Interview: Mike’s Hard Lemonade

Mike's Hard Lemonade1) Mike’s has recently been permitted to use the “Crafted to Remove Gluten” seal. What exactly is the filtration process and how does it remove/break down gluten?

Mike’s Hard Lemonade uses a proprietary multi-stage filtration process to develop the pure malt base that is at the heart of Mike’s crisp, clean taste. This handcrafted approach, one the company has had in place for many years, has always naturally removed gluten, along with other particles and flavors, from its malt base through filtration. What’s left is a neutral malt base that Mike’s then adds their best-in-class flavors, including natural juices, and other ingredients. This proprietary process is not used by any other fermented malt beverage in the industry.

2) This seal enables Mike’s to highlight its products as being crafted to remove gluten, as long as a disclaimer is provided stating that the products may contain trace amounts. But since Mike’s goes through a process to ensure that <5ppm gluten is found in its beverages, is it safe for celiacs given that the FDA ruled that <20ppm was safe?

The multi-stage filtration process removes gluten to less than 5 parts per million (ppm) as measured by the R5 Competitive ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay) test. So, while Mike’s products are crafted to remove gluten, the company cannot say they are 100% gluten free. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which oversees gluten labeling for alcoholic beverages in the U.S., recently ruled that fermented products made from gluten-containing grains cannot make a gluten-free claim, but are allowed to make a claim that a product is crafted to remove gluten with a disclaimer that there may be traces of gluten as the gluten content cannot be verified.

While the Mike’s filtration process removes gluten to less than 5ppm as measured by the R5 Competitive ELISA test, consumers with celiac disease or severe gluten allergies are strongly encouraged to consult with their doctor before consuming Mike’s products, as they would with any new addition to their diet.

3) Why can the beverage not be labeled gluten-free if it contains <5ppm gluten?

Mike’s products are tested by an independent agency to confirm gluten has been removed to less than 5 parts per million, as measured by the R5 Competitive ELISA test. The test revealed that Mike’s beverages have just 5ppm of gluten; for comparison, according to the FDA foods that are less than 20ppm may be designated as gluten-free.

At the moment, the testing methodologies available to measure gluten for non-fermented food products are accepted by the FDA, but these testing methodologies are not accepted for fermented or hydrolyzed products and have not yet been shown to be valid to quantify the gluten content in fermented and hydrolyzed products.

Mike’s “Crafted to Remove Gluten” seal follows the ruling by the TTB that while a gluten-free claim may not be made, Mike’s can note when a product is crafted to remove gluten as long as a disclaimer is provided stating that products may contain trace amounts of gluten, hence the statement: “The gluten content cannot be verified and products may contain gluten.”

4) It’s commonly thought (and has been debunked by the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, with the exception of malt flavor) that artificial colorings and flavorings in alcohol are not gluten-free, and that alcohol itself is not gluten-free. (For example, many people think it’s necessary to drink potato vodka rather than vodka made from other grains.) Mike’s products have always been crafted to remove gluten but wanted a seal to communicate that to gluten-wary customers. Since the seal doesn’t say “gluten-free”, might customers think that “crafted to remove gluten” applies to only the alcohol itself? That is, do you see a need to specifically communicate that there are no flavorings in the beverages that would be unsafe for celiacs?

When Mike’s worked with the TTB to develop the “Crafted to Remove Gluten” labeling designation our goal was to provide consumers with more information at the shelf so they can make the choice that is right for their dietary needs.

Because the labeling for alcohol products is controlled by the TTB, they ultimately decide the information and language included on labels. The “Crafted to Remove Gluten” seal includes a disclaimer noting that while the product is crafted to remove gluten it may contain trace amounts of gluten.

Additionally, we encourage consumers with celiac disease or a severe gluten sensitivity to check with their doctor ahead of consuming Mike’s Hard Lemonade, as they would with any new addition to their regular diet. We also include a Q&A about the “Crafted to Remove Gluten” seal on our website to further educate consumers about our products and labeling.

We have not run into any confusion from gluten-aware consumers that we need additional labeling or communication at this time, though if that situation were to arise in the future, we’d do everything in our power to clarify the confusion.

5) There is nothing new about Mike’s—no change in formula. But now it has the “crafted to remove gluten” seal. Why now is it important to have the seal? Why did Mike’s specifically develop the seal with permission from the TTB?

The key here is communication. The new “Crafted to Remove Gluten” labeling designation allows Mike’s to provide consumers with more information at the shelf to make the choice that is right for their dietary needs. This is something we were previously unable to do.

While there were a few beers out there for those with gluten sensitivities, there previously weren’t any options in the flavored malt beverage category.

Using a proprietary filtration process, Mike’s has been crafted to remove gluten since its very first batch in 1999. The “Crafted to Remove Gluten” seal was specifically developed with permission from the TTB to communicate this status on the packaging of all of Mike’s products.

For those with severe gluten allergies or celiac disease, it is recommended to consult with a doctor before consuming Mike’s products since they may contain gluten traces.

Learn more about Mike’s Hard Lemonade at mikeshard.com.