Which Types of Brandy or Ouzo Are Gluten-Free?

Brandy

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Generally speaking, plain brandy is gluten-free. Pure, distilled brandy usually is made from grapes or fruit, and similar to most wines, should also be gluten-free. So if you're following the gluten-free diet because you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, then plain brandy should be safe for you.

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. 

Flavored Brandies May Not Be Gluten-Free

However, the gluten-free status of brandy gets a little more confusing when it comes to fruit-based brandy and flavored brandy, since it's possible for the flavorings to contain gluten (usually here 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 for them in what tends to be a very competitive industry, but it can be problematic for people who need to know the ingredients so that they can determine whether or not it's safe for them to consume.

Companies that make flavored brandies include Paul Masson, which distributes apple, pineapple, peach, red berry, and mango, and E&J, which makes vanilla, apple, and peach, so those should be avoided if you are on a gluten-free diet. However, both companies also produce plain, distilled varietals, which are safe for consumption.

Calvados Considered Gluten-Free, But Ouzo Questionable

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 long as there are no added flavors. American schnapps contain fruit and other flavors and are not recommended if you're on a gluten-free diet.

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 contains 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 or 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, Wis., and is distilled from beet sugar and blended with other gluten-free ingredients such as anise.

Oak Barrel Flour Seal A Gluten Problem?

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

A Word From Verywell

Plain brandy and cognac should be safe on the gluten-free diet, especially if you choose a brand such as Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Courvoisier, and Camus, all of which only make pure, distilled brandies. However, you need to be cautious about flavored brandies, and you also need to be cautious about cocktails that contain brandy, since they may also contain gluten ingredients.

For example, an Old Fashioned contains brandy but also includes bourbon or rye whiskey, which, despite being pure and distilled, may contain trace amounts of hidden gluten and cause a reaction in people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. There is always a risk of cross contamination in the manufacturing process as well. Other brandy-based cocktails can include mixers that aren't gluten-free.

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

  2. Beyond Celiac. Is ouzo gluten-free? Updated 2020.

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