Can You Drink Bourbon on a Gluten-Free Diet?

glass of bourbon on ice
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If you're on a gluten-free diet, you may wonder if bourbon fits in. Bourbon—a form of whiskey that's considered "America's Native Spirit"—must be made from at least 51% corn, which is a gluten-free grain. However, the rest of the mash that goes into bourbon (up to 49% of the total) generally comes from wheat, barley, and rye, which are, of course, the three main gluten grains.

But does that mean bourbon isn't gluten-free? It depends on whom you ask. Some experts say that people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity can safely drink pure distilled bourbon and even other alcoholic beverages distilled from gluten grains.

Bourbon and Gluten

The National Celiac Association states that distilled alcohol is considered gluten-free because the process of distillation removes the harmful gluten protein.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which regulates alcoholic beverages in the United States, revised a policy in 2014 that stated beverages made from gluten grains cannot legally carry the claim "gluten-free" since gluten (or fragments of the gluten protein) remaining in such drinks may not be detected easily even with testing technology.

However, as long as the products are made without gluten ingredients, such as, in most cases, wine from fermented grapes or vodka from potatoes, the TTB will permit gluten-free labels on such alcoholic beverages and advertisements.

For products that may contain a trace amount of gluten, producers are allowed to truthfully explain on the label how the alcohol was treated in order to remove gluten, as long as it also contains a disclaimer that the product may contain gluten and that the information on the label is obvious.

To Drink or Not to Drink Bourbon

The majority of people with celiac or gluten sensitivity may not have a reaction to alcohol distilled from gluten grains, but a substantial minority do react, which is why there's some debate as to whether or not it's safe.

It's not clear how many people get sick from these beverages, but it's enough that if you're new to the diet, you should try bourbon and other gluten-grain-containing alcoholic beverages with major caution, especially at first.

A Corn Bourbon Option

There's one other potential option if you react badly to gluten-grain-based alcohol: Hudson Baby Bourbon, which is made of 100% corn. Be aware that this bourbon makes no claims to being gluten-free or free of gluten cross-contamination (it's made by a small distillery that also processes gluten grains such as rye).

However, it could be an option for some people who crave bourbon but react to most of those out there on the market.

Other Alcohol Options

If you can't drink bourbon, don't despair: there are still plenty of different alcoholic beverages out there for you to try, including wine, gluten-free vodka, rum, and gluten-free beer.

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Article Sources
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  1. Celiac Disease Foundation. Gluten-Free Foods.

  2. Beyond Celiac. Is Bourbon Gluten-Free?

  3. National Celiac Association. Is alcohol made from grain safe for celiacs?

  4. Manfreda JJ. Revised Interim Policy on Gluten Content Statements in the Labeling and Advertising of Wine, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. 2014.