Similar to the steps for vegan certification, non-GMO certification requires a technical inspection of each ingredient that is being used to produce a finished spirit, wine, or beer product. Ingredients with the highest risk of being genetically modified include many of the base grains and starches used in producing spirits including corn, potatoes, wheat, and sugar beets, so these are the most scrutinized ingredients during the certification process. Sometimes cross-pollination of GMO crops with non-GMO crops will result in the modified gene segment’s introduction into the descending generations of crops, contaminating the gene pool.
A big problem in the past with many corn farmers, this is difficult to control as bees don’t reference property lines.
Obtaining this certificate requires sourcing ingredients from reputable farmers as well as ongoing monitoring of descending generations, in both the field and the production facility.
The process for this certification has very strict requirements, although the FDA allows the term “Gluten-Free” by itself to be used on US product labels with some requirements — particularly that any product with the Gluten-Free seal must contain less than 20 ppm of gluten. There are multiple organizations that do Gluten-Free Certification beyond the FDA requirements, including the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO).
Since some of the people who eat a gluten-free diet are doing so for life-and-death reasons, the guidelines for certification are there to guarantee that the products are safe for people with gluten allergies or intolerances. It makes sense that obtaining this certification is a complex process: Vegan, kosher, non-GMO, and organic products are far less likely to trigger allergic or intolerance reactions than those labeled Gluten-Free that don’t have that certification.
The FDA does not regulate distilled spirits, so Drake’s decision to obtain Gluten-Free Certification says a great deal about their high standards.
This is by far the most difficult of the five certifications to receive. The list of rules and regulations is very long, and any business making more than $5000 annually in sales must be certified in order to state “Organic” on the label; the rules even go so far as to regulate the size of the font used to spell out the word! Products containing 70% or more organic ingredients may use the USDA Organic seal and/or display the word “organic” anywhere on the label except in the ingredients list.
To become certified involves a lot of planning and work: An updated plan must be submitted every year. The exact percentage of each ingredient in each product and the tally of all organic ingredients must be calculated. This plan must also address any regulated aspects of the production facility such as the cleaning products used, other items produced in the same space, and how the equipment is washed, sterilized, and serviced.
There are many websites dedicated to the ongoing process of kosher certification. (Being Jewish or of Jewish descent is not necessary to receive this certificate.) To become certified, an alcoholic spirits company must submit an application and thereafter undergo mandatory twice-yearly (and sometimes more frequent) visits by a rabbi, year after year. The frequency of rabbinical visits is a big factor in the overall expense of becoming kosher-certified.
Kosher foods can include almost anything; the most strict requirements relate to animal products and byproducts, which can require constant supervision.
Kosher options can be produced anywhere in the world where a rabbi is willing to travel. According to the Whole Kosher website, the necessary frequency of visits is assessed during the initial interview and depends on the nature of the business and the sorts of foods or beverages being produced.
If you’re a vegan, you’re probably aware of the requirements for Vegan Certification, which also apply to the alcohol industry. Not only must the product contain no animal products or byproducts, but it must also have no ingredients that were ever tested on animals. (This includes a prohibition on using sugars processed with animal bone char). In fact, each and every ingredient must be accounted for with a letter from its producer stating that no animals were used in any way in producing the ingredient.
If a business applying for Vegan Certification is more than 5 years old, it must prove it’s been practicing vegan manufacturing with 5 years of back-documents. This can cause a long delay in the process, so many businesses hoping to achieve this certification must wait until they have their paperwork in order.
Use of the Certified Vegan logo, recognized worldwide, is permitted only on labels of brands produced in the US and US Territories, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
About the Author
Diane Pandolfini is an Advanced Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, an organization dedicated to educating beverage professionals all over the world. She strives to shed more light on how the alcohol industry and veganism co-exist, in the hope of making the world slightly more harmonious. In doing so, she is also writing a series of cookbooks. You can find more information at @the_vegan_apocalypse or on Facebook at Vegan Apocalypse.
These are excerpts from her article for VEGWorld magazine.