Can people on a gluten free diet drink alcohol?
Many alcoholic beverages are gluten free but some are not. Alcoholic drinks are not required to be labelled in the same way that foods are. Unless marked as gluten free, beer should be assumed to contain gluten. Wine and cider are naturally gluten free. Spirits are almost always gluten free.
All beers are produced using varying qualities of barley malt [ie. dried germinated barley] or, less commonly in New Zealand, wheat malt. In the brewing process, malt starch is solubilised in hot water as fermentable sugars. Only part of the malt protein is solubilised, and in the subsequent boiling of the extract much is degraded. Later steps in the brewing process also reduce the amount of malt protein found in beer. However some protein is essential for beer quality, particularly for beer presentation, since the beer foam [head] would be poor without the protein.
Detectability of Protein
When traditional beers are tested using currently available methods, only very low levels of gluten are detectable. There is some concern over the reliability of the methods used to test foods containing malt. The methods may not detect all the gluten-like materials contributed to beer by malt. "Boutique” beers tend to have higher amounts of gluten.
Most beers brewed in New Zealand are from barley malt. There is evidence that barley contains gluten proteins to which people with coeliac disease may be less sensitive than the gluten found on wheat malt. Wheat beers are speciality products representing only a small share of the beer market in New Zealand. Some wheat gluten might be expected to be extracted from the wheat malt during the mixing of the milled grain with hot water. Using current testing methods for gluten, these beers show the presence of low levels of gluten.
Are people with Coeliac Disease able to drink beer?
Some people with coeliac disease drink beer in moderation with no ill effects, although there is no way to know for sure whether damage occurs to the lining of the small intestine. If you are committed to following a life long gluten free diet – beer should be probably be avoided. We recommend that each individual discusses this issue with their qualified health professionals before making the decision to drink beer.