When embarking on a gluten-free diet, it’s important to know what you can and can’t consume. This is never more a poignant feat than when you’re at a restaurant or bar and want to have bourbon. There’s a host of liquor on the shelves but, with a gluten-free diet, you can’t just have any bourbon you see.
So, is bourbon gluten-free? The answer for this isn’t so clear cut. It’s a resounding “maybe.” While most bourbon contain 51% corn, the other 49% often comprises wheat or rye. So, it’s going to depend on the brand, it’s corn to grain mash ratio and if you also have a tannin intolerance.
Therefore, in most cases, bourbon isn’t safe for those with celiac disease or a severe gluten intolerance. While it’s true the distilling process removes most gluten from the liquor, it’s not worth risking glutenization. However, if you’re only engaging in a low-gluten diet, then a little bit should be fine.
About Bourbon & Its Taste
Bourbon is a classic American spirit integral to the history of the United States. It’s a corn and grain based liquor that’s strong with a hint of sweetness. It has a somewhat complex flavor, which relies on the kind of mash used to make it. It has something of a burn because of its fermentation and distilling in charred oak barrels.
- Rye: This provides a “spicy” taste to the bourbon, reminiscent of things you would use for baking. Things like nutmeg, ginger, clove, cinnamon and anise are common notes. The corn provides a flavor like herbals, fruits, caramelized sugar and vanilla. Rye bourbons are the sweetest.
- Wheat: The corn flavors shine through better in this type of bourbon, making it sweet but providing a “doughy,” creamy or toasty taste. These can have floral or herbal undertones but they are much smoother than rye bourbons and they don’t pack nearly as a dramatic of punch on the palate.
Another component to the flavor of bourbon is the charred oak barrels used in fermentation. This provides a buttery or creamy taste with a hint of woodiness. However, many people with severe gluten allergies are also intolerant of tannins, which burgeon in oak.
Bourbon on a Gluten-Free Diet
Because wheat and rye are at the top of the list of grains to avoid on a gluten-free diet, it’s not advisable to consume bourbon. However, this warning is for those who are severely sensitive to gluten or people with celiac disease. If you’re just cutting out gluten for the sake of your health, then consuming it will be fine.
It’s important to note that you will never find a bourbon labeled “gluten-free” like you will with things like gin or vodka. This is because the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB), created a policy in 2014 stating that no beverages made from gluten grains can legally claim being “gluten-free.”
So, even though the distillation process tends to remove much of the gluten, you’ll never find a company that promotes its bourbon to be safe from or free of gluten. In the event you’re determined to consume some bourbon, then you’re going to have to research which ones have the highest distillation rates.
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Corn Bourbons for Gluten-Free Diets
The best kind of bourbon to consume on a gluten-free diet is one that entirely bases itself in corn. Therefore, moonshine would be good for people with celiac disease or a high sensitivity to gluten. However, there are some traditional bourbons that some people find safe enough and claim not to have a reaction from:
- Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon
- Hudson Bay Bourbon
- Koval Bourbon Whiskey
- New Southern Revival 100% Jimmy Red Corn
- Yellow Rose Outlaw Bourbon
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Testing Gluten Safety in Bourbon
Please note that while the bourbons mentioned above comprise mostly corn, the companies producing them do not make any claims of them being gluten-free. So, if you’re in the testing phases of what you can tolerate, then just take things slow at first. Have a few sips from a shot or other kind of sample to see how it affects you.
If your stomach begins to hurt or you get a pang in your digestive tract, then you know it’s not going to be a good choice. If your health links with gluten consumption, you will have to wait for about a week before you can try another type of bourbon. However, you should confer with your doctor or other healthcare professional first.
When in doubt, avoid consuming bourbon to stay on the safe side of things. This is especially true if you’re unsure about whether oak tannins will also cause health issues and upsets. So, because the gluten in bourbon is very iffy, it’s best to avoid it.