Which Types of Brandy or Ouzo Are Gluten-Free?

Brandy

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

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Pure, distilled brandy is usually made from grapes or fruit. So, similar to most wines, it should be gluten-free. That would make it safe if you're following a gluten-free diet due to celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. However, not all brandies are free from gluten.

Pure grape-based brandy types include cognac, Armagnac, and pisco (a South American brandy). Popular brands of plain brandy and/or cognac include Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Courvoisier, and Camus. 

Fruit Brandy vs. Flavored Brandy

Pure calvados, an apple- or pear-based brandy, is gluten-free, as is eau-de-vie (French fruit brandy). Slivovitz, a brandy or plum schnapps from Eastern Europe, should be gluten-free as well, as long as there are no added flavors.

The gluten-free status of brandy gets a bit more complicated when it comes to flavored brandy options. The reason for this is because it's possible for the flavorings to contain gluten. (Usually the culprit is a wheat-based natural flavor or a barley-based sweetener.)

Unlike food manufacturers, the makers of alcoholic beverages do not need to list their ingredients and many flavored brandy manufacturers keep their formulas a closely-guarded secret. This is considered an advantage in what tends to be a very competitive industry, but it can be problematic for people who need to know the ingredients so they can determine whether it's safe to consume.

Companies that make flavored brandies include Paul Masson—which distributes apple, pineapple, peach, red berry, and mango brandies—and E&J, which makes vanilla, apple, and peach brandies. These should be avoided if you are on a gluten-free diet. American schnapps also contain other flavors and are not recommended.

Both Paul Masson and E&J also produce plain, distilled varietals which are safe for consumption.

Is Ouzo Gluten-Free?

Ouzo, a traditional Greek drink made from grape must and anise and spices, is also considered brandy by some connoisseurs. Greek law requires ouzo to contain at least 20% pure ouzo distillation; the rest is alcohol, water, anethole (anise essential oil), other aromas, and in some cases, sugar

With those additives in mind, you may want to avoid ouzo if you're gluten-free. Additionally, the flavorings and spices of some varieties of ouzo may contain crushed grains as well.

If you're in doubt about the gluten-free status of a particular ouzo, contact the manufacturer (if possible) to learn more about the ingredients. Alternatively, just stick with a more reliable gluten-free spirit.

One potential option for ouzo lovers is Americanaki Ouzo, which is made by Old Sugar Distillery in Madison, Wisconsin. It is distilled from beet sugar and blended with other gluten-free ingredients such as anise.

Brandy Aging Considerations

Most brandies are aged in oak barrels or casks, which brings up one small potential source of gluten cross-contamination. Traditionally, oak casks used to ferment wine and brandy are sealed with a wheat or rye flour paste.

Any gluten from this seal that remains in the final product is definitely going to be too low to detect with current gluten testing technology—it's likely well below 5 and 10 parts per million. For comparison, 20 parts per million of gluten is considered "gluten-free," although many people react to lower levels than that.

If you try a brandy and have a reaction to it, a flour-based cask seal is one possible reason. This is especially true if you tend to be particularly sensitive.

Mixed Drinks that Contain Brandy

Just because a mixed drink contains brandy doesn't automatically mean that it is gluten-free. The other ingredients in the drink may contain gluten, making it a drink to avoid.

For example, an Old Fashioned contains brandy but also includes bourbon or rye whiskey. Despite being pure and distilled, these alcohols may contain trace amounts of hidden gluten and cause a reaction in people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Other brandy-based cocktails can include mixers that aren't gluten-free. There is always a risk of cross contamination in the manufacturing process as well.

A Word From Verywell

Plain brandy and cognac should be safe on a gluten-free diet. Brands such as Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Courvoisier, and Camus all only make pure, distilled brandies, giving them the green light.

However, you need to be cautious about flavored brandies if you're trying to eliminate gluten from your diet. You also need to be cautious about cocktails that contain brandy, since they may also contain gluten ingredients.

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Article Sources
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  1. Beyond Celiac. Is brandy gluten-free? Updated 2020.

  2. The Washington Post. Slivovitz. Published Sep 12, 2012.

  3. Old Sugar Distillery. Americanaki Ouzo.

  4. Celiac Disease Foundation. Label Reading & the FDA. Updated 2020.