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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Distillery Under Fire for Labeling Vodka and Gin as "Gluten-free"

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: Photo shows Japan's Yamazaki distillery. Photo: CC--Toukou Sousui

    Celiac.com 06/18/2015 - An Irish distillery has run afoul of regulatory authorities over labels that tout its gin and vodka as "gluten-free." The artisanal, Cork-based, St Patrick's Distillery claims it is a common misconception that all gin and vodkas were gluten-free.

    The company claims that, since its products are made with gluten-free ingredients, its labels are accurately distinguishing its vodka and gin from other products made with wheat. However, after numerous complaints, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland plans to follow up on the distillery's claims.

    The FSAI points out that all distilled beverages are gluten-free, calls the claims misleading, and says the company could be in breach of strict Irish food-labeling laws.

    A spokesperson for th FSAI said: "Under the Food Information for Consumers Regulation, the food information must not mislead the consumer by suggesting that the food possess special characteristics when, in fact, all similar foods (in this case, vodka and gin) possess such characteristics."

    Niamh O'Connor, who runs Cork Nutrition, said she that she was incredulous about the company's claims.

    "It is an absolute indisputable fact that distilled spirits are gluten-free, even if gluten-containing grains are used as a raw ingredient," said O'Conner. "Therefore…all gin and vodka products are gluten-free so one cannot label their own product as "gluten-free."

    Ireland's Coeliac Society, which supports people with the food intolerance, described the claims from St Patrick's Distillery as "unhelpful".

    "Wine, spirits, and cider are gluten free," said the society's Gráinne Denning.

    In addition to labeling their gin and vodka as "gluten-free," the company also refers to their new range of spirits as being lactose free. Of course, all distilled spirits are naturally dairy free and lactose free.

    What do you think? Are such labels helpful, or misleading?

    Share your thoughts below.


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    I think this labeling IS helpful. Some vodkas etc. have additives that might make them not gluten free (like flavorings). If all spirits were labeled it would just make it easier. We aren't all food experts. And we have all had the experience of finding gluten in something that should be naturally gluten free.

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    I think this labeling IS helpful. Some vodkas etc. have additives that might make them not gluten free (like flavorings). If all spirits were labeled it would just make it easier. We aren't all food experts. And we have all had the experience of finding gluten in something that should be naturally gluten free.

    Oops. I meant to say a PhD chemist, not physicist, in my above comment. Here is the link to explain why ALL alcohol made from glutenous grains contains gluten:

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    Guest Brenda Loughnane

    Posted

    I find this article very interesting and I think the company should be allowed to label the product gluten-free. I myself have been ill after drinking Baileys, which contains whiskey.

    This is a quote from Baileys' website "The ingredients used in Baileys are Gluten free. On the basis of this and to the best of our knowledge there are no traces of Gluten in Baileys. As we are not qualified to give medical advice persons requiring a Gluten free diet should consult their medical adviser before consuming Baileys."

    I note that they say "to the best of their knowledge", which, to me, indicates that they do not run tests for gluten.

     

    Another article I found interesting is from 2009 by No Gluten, No Problem. They are indicating that the problem with gluten found in spirits is from after distillation. The gluten gets in the product via cross-contamination and distillation practices by the company.

     

    My personal opinion is that there could be trace amounts and that the distillation process makes alcohol safe only for "most coeliacs" and therefore is deemed gluten free by all organisations. The only time I would contradict this is if a product is solely using naturally gluten free ingredients and not making any other gluten containing ingredients in their factory.

     

    I was diagnosed a hyper-sensitive coeliac (by The Royal Free Hospital in London) and cannot tolerate any trace amounts. They advised me, as I was still ill after 1 year of a gluten free diet, to avoid anything that contained the Codex Wheat Starch (Codex Alimentarius), which I knew nothing about at the time. I find the coeliac organisations and companies promoting products that are safe for "most" coeliacs an absolute insult to the coeliacs that cannot tolerate these foods or drinks of which a high proportion contain some form of gluten. Now in the UK they do not even have to declare it on the label, if it is 20ppm or less, as it is considered safe!! So, I have to eat something and then get extremely ill and then I know it contains a small amount of gluten.

    I would like to ask that if everyone who is hyper sensitive like myself, please campaign to whomever you can to get coeliac/celiac disease graded as they have done with other diseases. For example, Grade/Type 1 for those who are hyper sensitive, Grade/Type 2 for "most coeliacs", Grade/Type 3 for medically diagnosed gluten intolerance or allergy. I think that this will help all of us whatever our Grade/Type, ensure that organisations and companies treat us all as individuals and not place us under their "umbrellas" and hopefully manufacturers will label their products accordingly.

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    I think this labeling IS helpful. Some vodkas etc. have additives that might make them not gluten free (like flavorings). If all spirits were labeled it would just make it easier. We aren't all food experts. And we have all had the experience of finding gluten in something that should be naturally gluten free.

    Sue is absolutely correct. I had a terrible experience with one shot of a root beer flavored vodka (not from consuming too much, I should add) and researched later (since the label indicated nothing) only to find that the additive did contain gluten. Similar with other foods that should be "naturally" gluten free, all spirits are NOT created equal. If something is truly gluten free, and the manufacturer wishes to attract a consumer who cares about such things (like me and my non-celiac family members and friends who support my special needs), PLEASE feel free to label it as such!!

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    I have reactions to distilled alcohols in the past. I don't believe that distilling ingredients removes the effect. I had selectively removed beer and certain vodkas from my diet long before I heard about gluten intolerance. I just knew that if I drank them, I would be sick.

     

    I was amazed when I finally figured out that the vodkas I had eliminated long before knowing anything about gluten, were those that were grain based. Potato vodka didn't have the same effect.

     

    I would like to know if my alcohol is made with gluten containing ingredients because it MAKES a difference to me.

     

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    Guest Elizabeth Drew

    Posted

    I welcome the labeling, as I have found that one cannot assume that a product that should logically be gluten free actually is. When I was diagnosed with celiac disease in Ireland, I was informed by the dietitian that Smirnoff Vodka (the most commonly available brand there) was not gluten free due to some aspect of the way it was processed. I have also been told that some whiskey distillers add small amounts of barley mash into the finished product to enhance the flavors, although I imagine this practice must be rare. Also, when flavorings are added to distilled spirits, there is usually no information about ingredients, let alone potential allergens, listed on labels.

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    Oops. I meant to say a PhD chemist, not physicist, in my above comment. Here is the link to explain why ALL alcohol made from glutenous grains contains gluten:

    They are mistaken, as distillation removes all traces of gluten.

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    I am not going to argue about the presence of gluten in vinegar or alcohol products, but I have a bad enough allergy to wheat and grains to react badly to any vinegars or alcoholic drinks that have been made from grains. So I would like to see more labeling, but since gluten free only imparts some information, would rather see grain free on labels as well.

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    I DEFINITELY still react to the distilled final product when gluten containing ingredients are used. So do many other sensitive celiacs like me. It would be nice to not have to call each company and/or do tons of 'net research to find out which drinks I can tolerate. I'm all for labeling that tells me not only about ingredients but also manufacturing and chance of CC right on the label. Wouldn't that be refreshing... Kind of like a nice cold mixed drink.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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