Question: Is brandy gluten-free?
Plain brandy usually is made from grapes, and (similar to wine) should be gluten-free down to a pretty low level. So if you're following the gluten-free diet because you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, plain brandy should be safe for you.
Pure grape-based brandy types include cognac, armagnac and pisco (a Spanish brandy).
However, the gluten-free status of brandy gets a little more confusing when it comes to fruit-based brandy and flavored brandy, since it's possible for the flavorings to contain gluten (usually here the culprit is a wheat-based natural flavor or a barley-based sweetener).
Unlike food manufacturers, the makers of alcoholic beverages do not need to list their ingredients, and many flavored brandy manufacturers keep their formulas a closely-guarded secret.
Calvados Considered Gluten-Free, But Ouzo Questionable
Calvados, an apple-based brandy, is gluten-free, as is eau-de-vie (French fruit brandy). Slivovitz, a brandy made of plums from Eastern Europe, also should be gluten-free (but as with any food or drink that doesn't list its ingredients, I'd advise moving cautiously).
Ouzo, a traditional Greek drink that contains anise and spices, also is considered brandy by some connoisseurs. Greek law requires ouzo to contain at least 30% grapes; the remainder can be other forms of fruit, potatoes or even grains, including gluten grains (distilled gluten grains are considered to be gluten-free, but many of us do react; learn more in Is Alcohol Gluten-Free?).
The flavorings in ouzo can contain crushed grains (yes, including gluten grains), as well, although those flavorings usually made up mainly of spices. If you're in doubt about the gluten-free status of a particular ouzo, contact the manufacturer (if possible) or stick with a more reliably gluten-free cocktail.
One potential option for ouzo lovers: Americanaki Ouzo, made by Old Sugar Distillery in Madison, Wis., is crafted from beet sugar and other gluten-free ingredients in a facility that does not use gluten ingredients, according to owner and distiller Nathan Greenawalt.
Oak Barrel Flour Seal A Gluten Problem?
Most brandies are aged in oak barrels or casks, which brings up one small potential source of gluten cross-contamination — traditionally, oak casks used to ferment wine and brandy are sealed with a wheat or rye flour paste.
Any gluten from this seal that remains in the final product is definitely going to be too low to detect with current gluten testing technology — it's likely well below 1 part per million (for comparison, 20 parts per million of gluten is considered "gluten-free," although many people react to lower levels than that). However, if you try a brandy and believe you react to it, this flour-based cask seal is one possible reason, especially if you tend to be particularly sensitive.
Read more on brandy from About.com's Guide to Cocktails:
- Brandy Basics
- Brandy Cocktails (Note: before trying any of these recipes, double-check to make sure all the ingredients you'll need are gluten-free!)