Is Woodford Reserve Bourbon whiskey gluten-free?

Quick Answer

Yes, Woodford Reserve bourbon is gluten-free. Woodford Reserve uses a mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. The distillation process removes gluten proteins, resulting in a gluten-free finished bourbon. Woodford Reserve is processed at a dedicated gluten-free facility and lab tests confirm no detectable gluten.

What is Woodford Reserve Bourbon?

Woodford Reserve is a premium Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey produced by the Brown-Forman Corporation. It was introduced in 1996 and is distilled at the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Woodford County, Kentucky.

Some key facts about Woodford Reserve:

  • It is made from a mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley.
  • The bourbon is distilled in copper pot stills and aged in new charred American Oak barrels for an average of 7-8 years.
  • Woodford Reserve is bottled at 90.4 proof (45.2% ABV).
  • It has flavor notes of spice, oak, and vanilla.
  • Woodford Reserve is an artisanal, small-batch bourbon produced in limited quantities.
  • It is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs Racetrack.

Woodford Reserve helped lead a resurgence in premium, super-premium, and craft bourbons starting in the 1990s. It is regarded as a refined, smooth sipping bourbon with complex flavors.

Does Woodford Reserve Contain Gluten?

No, Woodford Reserve bourbon does not contain any detectable gluten.

Here are the reasons why Woodford Reserve bourbon is considered gluten-free:

  • The grains used to make Woodford Reserve (corn, rye, malted barley) do not inherently contain gluten.
  • The malted barley used goes through a distillation process that removes gluten proteins.
  • Distillation involves heating the bourbon to a high temperature (140-160 proof) that breaks down gluten peptides into non-detectable fragments.
  • The facilities used to produce Woodford Reserve are dedicated gluten-free environments with protocols in place to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Regular third-party lab testing confirms no detectable levels of gluten or gluten peptides in finished Woodford Reserve products.

So even though malted barley is used, a gluten-containing grain, the distillation process effectively removes any trace of gluten proteins or peptides.

Validation from Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve has explicitly stated that its bourbon products are gluten-free:

  • On its website FAQ page, Woodford Reserve states “Woodford Reserve is gluten free. The distillation process used to make Woodford Reserve removes gluten proteins.”
  • Woodford Reserve’s customer service has confirmed in email responses to consumers that their bourbon contains no detectable gluten and is safe for those sensitive to gluten or wheat allergens.
  • The back label of Woodford Reserve bourbon reads “Verified GLUTEN-FREE Whiskey” confirming third-party lab testing showing it is gluten-free.

Woodford Reserve’s gluten-free claim has also been validated through independent third-party testing by organizations such as the Gluten Intolerance Group.

So straight from the producer, Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey does not contain any gluten and is suitable for a gluten-free diet.

Gluten Content of Bourbon and Whiskey

Bourbon and other types of distilled whiskey are generally considered gluten-free. Here’s an overview:

  • By U.S. law, bourbon is made from a mash of at least 51% corn plus other grains like rye, wheat, and malted barley.
  • Other major whiskey styles like rye, malt, wheat, and blended whiskey have their own grain bills but often include gluten grains.
  • During the distillation process, the gluten proteins from the grains are broken down and removed from the final distillate.
  • As long as proper protocols are followed to avoid cross-contamination with gluten, the final bourbon/whiskey product is gluten-free.
  • Some whiskies notably use gluten-free grains like corn, sorghum or millet, but distillation removes gluten proteins in any case.

There is an important caveat around whiskies aged in used bourbon barrels. These “bourbon casks” may impart trace gluten unless thoroughly cleaned. But straight bourbon whiskeys aged in new, charred oak barrels do not pose this risk.

So while the grains used vary, distillation produces gluten-free bourbon and whiskey, including Woodford Reserve. Those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can generally consider them safe to consume in distilled form.

Testing Methods

To validate the absence of gluten in Woodford Reserve bourbon and other whiskies, distillers use sensitive lab testing methodologies.

  • The R5 Competitive ELISA test can detect the presence of gluten down to 5 parts per million (ppm). This is below the 20 ppm threshold to qualify as gluten-free.
  • The R5 Meningococcal sandwich ELISA test detects smaller gluten peptide fragments that may remain after distillation.
  • PCR-based testing like the G12 antibody test identifies residual DNA sequences specific to gluten proteins.
  • Together these advanced tests can confirm no detectable traces of intact or fragmented gluten proteins.

Woodford Reserve states they use scientifically validated gluten testing methods to verify the absence of gluten in their products. The batch codes on each Woodford Reserve bottle also allow tracing back to gluten testing records for that distilling batch.

So consumers can be assured proper verification protocols are followed in declaring Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey gluten-free.

Mash Bill & Ingredients

To understand what goes into Woodford Reserve bourbon, here is the mash bill:

  • 72% corn – The primary grain that gives bourbon its sweetness.
  • 18% rye – Adds spiciness, graininess, and boldness.
  • 10% malted barley – Helps convert starch to fermentable sugar. Provides enzymes for whiskey production.

In addition to the gluten-free grains, the only other ingredients are:

  • Yeast – Converts sugars into alcohol.
  • Water – Limestone-filtered water naturally iron-free and calcium-rich.

No other additives, flavors, colors, or preservatives are used. Just the gluten-free grains, yeast, and water to produce the bourbon distillate.

The mash bill has no wheat or barley that contain gluten. And again, the malted barley and rye lose any gluten proteins through the triple distillation process in copper pot stills.

Facility & Process

To prevent any chance of cross-contamination, Woodford Reserve takes strict precautions:

  • Woodford Reserve is distilled at the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky.
  • This is a dedicated gluten-free facility that does not process any gluten-containing grains.
  • There is no shared equipment used that could transmit gluten from other products.
  • Sanitation protocols are followed to eliminate any residual gluten between batch runs.
  • Each step from milling, mashing, fermentation, distillation, and bottling occurs in self-contained, closed production systems.
  • Random facility and equipment swabbing also verifies no traces of gluten.

Consumer advocate groups have toured the Woodford Reserve distillery and confirmed robust gluten safety protocols.

The combination of gluten-free grains, intensive distillation, and avoidance of cross-contamination results in a reliably gluten-free product.

Common Questions

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the gluten content of Woodford Reserve bourbon:

Is mash bill the only factor, or does distillation remove gluten?

Distillation is crucial. Even with a gluten-free mash bill, traces of gluten could be introduced. Distillation breaks down and volatilizes away gluten peptide fragments. The full distillation process makes Woodford Reserve gluten-free.

Doesn’t malted barley used contain gluten?

Yes, malted barley does contain gluten. However, the multiple distillation stages remove detectable gluten from the finished liquor. Malted barley is used for its enzymes, not for gluten.

Could cross-contamination occur during processing?

Woodford Reserve takes steps to avoid cross-contamination at every stage. Also, gluten cannot re-introduce itself into the final product. So even trace exposure would be removed by distillation. But there is no evidence that any gluten exposure occurs.

Are all bourbons and whiskies gluten-free?

Nearly all are, but check labeling. Some specialty products add flavors containing gluten after distillation. Avoid these. Unaged “white dog” whiskey before barreling may also have detectable gluten remnants. But Woodford Reserve and properly distilled whiskeys are gluten-free.

Is there independent lab testing?

Yes. Woodford Reserve conducts its own testing as well as third-party lab analysis to verify non-detectable gluten, below 20 ppm. Reviews of batch testing records further validate this gluten-free claim.

Should You Avoid Woodford Reserve with Gluten Sensitivity?

Those with celiac disease, wheat allergy, or sensitivity to gluten do not need to avoid Woodford Reserve bourbon.

Here is guidance for those with gluten issues considering Woodford Reserve:

  • Adhere to the gluten-free label and don’t worry about traces of gluten.
  • No need to limit consumption or intake volume of Woodford Reserve.
  • People with gluten intolerance can safely drink Woodford Reserve without reaction.
  • There are no gluten grains or proteins to trigger systemic immune responses.
  • Those with wheat allergy don’t have to worry about allergic reactions to Woodford Reserve.
  • Elimination diets for celiac diagnosis do not need to restrict Woodford Reserve.

Drinking Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey does not pose any gluten-related health risks to those sensitive to gluten. It aligns with a gluten-free diet and lifestyle.

Comparison to Beer and Other Whiskies

Unlike whiskey, beer is not distilled so it often contains gluten from grains.

  • Beer is made from the direct fermentation of gluten-containing grains like barley, wheat, and rye.
  • Gluten proteins remain intact in finished beer, at concentrations well above 20 ppm.
  • Regular beer is not considered gluten-free unless made from alternative grains like millet or sorghum.

Among other whiskies:

  • Irish whiskey also uses malted barley but involves triple distillation to remove gluten.
  • Canadian whisky may use small amounts of wheat so check labels for “gluten-free”.
  • Single malt Scotch contains some residual gluten due to incomplete multi-step distillation.

So Woodford Reserve bourbon stands out as a clearly gluten-free option compared to beers and some other whiskies.

Dining Out

When ordering Woodford Reserve bourbon at a bar or restaurant, here are tips for staying gluten-free:

  • Ensure you receive the actual Woodford Reserve brand if gluten-free status is important.
  • Check that your beverage is poured from a newly opened bottle and not a possibly contaminated decanter.
  • Request preparation of your cocktail from new mixers and fresh fruit garnishes.
  • Ask that the glass rim not be coated in a flour-based spice mixture.
  • Inform staff of your gluten restriction to minimize cross-contact with gluten-containing foods.

With proper precautions, those with celiac or gluten issues can safely consume Woodford Reserve bourbon when dining out.


In summary, Woodford Reserve Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey is definitively gluten-free. The distillation process removes protein fragments from the rye and malted barley used in production. Woodford Reserve also adheres to stringent precautions against gluten cross-contamination in their facilities. Regular third-party lab testing further validates no detectable gluten in Woodford Reserve bourbon. People with celiac disease, wheat allergies, and sensitivity to gluten proteins do not need to restrict consumption of Woodford Reserve as it aligns with a gluten-free diet. Those with gluten issues can enjoy Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey without concern over gluten exposure.

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