Is Whiskey Safe For Gluten-Free Drinkers?

Whiskey has seen a surge in popularity over the past decade, with Statista showing sales of the spirit consecutively growing since 2010. But, while it may be the best liquor for fall and winter cocktails, many whiskies are made from grains such as barley, rye, and wheat, which are generally considered troublesome for people with gluten sensitivities or allergies. Thankfully, gluten-free drinkers don't have to let whiskey (completely) go from their diets — and it's all thanks to a process known as distillation.

During distillation, a fermented base gets heated in a pot still, where alcoholic vapor rises through its neck and eventually drips back down into a separate container through condensation. This process takes out much of the gluten found in the fermented base, and results in a strong alcoholic beverage that will not negatively affect people that can't have gluten. Just make sure your go-to brand of whiskey doesn't contain any additives or cross-contamination with gluten additives before enjoying it.

Try corn or sorghum whiskies to guarantee a gluten-free drink

There are vast differences between whiskies around the world, even down to the way people spell the word. In fact, some of these variants in whiskey lie in the very grains used to create the spirit's fermented base. Pure bourbon, for example, is a type of whiskey where at least 51% of its fermented mash comes from corn, which contains no gluten. Corn whiskey ditches gluten grain even more by opting for a mash that uses at least 80% corn — although most people consider the overwhelming flavor to be a caveat.

Sorghum-based whiskies, on the other hand, usually do not use any gluten grains or syrups in their fermented mash, which makes them even safer to consume for gluten-free drinkers who may be particularly sensitive. However, whiskies primarily based in both corn or sorghum are much harder to find at in-person liquor shops, making them less convenient in a pinch.

Make sure gluten doesn't sneak in with cocktail mixers

Cocktails made from whiskey can expand the possible flavors and textures of the spirit via a variety of juices and garnishes. Luckily, most of the common ingredients used in whiskey mixed drinks, such as club soda, vermouth, and bitters, don't contain gluten. However, wary drinkers should be aware that some mixers — in particular ready-made ones — may contain gluten or be cross-contaminated with it. When shopping for mixers, be sure to check for any malt or grain-based ingredients included. 

Going out to the bar for a round of drinks can also pose its own set of challenges, but there's no need to feel dissuaded in this situation either. If possible, ask the bartender if their mixers contain any gluten, or choose a drink that has little risk of contamination or additives. Whiskey tonics, Kentucky mules, and the classic Manhattan are all great cocktails with little to no risk of coming into contact with gluten.