink distilled alcoholic beverages─even those that are made with gluten-containing grains─because distillation is thought to remove all gluten protein molecules, rendering the drinks “gluten-free.”

The Canadian Celiac Association concurs, stating, “Distilled alcoholic beverages such as gin, vodka, scotch whisky and rye whiskey are made from the fermentation of wheat, barley or rye. Since they are distilled, they do not contain prolamins (gluten proteins) and are allowed unless otherwise contraindicated.”

Others, however, aren’t convinced. According to the Celiac Sprue Association, when it comes to alcoholic beverages, the only safe bets are vodka, rum and tequila, which are typically made from non-gluten sources, along with gluten-free wine and beer.

Wine is inherently gluten-free, since it’s produced from grapes. However, there are two control points in the winemaking process where gluten may be introduced. The first is the application of a flour paste to seal oak barrels, which is primarily done in Europe. The second is the practice of fining, which is done to clarify wine.

While gluten can be used for fining, egg whites are most often employed. And when gluten is used to clarify wine, research using mass spectrometry has determined that there’s less than 10 parts per million in bottled wine─well below the 20ppm threshold for a food to be considered gluten-free.

All in all, it appears unlikely that any wines actually contain gluten, but if you’d rather play it safe, gluten-free wines are available, such as those offered by Frey Vineyards in California. Frey wines are organic as well! Stay tuned for more wineries to label their wines gluten-free.

What about beer? One study, testing 50 different brands, revealed that most did contain immunoreactive protein in amounts between 1 and 200 mg per liter. Only 15 contained less than 1 mg per liter. Beer lovers do have gluten-free alternatives, however, such as Redbridge, a “Red Lager” by Anheuser-Busch. New Planet in Boulder, Colorado brews up two worthy of mention: a Blonde Ale called Tread Lightly, and Off the Grid, which is both hoppy and crisp, delivering on the promise of American craft-brewed ales.

Also note, Green’s Discovery: an English Strong Amber Ale. Love dark, malty beers? Try Green’s Belgian Dubbel, which packs a punch of flavor. Learn more about gluten-free beers here: http://www.beerguide.com.au/articles/gluten-free-beer

In light of this information, you’re probably safest with distilled spirits derived from non-gluten sources, such as rum, tequila, and potato or grape-based vodka—as well as wine and beer specifically labeled gluten-free. This way, if you do enjoy happy hour on occasion, you can celebrate worry-free. Cheers!

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