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.
Wines, sherry, port and ciders are all made from fruit and do not contain gluten.
Gin, brandy, rum and tequila are made from gluten free ingredients. There is debate as to whether a tiny amount of gluten remains present in vodka, bourbon
or whisky made from gluten containing grains after distillation. However, most research concludes that any gluten is removed from these spirits through
the extensive distillation process. If still not sure, choose vodka made from potatoes, corn or grapes and avoid 'single distilled' spirits and
those made from wheat, barley or rye.
Liquers are usually gluten free but check the label if in doubt.
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. Beer that claims to have gluten 'removed'
should always be investigated further and is not recommended per se.
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 and rice or corn beers, lower levels 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.
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 avoided. We recommend that each individual
discusses this issue with their qualified health professionals before making the decision to drink beer.