Bourbon is about as American as apple pie. But unlike apple pie, it’s usually gluten-free! Let’s take a closer look.
Classic Kentucky bourbon is a corn-based whiskey synonymous with the American South. Before you take a sip, let’s find out: Is bourbon gluten-free?
SHORT ANSWER: YES!
Yes, pure, distilled bourbon is generally considered gluten-free, although opinions vary. Gluten-containing ingredients such as wheat, barley, and rye may be used along with corn in the “mash” fermented to create bourbon, but the gluten is removed during distillation.
Is Bourbon Gluten Free?
Yes, bourbon is considered gluten-free, even though it may originate from gluten-containing ingredients. The mash ingredients used to produce bourbon are constituted of at least 51% corn, but the remaining 49% may be other grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. Wheat, barley, and rye do, of course, contain gluten. However, the gluten is removed during the distillation process, and the resulting bourbon is typically considered gluten-free and safe for those with gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance to drink. (Although some would err on the side of caution and avoid grain-based liquor altogether.)
The exception to bourbon’s gluten-free classification would be any label that adds gluten ingredients after the distilling process, or any bourbon that is subject to cross-contamination during bottling, but this is not common.
What Is Bourbon?
Bourbon is an American-made whiskey especially attributed to Kentucky and the American South. Bourbon distilling began in the 18th century among European immigrant farmers, but was not labeled as “bourbon” until the 19th century.
There are several criteria used to define bourbon as such:
- Must be produced in the U.S.
- Made from at least 51% corn, among other grains
- Aged in new charred oak barrels
- Distilled up to 160 proof (80% alcohol content)
- Begin barrel aging at up to 125 proof (60.5% alcohol)
- Bottled when at least 80 proof (40% alcohol)
Color may be amber, brown, orange, or red; the color is influenced by the charred oak in which it is aged.
Bourbon, made almost exclusively in Kentucky, is closely related to Tennessee whiskey. Both are common alcohol exports from the United States to other countries.
What Bourbon Is Gluten Free?
Pure, distilled bourbon is usually considered gluten-free and safe for those with gluten sensitivities. Although bourbon begins with a mash of corn and other grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye that contain gluten, the gluten is removed during the production process so that the final gluten content is virtually zero.
For pure, distilled bourbon, look to the following gluten-free bourbon brands:
- Maker’s Mark
- Four Roses
- Jim Beam
- Hudson Baby Bourbon
- Woodford Reserve Bourbon
- Wild Turkey
- Evan Williams
- Knob Creek
- Hudson Baby
- Elijah Craig
Bourbon is typically distilled twice- sometimes even three times- to purify the end product. The mash and any impurities are strained out, and the gluten proteins are removed during the process, so there should not be any gluten present in pure, distilled bourbon.
What Liquors Are Not Gluten-Free?
Most liquor is considered gluten-free, either because its ingredients are naturally free from gluten, or because the process of distillation has removed the gluten protein from the mix before the liquor is bottled.
To be sure your drink is 100% gluten-free, it’s a good idea to opt for a liquor that never contained any gluten ingredients, such as wine, cider, rum, tequila, or brandy. Grain alcohols including vodka, gin, whiskey, scotch, and bourbon do originate from wheat and other gluten grains, but are considered gluten-free after distillation. They are most likely safe to include in a gluten-free diet.
Maker’s Mark‘s mash bill includes winter wheat, corn, and barley. These ingredients are not gluten-free, but once the bourbon goes through distillation to remove the original mash, it is considered gluten-free.
Those who are extremely sensitive to gluten may choose to forgo bourbon and other grain-based liquor, opting instead for rum, tequila, or wine that is naturally 100% gluten-free.
Bulleit Bourbon, the “Frontier Whiskey,” is made from a mash of rye, barley, and corn malt, so the mash does contain gluten. However, the mash is removed during distillation, so Bulleit Bourbon is considered gluten-free by the time it is bottled. Like most other bourbons, Bulleit should be OK for a gluten-free diet.
Pure, distilled bourbon is generally considered gluten-free, although it is derived from a mash that includes at least 51% corn along with other grains (such as wheat) that typically contain gluten. The distillation process removes gluten proteins and other impurities, so it is commonly considered appropriate for a gluten-free diet.
Brother’s Bond “Straight Bourbon Whiskey” is made from corn, wheat, barley, and rye. Although these grains (with the exception of corn) do contain gluten, Brother’s Bond, like most other pure bourbons, is considered gluten-free because the gluten is removed during distillation.
Four Roses Bourbon is made from the combination of two mashbills, each containing corn, rye, and barley malt. Although there is gluten in the mash, it is removed during distillation. Four Roses, like other brands of bourbon, is considered gluten-free.
There are many alcoholic drinks that are gluten-free and safe for celiacs to consume. Rum, tequila, wine, hard cider, brandy, and cognac are naturally gluten-free alcoholic beverages- they are not made from gluten grains.
Drinks such as scotch, vodka, whiskey, gin, and bourbon often originate from wheat and other gluten-containing grains, but the gluten proteins are removed during distillation. Though these drinks are generally considered celiac-safe, those who are extremely sensitive to gluten may have an adverse reaction.
The Bottom Line
Bourbon is made from a grain mash consisting of at least 51% corn. The rest is made up of other grains, often wheat, barley, or rye that contain gluten. During distillation, the harmful gluten protein is removed, and the final product is considered gluten-free.
Pure, distilled bourbon is therefore considered gluten-free unless any gluten-containing ingredients are added as flavoring after distillation, or if the bourbon encounters any cross-contamination during manufacturing, but this is unlikely.
Some sources warn against celiac patients drinking bourbon or other grain-based liquors, even though they have been distilled to the point where most would consider them gluten-free.
If you want to be sure your drink has no trace of gluten whatsoever, go for a beverage made from ingredients that do not contain gluten. Wine, rum, tequila, and brandy (among others) are made from naturally gluten-free ingredients and are great gluten-free options.