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The Guide to Gluten-free Alcohol

It’s now more common than ever before to have a wide range of options that cater for dietary requirements in stores, restaurants, and online. More people are making the lifestyle choice to be vegan or gluten-free, some people have allergies, and many people find that they’re intolerant to bread, milk, and other foods.

According to Coeliac UK, 1 in 100 people are now thought to be intolerant to gluten. They’ve been told the ‘disease’ they have is only ‘controllable’ and they’ll need to change their diet to combat the many uncomfortable side-effects that can lead to ‘anaemia, osteoporosis, neurological conditions such as gluten ataxia and neuropathy’ and in some extreme cases – bowel cancer.

Gluten-free might seem like a fad, but for many the dangers of consuming too much gluten can and does affect their lives in many ways from a little discomfort to a full-blown medical issue that requires some drastic action.

Thankfully for everyone who is intolerant or highly allergic to gluten, the gluten-free market is growing. In the US they predict it will soon reach $7.6billion; a sizable chunk of their food economy.

 

What is gluten and why do we need it?

Gluten isn’t one thing. It’s actually the name given for multiple proteins that are naturally found in ingredients and foods like grain, wheat, rye, and barley. Bread is probably the most well-known food to contain gluten but items like cereals, pasta, cakes, gravy, and even beer usually contain gluten.

Gluten is also used as an ingredient in baking and cooking to help the mixture stick together better and it’s been the friend of food producers for decades.

 

Why is gluten potentially bad for us?

The proteins found in the collective called ‘gluten’ can be seen by our human immune system as a danger and for those who are coeliac, the immune system goes into overdrive to ‘attack’ the proteins.

This actually causes harm to the stomach as the immune system’s response can damage the lining of the small intestine, leaving the person who consumed the gluten feeling unwell or worse.

It’s said that we’re all a little intolerant and that you can become more so if you consume more of it, although research into the area is still fairly new compared to other areas in nutrition.

A gluten-free diet isn’t always better for you on the whole though. If you’re not checking the labels, a gluten-free diet can actually contain more sugar, salt, fat and other harmful ingredients. It’s always best to get advice from a qualified dietician when you’re looking at changing your diet in a big way.

 

Is alcohol gluten-free?

Just as many believe that all wine is suitable for vegans, it’s often a surprise when people find out that many alcoholic drinks contain gluten. Some alcoholic drinks are made with the ingredients that contain gluten themselves, whereas others may contain gluten traces from the processes used to develop, create, and store them.

The simple answer is “No, alcohol is not gluten-free”, but life isn’t that simple.

For the most part, the safe alcoholic drinks for you if you’re gluten-free are:

  • Wine
  • Spirits
  • Spirits

Wines are gluten-free. Wines are made from grapes. Grapes don’t contain gluten, and wines don’t use gluten in the process from field to glass so you’re safe to drink them. More on this later.

Generally speaking, spirits are OK too. Experts say that despite the fact that these alcoholic drinks are made with ingredients that contain gluten, the distillation process removes any trace.

Cider is also safe to drink if you’re gluten-free. Cider is seen as the perfect alternative to beer if you’re intolerant to grain, wheat, and barley. Apples are the main ingredients in cider, and these do not contain any traces of gluten… and they taste rather lovely!

The more complicated area is beer and lager. Both are made solely with the core ingredients that contain gluten and up until very recently, lager and beer were a “no no” if you were gluten intolerant.

Gluten free beer

 

Beer is traditionally made from a combination of malted barley and hops. You will find beers and lagers that use wheat, too. Because both wheat and barley contain gluten, beer is not gluten-free unless stated.

Beer is made from:

  • Barley
  • Water
  • Hops
  • And yeast.

Some might even find that they have an intolerance to yeast, not gluten, and this could be an issue with other areas like Champagne too.

Beer is a bigger risk than many coeliacs realise at first. Many presume gluten is an additive (and it can be) that’s added to food to help it ‘stick’ and this can well be the case. But gluten is found naturally in grain and barley, so beer is a risky area if you’re trying to be gluten-free.

Luckily for those looking to improve their diet and still enjoy a good beer, gluten-free beers are now available and there’s an exciting and growing range.

The purists are naturally sceptical, and the beer lovers of the world were at first not keen with this new, young gun in the ale world. But surely everyone deserves to be able to enjoy a cheeky pint?!

Many gluten-free beers are winning awards, and brands like BrewDog are championing the lack of gluten in their beers.

But beware! Gluten-free beers might not always be 100% gluten-free!

‘Gluten removed’ beers are different from gluten-free beers and this can lead to some confusion.

  • For a beer to be classified as a ‘gluten-free beer’, it must contain less than 20ppm of gluten.
  • A ‘gluten removed’ beer is a beer where the gluten was extracted in the brewing process.

Be careful of ‘gluten removed beer’ if you’re highly intolerant to gluten or if you’re coeliac, as traces can still be found – and this is more likely in a beer that once contained the gluten in the first place. It’s not a clear-cut choice and labels, as ever, can be confusing.

 

Naturally gluten-free beer or deglutenised beer

The true gluten-free option for beer drinkers are the beers that are created with ingredients that did not contain gluten in the first place. Although many will be fine with the ‘gluten removed beers’, the best option if you’re unsure are beers labelled as ‘Gluten-free beer’.

We have five gluten-free or gluten removed beers at Vintage Roots:

  • Goldfinch Gluten-free IPA
  • Daas Witte Bier
  • Daas Blonde Bier
  • Hepworth Prospect Pale Ale
  • Altiplano Quinoa Beer

 

Gluten-free Beers like Goldfinch from the Black Isle Brewery in Scotland are made with lager, crystal, rye and munich malts with citra, Nelson Sauvin, Simcoe, Pacific Gem, Cascade, and Chinook hops!

Whereas gluten-free pale ales like Hepworth Prospect use a low protein barley and as gluten is a collection of proteins, the beers are brewed without gluten and therefore classed as gluten-free.

The gluten-free Witte Bier’s are Belgian and made in the traditional way with water, hops, wheat and barley. These beers go through a natural deglutenisation process to keep the natural flavours of the beer and as such may contain small traces (still below 20ppm).

Our Altiplano Quinoa Beer is brewed in France using organic quinoa, hops, and barley malt. Because it’s made mainly using quinoa which is gluten-free by nature and this makes it a very natural and safe beer for those intolerant to even small traces of gluten.

Gluten free lager

Lager is very similar to beer in the way that it is produced and again the ingredients are also similar.

Most lager is made with the same ingredients and process as beer. Boffins will actually tell you that lager is actually beer as they’re both brewed by fermenting yeast.

  • Beer is made from a top fermenting yeast.
  • Lager from a bottom fermenting yeast.

It’s the temperature that this happens at that determines a beer from a lager, or an ale from a lager, should we say.

Real ale is left to ferment for longer, so the temperatures used in the process are lower.

Lager is fermented more quickly so an extra 10 degrees of temperature in many cases is used, giving lager its popular taste.

Lager isn’t gluten-free in most cases.

 

Lager, like beer, is brewed with:

  • Water
  • Grain
  • Yeast
  • Hops

Gluten will be present from the very start once again. To get a gluten-free lager you once again need to select a lager that is brewed with a gluten-free ingredient just as the gluten-free ales are.

The only real difference being the temperature and yeasts used in the fermentation and brewing process.

We have two gluten-free lagers at Vintage Roots:

  • Blonde Lager Gluten Free
  • Celia Organic Premium Gluten Free Lager

 

Blonde Lager Gluten Free is an organic lager is made with English barley, German yeast and Admiral hops. Just like their pale ale, Hepworth use a low protein barley to avoid the presence of gluten in the lager.

Celia Organic Premium Gluten Free Lager is brewed with organic barley malt, organic saaz hops and water from the Zatec foothills! There is a small trace of gluten in this beer, but it is way below the 20ppm and stands at 5ppm.

The gluten-free beer range is on the rise too and with more and more awareness of the threat of gluten to those 1 in 100 people you’re likely to see more of them arriving on shelves and even on the taps in your local.

Gluten free wine

We’ve written in more depth about gluten-free wines before. Wine’s #1 ingredient is grapes and grapes do not contain gluten.

So, you’re safe with wine, right?

Well not always. You’ll need to check.

There are two reason that your wine may contain gluten:

  • Historically gluten agents were used as a sealant for barrels (but is not used anymore).
  • Gluten is present due to it being used for ‘fining’ the wine.

In some rare circumstances a gluten fining agent can be used to stabilise the wine and remove any particles. This will leave traces in the wine and of course will then make it contain a very small amount of gluten.

Wine is perfectly fine to drink if you’re gluten intolerant.

The wine itself won’t contain gluten at all. It’s the process of creating the wine that may add some. Barrels do not use sealants with gluten any more, and it’s very rare to use gluten in the fining process.

 

Which alcohol is gluten-free?

It’s certainly recommended to check the labels on anything you consume if you’re gluten-intolerant and you’ll be used to doing this for your entire diet, not just the tipples on Friday nights!

 

Here’s a quick guide on gluten-free alcohol:

  • Cider – made from apples and gluten-free from start to finish. The best alternative to beer.
  • Wine – most wine is gluten-free with the odd exception and even those have very small traces. Cider, wine, sherry, spirits, port and liqueurs are gluten-free.
  • Spirits – although most spirits use a grain containing gluten, the distillation process removes any trace by the time it reaches the bottle. Liqueurs are gluten-free.
  • Gluten-free beer – only if it’s labelled gluten-free as the main ingredients contain gluten.
  • Gluten-free lager – once again, only if labelled.

 

The good news is that you don’t need to compromise on flavour and most alcohol is gluten-free by nature.

The exciting range of gluten-free beers and lagers are growing and the seven we have on our list are certainly going to expand and we find more and more of the unusual and brilliant beers on the market. Do contact us if you’ve tried any you’d like to recommend for us to stock.

It’s great news for those who are coeliac or gluten intolerant as until recently gluten-free beers and lagers were not a thing at all and they were left to stick to cider or wine. Not that that’s a bad thing in our book!

Salut!

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