A Word About Gluten

Some people, still a relatively small but by all accounts growing percentage of the population, have sensitivities to gluten. I know and have known several such people and have seen the effects on their health first hand. Of this there is no doubt.

Others have jumped on the “Wheat Belly” bandwagon and decided for reasons of their own to eliminate gluten-containing grains from their diets. Which is, of course, purely their personal choice and fine and dandy by me.

Although it is the first group that has much more to lose by ingesting gluten, it is the latter group that, to my experience, is more active in questioning issues of gluten in alcohol, and in some instances, perpetuating mythologies. So for the record, here are a few points about glutinous booze:

1) Beer contains gluten. Major brewery beers contain gluten and craft beers contain gluten. Wheat beers and rye beers and stouts and light beers and pretty much any other kind of beer you can name contains gluten. Period.

2) Gluten-free beers are, of course, the exceptions to the above rule. Unfortunately, very few of them taste much like actual beer. (Although not all, as per point 6 below.)

3) Distilled spirits, of whatever sort, do not contain gluten. This is because the process of distillation specifically involves the separation of alcohol from everything else, including the gluten in glutenous grains. But don’t believe me, believe celiac.com!

4) Flavoured spirits may or may not be gluten-free, since said flavours are generally added post-distillation and few offer any details as to what is used in their flavouring. The same applies to liqueurs.

5) Wines are gluten-free, including Champagnes. Since they are made purely from grapes, I don’t understand why some people insist on challenging this fact.

6) Although I have not personally tasted all the gluten-free beers on the market today — as a class, it’s growing almost exponentially — the best I have sampled are those of Quebec’s Les Brasseurs Sans Gluten, marketed under the Glutenberg label. In particular, their seasonal Belge de Saison, a 7% alcohol ale brewed with Meyer lemon, is far and away the finest, more a “good beer than happens to not contain gluten” than any other I’ve yet tried. It deserves to be a widely-sold, year-round brand.

16 Replies to “A Word About Gluten”

  1. Another misconception people have is that the proteins in corn and rice are in part “glutens”. They are not. I think only wheat, oats, barley, and rye contain true gluten. There may be a few others I do not know about. And As far as wine goes, other than some home brew concoction called wheat “wine”. Gluten never gets near grapes. Here is a list of allowed ingredients (USA), The EU list is similar, but likely shorter. The only thing that might spook someone is maltol, which has a small possibility of being derived from barley. However it is an extracted chemical that is not gluten, not even a protein, and its use in wine would be limited to those on the bottom shelf of the depanneur. Stuff that you don’t want to be drinking anyway. Maltol is not used in the EU. The (gluten free) list: http://www.alicefeiring.com/blog/2010/11/-approved-wine-additives.html

  2. I agree whole-heartedly with everything you’ve said here–with the exception that I find those who opt out of gluten by choice vaguely irritating. Sure, cutting down on wheat and starches can be a good thing, but for the most part if you choose to just cut out all gluten you’re often getting less vitamins, less minerals and less fibre. My wife, who can’t eat gluten, would gladly slap those who shun all gluten voluntarily in the face. Plus, you’re choosing to give up beer, you idiots!!

    I second Jordan’s points re: Mongozo.

  3. You might note that in the gluten-free beer spectrum, there are really two major categories: those made with grains that don’t contain wheat or barley gluten and those made from barley in which most of the gluten has been stripped out enzymatically. The former are purely kosher from a celiac point of view, but are generally not very beery tasting–though some of the better ones, like Harvester here in Portland, can be good on their own terms. The latter, like Omission, taste like beer, but are not certified 100% kosher by celiac-sufferers. Caveat emptor.

    1. In Europe, for a barley-made beer to carry the “gluten free” logo, they have to be regularly tested by an independent lab to be under the allowable threshold. In Italy, you can buy Brunehaut beers in a pharmacy with a doctor’s prescription (which I find to be hilarious and awesome).

      US labeling laws are much less transparent and much less consumer friendly.

    2. The stripping of gluten is a process about which I know little, Jeff, which is why I chose not to get into it.

  4. A few more points about gluten.

    Gluten is a very serious matter to some people. Sensitivity to gluten varies from a food intolerance to Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder. Avoiding gluten is essential in avoiding symptoms and more severe health matters in future years if you are a Celiac. That’s why they have seperate toasters.

    Gluten free beer made from barley goes through a proprietary process rendering the beer gluten free by legal definition. However, there is a gluten left in the final product. The testing method is being questioned by Health Canada because instrumentation cannot accurately detected low levels of gluten. Some report symptoms from consuming these beers.

    Oats do not contain gluten. Celiacs avoid oats because it is usually cross-contaminated from having come in contact with wheat in handling.

    Most wine is made from more than just grapes. Hydrolyzed wheat gluten isolate is used by some wine makers as a fining agent. In theory it is left out of the final product but I don’t know if anyone is testing for gluten. I supply wine to customers that ask for gluten free wine.

    Oats do not contain gluten. Celiacs avoid oats because it is usually contaminated from having come in contact with wheat handling equipment.

    Parda Mancini
    The Healty Wine Agent

  5. Just for the sake of continuing the clarification in these comments, Oats don’t contain gluten but something really similar. Some celiacs can’t tolerate even gluten free oats. Some researchers would say that oats aren’t gluten free and it is currently a topic up for debate. By this they mean that the gluten like stuff in oats, causes the same effect as gluten in wheat for people who suffer from celiac’s disease.
    Also sometimes I see wines with toasted bread as an ingredient. That is weird.
    I’m celiac and glutenberg is a great beer. Try their new Spring Amber Ale, it is brilliant.

    1. Thanks for the info. Oats, a I understand it, are usually avoided by the gluten-sensitive because they tend to pick up gluten from other grains processed in the same facility. Interesting that you note even gluten-free oats can’t be tolerated by some celiacs.

      Toasted bread in wine? That’s a new one on me.

      1. I checked with a bunch of wine guys I know and no, I’m not crazy, there is no reason for toast to be a part of the ingredients in wine. Toasted barrels for aging, yes, bready notes in the flavour, yes again, but no toast.

  6. Your right about the wheat being mixed with the oats during processing. The problem is that wheat and oats are often grown next to each other in fields (I can’t remember why). So the wind mixes the crops and then both wheat and oats are collected and processed. Also, as you said, the same processing equipment is used.
    That is problem number 1, problem number 2 is that people with celiac’s are really sensitive to a protein in the oats. So it is both. However, I think depending on the country your in, the recommendation differs. In Canada I sometimes get Bob’s Red Mill GF oats (US Brand), that doesn’t say much on it. But a Canadian brand has a big thing on how you have to be careful eating their oats if you are celiac.

    Yeah it’s weird right. Toast in wine, I live in Quebec and there is some weird shit in Quebec (pizza/spaghetti slushi: http://boingboing.net/2013/06/06/quebecs-new-pizza-and-spaghe.html). Though I do have a book about herbalism, that includes traditional british recipes for various alcohols and the directions often involve spreading the yeast on a piece of toast and letting it float in various watery solutions for at least 24hrs.

    I have seen this particular wine brand pass through the restaurant I work at a few times (it’s a bring your own wine). I will keep an eye out and get the name, if your interested.


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