Spirits are a mixed bag, but you are likely to find at least several that you can enjoy without provoking health problems. Beware of flavored varieties of vodka or rum, as they are loaded with sugar and/or high-fructose corn syrup. In general, simple unflavored spirits are safest.
Here’s a short list to help you navigate through your holiday cocktail parties and toasts without exposing yourself to the harmful effects of grains.
Vodkas brewed from nongrain sources, including Chopin and Trader Joe’s Monopolowa (potatoes; outside of North America you will have to ask or examine the bottle of Chopin for the source as there are also wheat and rye Chopin vodkas) and Cîroc and Trader Joe’s Versatile Spirit (grapes), are safe. Recently, many more vodkas are appearing on the market brewed from grapes, quinoa (not a grain), potatoes, and other sources, though not always nationally distributed.
Brandies and cognacs are generally safe since they are distilled from wine. Safe brands include Grand Marnier, Courvoisier, and Rémy Martin. There are exceptions, such as Martell, that add caramel coloring (a potential grain exposure.)
Gins are usually safe, brewed from juniper and other herbs. However, some gins can be brewed from grains, though grain protein levels are typically negligible and only an issue for those with severe gluten sensitivity.
Rum is distilled from sugarcane and therefore does not contain residues of grain proteins (and the sugar is fermented to alcohol and should therefore be present at low levels).
Whiskeys and bourbons are, like most beers, distilled from rye, barley, wheat, and corn and thereby potential problem sources. However, given the distillation process, whiskeys typically test below the 20-parts-per-million limit for gluten that the FDA set as the safe threshold for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Nonetheless, some people still seem to react to whiskeys distilled from grains. It means that many popular whiskeys— such as Jack Daniels (barley, rye, corn), Jameson (barley), and Bushmills (barley)—can potentially cause a gluten (gliadin) reaction. People without extreme sensitivities are likely safe, though, given the very low quantity of grain proteins.
Liqueurs that are safe include Kahlúa (dairy), fruit liqueurs like triple sec and Cherry Kijafa, Disaronno (amaretto-flavored), and Baileys Irish Cream (dairy). The most gluten-sensitive may need to avoid liqueurs blended with whiskey. Also, liqueurs tend to be high in sugar, so small servings are key. (Or consult the handful of recipes I have provided in the Wheat Belly Blog and Wheat Belly 30-Minute Cookbook for low-carb, no-added-sugar liqueurs you can easily make yourself.)
An occasional cocktail is fine when adhering to a grain-free lifestyle. Just remember to be careful what you choose. A poor choice can mean inadvertent re-exposure to grains/grain by-products and excessive amounts of sugar. This could cause an autoimmune condition to reignite, provoke a spike in blood sugar and thereby turn off your ability to lose weight, trigger a series of gastrointestinal issues, or regain undesired pounds. The reward for choosing wisely can be a wonderful time spent with family and friends without such problems.