Gluten Free Alcoholic Beverages - How to Indulge Without Regret
Newly diagnosed Celiacs and persons with gluten intolerance may find it frustrating and limiting when faced with social situations that generally go hand in hand with alcohol consumption. Weddings, bachelor/bachelorette parties, and college social functions all heavily feature America's favorite social lubricant. With beer and whiskey off the table as options, however, and so many other drinks in the grey area, it is easy to feel deprived as we look around in envy at the others happily imbibing in their favorite drinks and cocktails, care-free.
This is a simple list of taste and ingredient approved beverages for those abstaining from wheat products, and wheat's nasty little cousins, rye and barley, so your next celebration can be free of worry, as well as gluten.
1. Pop Champagne!
It may go without saying, but all wines and champagnes are made from grapes, not grains, so they are naturally gluten-free. This goes for red wines (packed with resveratrol - the heart friendly, anti-aging antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes), white wines, rose' and sangria, as well as other fruit wines such as apple or pear wine. So if you're making a toast or planning a romantic evening in, a little vino or bubbly is perfect to set the mood without upsetting your stomach. Wine is not to be confused with wine coolers (such as Smirnoff Ice and Bacardi Ice), as most wine coolers are made with barley malt.
2. Distilled Spirits...Should you, or Shouldn't you?
There is a lot of misconception surrounding distilled spirits such as gin, bourbon, and vodka. While these drinks are made with wheat, barley or rye, the National Institutes of Health insist that grain spirits are safe to drink as long as it has been distilled, leaving no gluten protein present in the finished product - at least falling under the 20 ppm (parts per million) necessary to render the product gluten free. While this is true, the Celiac Sprue Association warns celiacs to play it safe and only consume libations made without gluten-containing grains, and many sensitive people report serious symptoms when consuming distilled spirits. So what's a thirsty soul with a sensitive stomach to do? If you choose not to play it safe, at least proceed with caution. Listen to your body. You may find you are not so sensitive that you cannot handle distilled spirits, but watch for symptoms like an out of proportion hangover. If you find yourself reacting badly, consider switching to spirits made without grains entirely, like potato vodka.
3. Agave and Sugarcane sweeten the deal
Agave nectar has experienced quite a comeback in popularity recently, as vegans and health nuts alike tout the sweet syrup's health properties, citing magnesium and potassium, as well as using it to replace honey in many recipes. Prior to this, agave was known for one mexican doozy: tequila. Given that Tequila is made from this highly sweet nectar, it is naturally gluten free, meaning your occasional trips to Margaritaville don't have to be a thing of the past. When dealing with added flavoring, as usual, one must use caution and visit the manufacturer's website if they are so inclined, but pure unadulterated tequila is naturally gluten free. Another source of sweetness, Sugarcane, is used in the manufacturing of rum. As with Tequila, Rum is not made from grains, and in its purest form is gluten free. This was exciting news for me personally, because it meant I didn't have to give up my beloved (yet admittedly cliche'd) girly drink, strawberry daiquris! Rum is also used in many other cocktail recipes, so having it on the "Yes List" gives you a lot more options, like mint mojitos and pina coladas.
4. Hard Cider, a Seasonal Favorite
Regardless of the season, you really can't go wrong with good old fashioned hard apple cider. It's sweet, with a bite, and it just makes you want to sit around a campfire and eat pumpkin bread. Perhaps I'm so fond of it because it's so completely gluten free - no added colors, or flavors, just pure apple cider goodness. There are plenty of hard cider brands out there, but the crowd favorite is Woodchuck Draft Cider. With flavors like Amber, Pear, Granny, and Pumpkin to choose from, it's hard to get bored.
5. And finally...Beer!
Even if you were never fond of the taste of beer, the thought of giving it up altogether seems, admittedly, a tad un-American, like giving up pizza or apple pie (which, by the way, are equally delicious gluten free as well)! It may never have been your first choice, but like a toddler, once it's taken away, there is nothing more irresistible than a tall, crisp bottle of Bud after a long hot day. The good news is, while your old favorites like Coors Light and Samuel Adams are out, a frosty cold one can still be yours in the form of buckwheat and sorgum brewed beers, like Redbridge, Anheuser-Busch's gluten-free beer. The gluten free beers tend to be on the sweeter side due to the lack of wheat, barley and rye, but they are just as refreshing as your old standby. Redbridge is available nationwide, as is Ramapo Valley Brewery's Honey Beer, which is made from amber honey and molasses. Honey Beer is also certified Kosher for Passover! Harder to find gluten-free brews include imports such as Green's gluten free ales from Belgium and O'Brien's gluten free lager from Australia, as well as Bard's Tale Beer, which was crafted by celiacs for celiacs.
As you can see, there are far more options for celiacs and the gluten intolerant than it would seem at first. As with any lifestyle, the key is to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible about the subject, and focus on what you CAN have, not what you can't, which keeps you and your friends much more happy and sane. Keep in mind that when ordering a special cocktail, you may need to be specific about the trimmings associated with it. For example, a Key Lime martini often comes with crushed graham crackers around the trim, which would need to be avoided or excluded.
As always with alcoholic beverages, exercise moderation, and please don't drink and drive!