Guide to Gluten-free Drinking at Bars
What to Avoid At All Costs
When gluten-free drinking at bars, there are some things you should just know to avoid.
Avoid anything that’s on tap.
Ideally, tap lines should be cleaned and sterilized between uses which would prevent cross-contact but there is no way of knowing if this actually happens.
I’d recommend using this information to decide what is best for you. You might risk it and find you are fine or maybe you aren’t too sensitive. Ultimately, it’s up to you and how your body responds. For me, I avoid anything on tap. It’s just not worth it to me (especially because I am super sensitive to small amounts of gluten-exposure).
The tap is usually not worth it to Jamie from VibrantlyGfree.com who also avoids grain alcohols. Sje says “I try to stick to things like cider in bottles and margaritas. My sensitivity seems to be okay with cider on tap if it’s always a cider tap, so I am always sure to ask if the tap has previously been used for beer or if it’s always been cider”. She also says “pay attention to how they fill and clean the glasses” going on to say that sometimes cleaning methods are less than ideal and leave room for cross-contact.– Interview with Jamie from VibrantlyGfree.com
Avoid Beer (Unless it’s Gluten-Free and Served to you straight from the bottle/can)
First of all, when gluten-free drinking at bars, know that beer isn’t gluten-free unless it’s brewed from gluten-free grains and explicitly states that it is certified gluten-free on the bottle/can.
So regular beer is unsafe to drink (always). Additionally, so is gluten “removed” beer. Gluten “removed” beer is beer brewed with gluten grains but then goes through a “gluten removal” process that breaks gluten down. There is a huge debate on whether or not these beers are safe. You can try it if you want, but my personal approach is when in doubt, avoid. I’d rather not put myself at greater risk of stomach cancer if I don’t have to…
I personally haven’t tried any gluten-free beers just because my personal diet approach is to enjoy things that are naturally gluten-free, which beer is not. However, what works for me might and probably will not work for you. Living gluten-free is highly individualized based on each person’s needs. This means what you eat and makes your body feel good, might not be what makes my body feel good.
Avoid Anything that the Bartender is Unsure about and you’re Unsure about
When in doubt while drinking gluten-free, play it safe.
I repeat, when in doubt, PLAY IT SAFE!
I learned this lesson the hard way and needless to say, when I did go out, I’d be sick for weeks even though I had one drink (does anyone else feel like symptoms are worse when exposed to gluten in alcohol?).
What to tell the Bartender
When gluten-free drinking at bars, ideally, you want to talk to your bartender about your needs. Additionally, ideally, you want to be thinking clearly when you have this conversation (I.E. not a few drinks in). However, sometimes that isn’t feasible but always try to tell the bartender about your gluten-free needs.
Usually, I say something like, “I have a gluten allergy is there anything you know that is safe to drink?”. Sometimes bartenders are super helpful and will go to great lengths to find something safe for you.
I get a lot of “Titos is definitely safe, I can’t make any promises about anything else” (shout out to Tito’s for being the trusty dust go-to by the way).
It can also be helpful to ask if they know of anything on hand that hasn’t been brewed with gluten grains (learn why I avoid gluten grain alcohols even if their distilled here)
Alcohols that are Usually Safe
Like I mentioned above, I avoid any alcohol that is brewed from gluten grains. This, however, does not mean you need to. Again, everyone’s level of sensitivity is different and what works for me, might not be necessary for you.
With that in mind, here are some Alcohols to keep in mind when gluten-free drinking at bars. These alcohols are brewed from gluten-free grains (and other ingredients) and are usually safe:
- Hard Cider (most carry gluten-free claims but watch out for some that still contain trace amounts (like Hornsby and Harpoon)).
- Vodka (made from potatoes)
- Gin (made from potatoes)
- Rum (except Bacardi Silver)
- Tequila (100% from agave – watch out for tequila labled “mixto”)
Gluten-Free Cocktails (that are usually safe)
- Cosmopolitan cocktail – (vodka (make sure it’s safe), triple sec, cranberry juice, citrus peels)
- Daiquiri – (light rum, lime juice, simple sugar syrup) be more aware of frozen daiquiris, just make sure the ingredients are up to your standards
- Mojitos – (featuring white rum, it’s usually safe)
- Margaritas – (made from tequila (make sure it meets your standards), it’s usually safe but as always ask the bartender to check the mix they’re using (if they use one) to make sure it’s safe)
- Moscow Mule – (vodka (make sure it’s safe), ginger beer, and lime juice)
- Mexican Mule – (tequila (make sure it’s safe), ginger beer, lime juice, and Cointreau (alcohol made from orange peels))
- And any safe gluten-free alcohol mixed with club soda or juice (or both). Just be mindful of what’s going into your drinks and of course, let your bartender know about your needs.
Those are my tips for gluten-free drinking at bars. My LAST tip is to go out with good friends/family who will advocate for you. I have friend’s who sometimes do better than me at making sure what I am ordering is safe. Sometimes it’s nice to have additional advocates by your side!
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Do you have any tips for drinking gluten-free at bars? Have any go-to cocktails you order when drinking gluten-free at bars? Let me know in the comments!