Happy Victoria Day!

Typically this holiday weekend is considered the first long weekend of summer, and lots of people drink lots of beer. Personally, I don't drink beer because I have celiac disease, but I have on occasion been known to indulge in some gluten free concoctions. Gluten free beer included, but not for a few years now, I discovered ciders and much prefer that!

So, you have celiac or ncgs and you want to know what's safe to drink? Generally speaking, beer is off the menu, unless it very clearly states gluten free on the label. If it doesn't say gluten free, it isn't, so don't drink it no matter what the server or bar tender says (there are very dangerous myths out there about American Budweiser and Mexican Corona, that say because they're made with rice they're gluten free, or “gluten light” but they do still have barley in them, so, don't do it!) There are some pretty decent gluten free beers out there, give them a try. Available brands will vary from one area to another, and there may be some good local brews where you are.

Distilled spirits, whether they're made from wheat, barley or rye are entirely safe to drink even if you have celiac. The distilling process leaves none of the gluten protein in the bevvy, so it's good. I found this explanation at celiac.com to be the best description of how distillation works : “Here is a simplified analogy. Let's say you put some sand in the bottom of your tea kettle. If you take the spout off your tea kettle, and attach a condensing tube to the opening (a curved tube would be the simplest type of condensing tube but there are many elaborate types), you could distill your water away from the sand. The condensing tube would be curved so as to open into a new clean pot. Let us pretend that the sand is gluten and the water is ethanol. When you heat to the boiling point, the liquid becomes gas so it travels into the condenser, cools and becomes liquid, then falls into the clean pot.”  

If you drink whisky and you get sick from it, it’s the alcohol you’re reacting to, not gluten. Especially if you are newly diagnosed with celiac, and you have only just recently eliminated gluten from your life. Your intestine is damaged (that’s what celiac is!) and the inflammation is going down from not being bombarded on a daily basis. Your body is trying to heal, and giving it alcohol isn’t going to help. Alcohol is a poison. Drink responsibly. Personally, I quite like Canadian whiskys. And Irish whisky, and Scotch whiskey (note the addition of the “e”, to differentiate it from all other whiskys. If it’s not made in Scotland, it’s not Scotch!) I’m not a huge fan of bourbon, but on occasion...Just a note on bourbon, by law in America for it to be given the label of “bourbon” the mash has to have been made with a certain percentage of corn in it (I believe at least 50%). But the mash may also contain other grains, like wheat, barley or rye. Jack Daniel’s mash contains corn, rye and barley, but remember, it is distilled, so it still does not contain gluten!

HOWEVER (fancy but) if there is added flavouring, read the ingredients label! In Canada, even liquor has to have an ingredients label, and gluten must be listed if it is intentionally added to the ingredients. It's the law, trust it. I don’t think I have *ever* seen a gluten ingredient in any added flavours to any normally “gluten free” liquor. To be safe though, ALWAYS read the ingredients list. If the added flavouring is honey, or maple syrup, or cinnamon, chances are it’s free from gluten, because those things naturally are anyway! Just the same, ALWAYS read the ingredients list!

Wine is both gluten free.  Even if it is aged in oak barrels. There’s always a panic about wine because some vintners (a very very few!) use oak barrels that use a wheat flour paste to seal the top portion of the barrels. Most coopers (barrel makers) use a wax seal now though, so really, wheat paste seal is very rare. On top of that, the paste is between the oak slats of the barrel, and the barrels are cleaned out before use. One vintner who still uses wheat paste sealant had their wines ELISA tested by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD, founder of GlutenFreeWatchdog.org and they all turned out with <5ppm and <10ppm. These levels are generally considered to be safe, even for people with celiac disease. <5ppm is the lowest amount that is possible to detect. Ms. Thompson has said “There are so many areas where food can get cross-contaminated, but I really do not think that wine is an issue.” Wines do not need to be labeled as “gluten free”, because they are not *adding* gluten to the end product. If you are concerned, just don’t drink wines that are aged in oak barrels. There are a lot! Which leads us to the fining process, which may or may not use wheat. “Fining” is the process that vintners use to get rid of cloudy sediments in their wines, and they might use a wheat based product. Again, very few do these days. A 2011 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that wines fined with a gluten-based agent ultimately contain either very little gluten or no gluten at all.

Mead is a wine that is made from honey, which is itself free of gluten. There are some meaderies that use barley in their brews though, so ALWAYS read the labels! Trafalgar out of Oakville, ON uses barley in their mead. Shame, I used to love that stuff at Milton Ren Fest! They’re the only ones I know of that do this, but it doesn’t mean they’re the only ones who do.

So, what’s the difference between beer, distilled alcohols and wines? Why is liquor ok, and beer isn’t? Beer is not distilled, it is brewed. The mash is made from barley, and/or rice, and then just left to sit and ferment in giant casks (or smaller carboys, if you’re a home brewer). Then the mash is filtered out during the bottling process. Unlike the distillation process, which is basically just vapour. Remember the sand in the kettle…Beer still contains gluten. Liquor does not. Wine is made from fruits, most often grapes. Fruits and grapes are naturally free of gluten. They all still have alcohol in them, and alcohol is basically a poison.

On to ciders! My favourite! I have a few brands that I consider my “go to” and some that I stay away from because they contain gluten as an ingredient in the form of barley, so as always, ALWAYS read the ingredients label! ALWAYS! There was one brand I found last summer that had “ale” in the name. I looked at the ingredients, and yep, there’s barley.  Brands of ciders will vary depending where you live, so any brands I mention here may not be available where you are. I think probably Strongbow and Magner’s are available world wide, but others are regional. Strongbow gives me hiccups, which can tend to make me nauseated and has on occasion caused me to vomit. Does that mean there’s gluten in Strongbow? NO! Absolutely not! Just because something makes you sick, doesn’t mean there’s gluten in it. Strongbow does not contain gluten, none of their flavours do. It’s just the acid level of Strongbow, and/or the size of the bubbles aggravate my hiatal hernia, cause me to get hiccups, which causes my stomach to contract and expand, sometimes relieving me of its contents. So obviously, I prefer Magner’s, it doesn’t give me hiccups. One of my other favourites is Cracked Apple, it is a blend of apple cider and tequila and lime (margarita), I don’t know how widely available this one is. I also like Hopping Mad, which is a brand out of British Columbia, that is apple cider with hops, giving it a beer sort of taste. But it still doesn’t contain gluten. Hops are not grains, they’re flowers. We all need to stop and smell the flowers more often.

I hope you have found this helpful. Always remember to read the labels and check for gluten in the ingredients. Always enjoy responsibly, and if you get sick, don’t blame gluten unless there’s actually gluten in it, like beer or Trafalgar meads. It’s very likely something else. If you’re still confused, send me an email to rebecca@rebaweber.ca and maybe I can help to clarify any questions.


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