Haunted by Spirits (Let the Gluten Go #6)

How food, diet, and dieting affected my writing and my life.  And maybe effects yours…

I thought we needed a post on one of the adult privileges of life, and how the specter of being gluten-free may put a chill in the heart of any individual threatened by gluten.  We’re talking responsible drinking of alcoholic beverages.

What about beer?
I hear you cry.  And what about spirits?  My vodka – wait…wasn’t vodka originally made from potatoes?

Good.  You’re past the panic and starting to think.

While it’s not true that potatoes were the original vodka (grain that accidentally spoiled and then continued on to alcohol was probably the first primitive spirit) it is true that any plant matter containing a good amount of starch and sugar can make a decent vodka.  With the proper handling, any plant matter can make an excellent beverage.

Lucky us – some wonderful products are being created out there, and a world of good taste is waiting for us.

First, though, let’s get past a hopeful rumor out there on the Internet.  Can you casually drink any sub-category of spirits?  Can you drink any form of gluten beer – a lighter beer like a pilsner?  An actual “light” beer?  Or must you seek out the generally more expensive gluten-free beers and spirits?

I know this is not easy, especially if you’ve just found out that a family member is celiac – or if you’ve suspected this for a long time, and are finally brave enough to simply test it by avoiding gluten.  But what can you do to inspire some care if you are asymptomatic?  How can you make yourself stick to this lifestyle if your gut does not hurt or your joints don’t ache and refuse to move when you eat gluten?  What if your brain doesn’t turn off when you accidentally get gluten?

Go to this link over at celiac.com
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Check out the post from “Lockheed” down in the comments.  This person was a silent sufferer, and had no idea s/he was gluten intolerant.  Until hopping a curb on a bike while carrying a 10 pound backpack revealed osteoporosis at 20 years old!  Snap!

In a macabre way, I’m lucky.  I am watching a relative’s joints rot away, probably from gluten intolerance.  I know that my own brain turns off from gluten.  So I am stuck – I’m in for the long haul.  I suspect that we will be able to drink less to have the same effect we want — after all, these beverages will register as “food” to our systems, as opposed to the toxin that is gluten.  The financial cost may even out.  So I can tell you – there are advantages to playing it safe.

If you want to play Russian roulette, you can try drinking Corona Light or any of the really delicate pilsners, and see if you get away with it.  You can guess that a clear spirit is just fine to drink.  I recommend another tack.  Embrace the world of gluten-free alcohol, and discover sweetness that awaits you.  If you’re a beer drinker, especially if you prefer darker, heavier beers?  Just stop drinking beer for a few months.  Let the memory of barley get hazy before you try gluten-free beer.  It will be an easier transition.

Yeah, I know.  I didn’t get to say good-bye to Augustiner Brau Munich Dark, my favorite beer.  They don’t sell it currently in Texas.  It’s been so long since I had one, they don’t even call it this anymore!  But after a brush with gluten two weeks ago – after finding out that I can lose ten+ days to gluten confusion – if you set an AMD in front of me, with a bottle opener, I’d just stare at it…thinking…sighing…and finally nudging it away.  I’ve been avocado brain girl, and I don’t want to go back ever again.  The traits of early Alzheimer’s will make a believer out of you fast.

This is also a problem with bottled mixed drinks.  For example, Mike’s Hard Lemonade is spirit based in Canada, but malt based in the USA.  The company says they have their USA lemonade tested, and that there is no trace of gluten protein showing up.  Still – my independent food experiments suggest that a teeny, tiny amount of gluten is a BIG problem for me.  So – you a big Mike’s fan?  I’d say try it on a day when you are positive that nothing else containing gluten has crossed your lips.  Might be easier to mix your own lemonade with a new, favorite vodka – a safe vodka.

We have several very nice spirits waiting for us – and eventually, some great hard cider, sakes, and gluten-free beers as well.  Let’s talk about them.

We’ll start with vodka.  And oh, such vodkas await!  Potato, grape, soy vodka – the list grows!  Monopolowa 100% potato vodka seems to be showing up nationally.  We can buy it here at Spec’s in Texas, and it can also be purchased at Trader Joe’s for a very reasonable price.  The kind folks at Specs tell me that if it says 100% something, that’s all that is in it – by law.  It’s a great mixing vodka, and many people like Monopolowa’s creamy flavor, drinking it on the rocks.  It can be found so inexpensively you can practically leave a bottle at a friend’s for your own use.

Another fine potato vodka is Luksusowa, made from Baltic potatoes and artesian well water.  Original Luks should be fine for people demanding gluten-free alcohol.  DO NOT drink Luksusowa Black, if you stumble across it – it is 50% ethanol (grain.)  Some alcohol rating services consider Luksusowa one of the best in the world, by the way.  No funny aftertaste; just clean, clear alcohol, ready to be drunk neat or turned into your favorite cocktail.

The Karlsson’s people in Scandinavia make a big deal about their 100% new golden potato vodka, both their blended Gold variety, and several varietals.  I can’t imagine them adulterating their precious new potato elixir with any grain, with gluten or without.  I don’t do nightshades right now, so I don’t get to try these …but oh, I’d like to.  The words GF don’t appear on the site, but I have an inquiry out to confirm or deny.

For high-end vodkas there is Chopin, which is distilled four times and made from a single ingredient, Polish potatoes.  Seven pounds of Podlasic potatoes go into each bottle of their vodka, and they make small batches.  They claim there’s nothing – nothing – else.  When you want a weightier, creamier vodka, you should try a potato vodka.  So try Chopin – everyone needs one expensive name to pull out of a hat when someone asks you what you’d really like to drink.  Give Chopin a chance to be your vodka drunk straight up before you start mixing things into it.

A regional favorite is Maine Distilleries, home of Cold River Classic Vodka, Cold River Blueberry Vodka and Cold River Gin – gluten-free, small batch, super premium potato spirits, award-winning and suitable for premium martinis.  They’re not available in all fifty states yet, but we can hope for them to show up soon.  This looks like lovely stuff, especially the blueberry vodka – we’re talking only 1% sugar used to infuse the blueberries, as opposed to the usual 10-15% used in most flavored vodkas.  And Cold River Blueberry is a full 80 proof vodka, not diluted by its waltz with Maine blueberries.  Hence, it is not a “sweet vodka” and can be mixed or sipped without any extra, cloying sweetness in its taste.  Long live Maine’s potato and blueberry crops!

Then we have what I’m looking forward to, the grape vodkas. There is not one but two GF grape vodkas from Australia, and they already have acquired legions of fans.  Bombora Vodka is distilled five times, and bursting with both grape hints and vodka smoothness.  Rumor has it this is a great mixer for the GF-inclined.  It’s also something you’ll not be ashamed to serve to friends who are not GF.  Just get rid of your usual grain vodka mixer and stock this one instead.

Cooranbong Vodka is distilled ten times, and so smooth you’ll love it over ice.  It is made from Australian Barossa Valley grapes, predominantly Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Part of the harshness of vodka kept it from being a favorite spirit of mine, except as a mixer, but I want to try this one all by its lonesome, both chilled and room temperature.  I’m expecting to be pleased!  This is my number one candidate for a sipping vodka.

Primo is from Argentina, grown at the foot of the Andes.  It’s a varietal vodka – not flavored, but triple-distilled from 100% of a variety of grape, like Malbec or Chardonnay.  This is award-winning stuff – pricey, but exquisite.

The Ciroc web site is actually rather exhausting in its attempt to brand itself as trend setting, but apparently its quintuple-distilled 100% high altitude grape vodka is sublime.  If you don’t mind the $$$, you’ll have a wondrous – and apparently gluten-free – experience.

For a vodka that is truly unique, you must try “3” Vodka.  It’s made from soy (yes, you read that correctly, soy.)  It took its creators over three years to get just the right balance of taste and smoothness they wanted in a vodka.  The way they’re distilling it, “3” has zero carbohydrates, zero sugars and it’s certified gluten-free by the Celiac Foundation.  The word out on the street seems to be that this vodka is producing fierce fans, who will mix or sip as the mood takes them.  Others find its taste interesting, but it hasn’t displaced their favorites – yet.  That zero carbs, zero sugars thing is very appealing.

If you’re missing liqueurs, start with ChocoVine – Dutch chocolate, red wine, and gluten-free.  (Note – the liqueurs used to make drinks shown on the Press sheets at their web site may NOT be gluten-free.  As always, keep reading labels.)

Jameson Whiskey claims to be gluten-free – it is aged in sherry and ex-bourbon casks, plus it is triple distilled.  So, if you are missing whiskey, you might try a glass of Jameson straight up, and see how you handle it.

How about gin?  Monopolowa’s Potato Gin was Best of Class at the 2009 NY Spirits show and Double Gold at the 2009 SF World Spirits Competition.  It’s only $10 a bottle at Trader Joe’s (1 liter.)  Time to try gin, perhaps?  And don’t forget that regional Cold River Gin.

I have a large bottle of Bacardi Gold set aside for making Bananas Foster, so I was very interested in talking to the Bacardi customer service folks.  They said the following:  “Thank you for your inquiry.  Please note that BACARDI 8, Superior, Gold, Select, 151 and our flavored rums do not contain gluten.” So we’ve still got one rum brand available to us.  I’ll slowly check out a few others.

This should tide you over for a few days.  On Monday we’ll continue, moving into gluten-free beers.  Remember to drink responsibly and have a designated driver.  But thanks to the folks above, it doesn’t always have to be you.
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Cat Kimbriel is a fantasy and science fiction writer with a practical streak, a passion for great characters, and a focus on justice and compassion. Her current ebooks can be found over here.

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