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Megan Tichy Ph.D. posted an article in Safe Gluten-Free Food List / Unsafe Foods & IngredientsWhat is Gluten? Gluten is a huge molecule held together by smaller molecules linked together called amino acids. A very tiny part of the gluten molecule can initiate a response. If each amino acid that makes up gluten is represented as a single letter that very tiny part would be: SGQGSFQPSQQ. There are other sequences of amino acids that cause a reaction in gluten sensitive individuals, but the point is, as tiny as this fragment is with respect to the entire gluten protein, it is still HUGE with respect to the size of ethanol (the stuff you are drinking). What is Alcohol? The alcohol you drink is ethanol. Ethanol is smaller than the size of the smallest amino acid in the smallest fragment of gluten that has been shown to initiate an autoimmune reaction. More specifically, ethanol is about 10 atomic mass units smaller than just the G in the sequence shown above. What are Amino Acids? The G is glycine, and by the way, each of these amino acids (represented by letters) by themselves is safe, and sold at most health food stores. For example Q = glutamine (yes, “L-glutamine,” the same amino acid mentioned in a recent post and used to heal intestinal damage). If the protein is viewed as beads on a string, then one of those beads might be good for you, but certain sequences strung together can initiate an allergic reaction of many types from acute peanut allergy to less-than-obvious gluten sensitivity. What is Distillation? When a distillation is performed, pure ethanol is separated away from all of the other “stuff” that forms as a result of fermentation. This is because ethanol is volatile (meaning it becomes a gas in the distillation process). Imagine a vat of fermentation products, you heat it, and only the volatile molecules like ethanol enter a tube attached to the vat. This tube is not just any tube - it is a curved condensation tube! Here is what it does: While the heated gas form of ethanol floats into it (because that is what gases do), the molecules are cooled and condense back into a liquid, and fall into a new sparkling clean vessel containing the stuff that intoxicates you and any other volatiles. So the fancier distillation columns that are actually used industrially also purify the ethanol away from other volatiles. Gluten does not stand a chance of “crossing over” because it is not volatile. Here is a simplified analogy. Let's say you put some sand in the bottom of your tea kettle. If you take the spout off your tea kettle, and attach a condensing tube to the opening (a curved tube would be the simplest type of condensing tube but there are many elaborate types), you could distill your water away from the sand. The condensing tube would be curved so as to open into a new clean pot. Let us pretend that the sand is gluten and the water is ethanol. When you heat to the boiling point, the liquid becomes gas so it travels into the condenser, cools and becomes liquid, then falls into the clean pot. Now having read that, is there any way that the new clean pot would contain any sand? No, and distilled alcohol (ethanol) does not contain any gluten. Remember, gluten is not volatile. Another non-volatile compound is table salt. So you could perform a distillation at home, with salt water. Has anyone ever inadvertently done this? Boiled a pot of salt water, perhaps to make some Tinkyada pasta, and walked away to do something else. You came back to find your pot almost empty with white crusty stuff (salt) all inside the pot. So the gluten is left behind in a distillation process. If malt is added to the distilled product it will be disclosed on the ingredients label. What is Vinegar? Vinegar is formed by fermentation in a similar way that ethanol is formed by fermentation. The process is to take ethanol and ferment it with bacteria. Later, there is a filtration to remove the bacteria. Rarely, vinegar is fermented from wheat-based alcohol. “Distilled vinegar,” gets its name from the fact that it was fermented from distilled alcohol. Why is Vinegar Still Questioned? The answer could be, perhaps, because so many people report a reaction to it and vinegar-based products. The never-ending fear is that cross-contamination during the fermentation process is leading to barely detectable amounts of gluten in the finished product (by barely detectable, I mean in terms of commercially available tests). Since the vinegar is rarely distilled post fermentation from the ethanol, the “messy” nature of the second fermentation step could pose a problem, especially for highly sensitive individuals. If the alcohol gets all used up by the bacteria, the bacteria go on to form carbon dioxide and water from the vinegar. So alcohol is periodically added in the fermentation process. Conceivably, one “shortcut” would be to just add beer at this juncture. Adding beer or some other form of cheap malted alcohol would keep the culture alive, and increase the “quality” and yield of the vinegar. Another fear is that the bacterial “mother” as it is called, contains trace gluten through cross-contamination. Claims that these practices actually take place are unsubstantiated by evidence. Why are Distilled Spirits Still Questioned?That is a good question, I do not know.Take a Short Quiz on this Topic: You bought mustard and pickles at the grocery store. These products contain “distilled vinegar” according to the ingredients labels, and the label does NOT say “contains: wheat.” Are the mustard and pickles gluten-free? Rum, gin, whiskey, and vodka are distilled beverages. If they are not flavored with something that contains wheat (would be declared on the label), rye, or barley (usually in the form of “malt”), are they gluten-free? What is wrong with the following statements (they have all been cut and pasted from various blogs and forums on the topic of celiac disease)?a. “Most alcohols are distilled in such a way that any wheat gluten is no longer present.”b. “Even trace amounts of gluten that make it past the filter system can be harmful.”c. “It seems improbable to me, too, that gliadin could survive the distillation process.” Answers: Yes, unless you have reason to believe otherwise, in which case you should simply avoid them. Yes. 3a. All alcohols, if distilled, have been removed from any type of gluten. 3b. Distillation is nothing like a filtration. We are not separating small from large, there is no filter. Filtration would be like how your coffee pot separates water from the coffee grains. A tear in the filter would result in a big problem, right? Filtration is a separation based on size, distillation is a separation based on volatility. 3c. Do we care whether gliadin (a name given to part of wheat gluten) “survives” the process or not? No, because it has been left behind to stew in its own juices in the distillation pot. Your stuff (the ethanol) has floated away, and entered a new, clean pot. Some people have this idea that we heat the fermented mixture to smithereens and it somehow decomposes the molecules of gluten. Clearly, such a process would be ineffective or else we could simply “cook,” “roast,” “fry,” or “burn” the gluten out of our foods, and we know that we cannot do that.
Rebecca Herman posted an article in Conferences, Publicity, Pregnancy, Church, Bread Machines, Distillation & BeerCeliac.com 06/27/2011 - In order to protect the propriety of their products, distilleries can be reluctant to disclose process details. Yet their disclosure is crucial for those of us who are unable to consume gluten. Recently, I investigated a potato vodka and gin distillery in Freeport, Maine where this is not the case. Don Thibodeau, president of Green Thumb Farms, launched Maine Distilleries in 2004 with his brother, Lee Thibodeau, and managing partners, Bob Harkins, director of sales and marketing, and Chris Dowe, head distiller. Maine Distilleries is dedicated to the production of three spirits that are sold under its Cold River label. Green Thumb Farms, a 2,000-acre family-owned farm located in Fryeburg, Maine, produces potatoes, beans, and corn in the alluvial soils of the Cold River. I started my visit there with Don. The farm’s clients include Frito-Lay and super market chains Whole Foods Market and Shaws. For as long as they can remember, Don and Lee had discussed vodka production as a potential use for the farm’s off-grade, cull potatoes which are too small, too big or too blemished to sell. “If the potatoes are not beautiful,” explained Don, “they don’t go into the bag.” Nowadays, customers also look for clean potatoes. In years past, potatoes were bagged dirty, because they stay fresher that way. The cleaning and sorting of potatoes is a complex process involving several pieces of equipment including one called an “Odenburg.” An Odenburg is an automatic grader with beams of light, or electronic eyes, that sense variations in color - and sorts potatoes accordingly. Yes, customers are even selective about color. As production increases at the distillery, Maine Distilleries will look beyond Green Thumb Farms for cull potatoes, which is really good news for the potato farmers of Maine. According to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources, Maine ranks eighth in the country in the production of potatoes. At Maine Distilleries, a small, copper pot “still” stood out from the rest of the equipment. It belonged to Don’s and Lee’s late father, Larry, a third-generation Presque Island area potato farmer. Don and Lee grew up listening to stories their father told of making potato vodka during the prohibition period. Many of the local potato farmers in years past had stills just like this one. Larry’s old copper pot was small enough to fit in the back seat of my car. As I began my tour, I couldn’t help but wonder what Larry might think of Maine Distilleries’ very large, copper pot still. The still’s enrichment column is two stories high. Assistant distiller, Ben Francis, gave me a tour of the facility and its five processes, which are mashing, fermentation, distillation, blending and bottling. We began at the mashing kettle. Potatoes are conveyed (on a belt) to the mashing kettle from a nearby storage area. Mashing breaks the potatoes’ starches down into sugars, which takes approximately 12 hours. The resulting mash, also called “potato soup,” is discharged through piping to fermentation kettles. Yeast is added to the potato soup in the fermentation kettles, and consumes the sugar, producing ethanol. Fermentation takes one to two days, according to Chris Dowe, the head distiller, and the yeast is kosher and naturally gluten free. The resulting “potato wine” is about 9 percent ethanol. Water and solids make up the remaining volume. The potato wine is discharged through piping from the fermentation kettles into holding tanks in the distillation room. Each batch is distilled three times in the copper bottom still in order to separate the ethanol from the water and the solids. After the first distillation, the ethanol is approximately 50 percent; after the second distillation, 95 percent; and after the third distillation, 96 percent. Boiling point is crucial to the success of distillation. The enrichment column extending from the copper pot still is kept cooler at the base in order to prohibit the water and the solids from vaporizing and traveling up along the column with the ethanol, which has a much lower boiling point. Most large commercial distilleries use continuous, stainless steel stills. But distilled spirits experts claim that hand-crafted spirits that are produced in small batches in copper stills are superior to continuous, stainless steel methods. Maine Distilleries’ copper pot still was itself hand-crafted in Stuttgart, Germany. Stuttgart is known for its custom copper fabricators as well as this particular copper pot still design. After the third distillation, the resulting ethanol is blended with deionized spring water to produce Cold River’s vodka. The spring water originates from the Cold River/Saco Valley aquifer at Green Thumb Farms. Some manufacturers add compounds (such as glycerol) to improve the smoothness or taste of a vodka; such is not the case here. Maine Distilleries has been selling Cold River’s classic vodka since 2005. In 2009, Maine Distilleries launched its second product, Cold River’s blueberry-flavored vodka. It was a logical choice, explained Ben, because Maine is the world’s largest producer of blueberries. Maine Distilleries uses low-bush, wild blueberries from Jasper Wyman & Son, of Milbridge, Maine, a family-owned enterprise that is known as the leading U.S. grower, packer, and marketer of wild blueberries. To make blueberry-flavored vodka, Maine Distilleries infuses macerated blueberries in its classic vodka. After several days of infusing, the ethanol is drawn off and blended with the deionized spring water and a small amount of cane sugar. No artificial flavors or aromas are added to this product. In August 2010, Maine Distilleries launched its third product, Cold River’s gin. Botanicals are added to the classic vodka to make the gin. The botanical blend, which dates back to the early days of British gin, contains juniper berries, coriander, lemon peel, orange peel, orris root, angelica root, and cardamom. After the botanicals are added to the classic vodka, it is distilled for a fourth time and then blended with the deionized spring water to produce Cold River’s gin. Alcohol beverage labeling is regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Treasury. Under the Bureau’s current labeling regulations, Maine Distilleries is not permitted to print “gluten-free product” on its bottles. Since the passage of the U.S. Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act in 2004, the Bureau has promised to finalize and implement labeling regulations that would require allergen statements on all bottles. Three million people with celiac disease and another 18 million with gluten sensitivity have been eagerly awaiting the final approval of these long overdue regulations. Cold River’s classic vodka has acquired an impressive number of awards for such a new product. In September 2007, it earned a Five-Star Premium Recommendation from Spirits Journal. In 2008, it was named to Wine Enthusiast’s prestigious list of “Top 50 Spirits,” and earned the magazine’s sole “Classic (96-100) / Highest Recommendation” rating for 2008. It went on to earn Double Gold at San Francisco’s 2008 World Spirits Competition, and was featured as “The Best American Vodka” in spirits expert F. Paul Pacult’s Kindred Spirits 2. Are Cold River’s vodkas and gin gluten free? Until the new regulations are finalized, it’s tough to say. Meanwhile, disclosure at Maine Distilleries is as clear as the Cold River. FOR MORE INFORMATION: Green Thumb Farms http://greenthumbfarms.com Maine Distilleries http://www.mainedistilleries.com Gluten Free Dietician - Labeling of Alcohol http://www.glutenfreedietitian.com/newsletter/2011/01/18/gluten-free-labeling-of-alcohol/ Note: Alcohol beverage labeling for gluten free beer; or, wine and cider containing less than 7 percent alcohol (by volume), is regulated by the Food & Drug Administration.