Propylene Glycol in Alcoholic Beverages

About a month and a half ago, I was sick. You know that horrible, draining, coughing, phelgm-y, awfulness that was going around? Well it hit no one in my house except me. My throat was so sore and swollen that I didn’t speak for three days. I couldn’t cough because it hurt too much, and I was too tired. In the past, I’ve used raw honey and apple cider vinegar as an effective cough syrup, even with fairly bad colds. This cold defied that treatment. It defied anything I could safely throw at it. Finally, I just wanted to numb the pain away, and grabbed a bottle of vodka.

I’m hardly a drunk. Those health surveys you sometimes have to fill out? They ask how many alcoholic drinks you have in a week, and I struggle with trying to figure out whether to give a decimal value, round down to zero, or round up to one to let them know that I do, in fact, sometimes drink. This was a special circumstance. I normally only keep vodka around my house for cleaning and deodorant purposes, but this time I poured myself a shot glass. Little sips helped keep the pain at bay, but then I started thinking about propylene glycol.

Alcoholic beverages almost never come with ingredient labels. Artificially flavoured beverages like liqueurs, Fireball, flavoured vodkas, flavoured rums, rum coolers, etc. are obvious choices for propylene glycol use. Beer often also contains propylene glycol. Obviously coloured beverages (green, blue, etc.) often also usually contain propylene glycol but what about non-flavoured beverages? Do they contain glycols as well?

It turns out that alcohols contain propylene glycol more often than I thought. I got lucky with that vodka. It turns out that lower-quality/cheaper vodka sometimes contains propylene glycol or glycerol as a marker so that it can be more easily identified. This provides enough suspicion that any vodka should be confirmed glycol-free with the manufacturer. Any beverage with a caramel (brownish, tan, or golden) colour is also suspect; added caramel colours can be produced by adding pure burnt sugar, but they are more often formed by chemicals, for which propylene glycol is often a carrier.

For all other alcohols, I’ve learned it’s best to check with the manufacturer. This is difficult. Contact information can be hard to obtain, manufacturers won’t share ingredient lists (so you have to rely on their proper interpretation of what ingredients you ask them to check for), and sometimes they won’t get back to you at all. There is good news. Some manufacturers share small amounts of ingredient information on their websites. Absolut, for instance, claims that their vodka is made from grain, and contains no PG, flavours, or colours. Spirits are usually distilled, reducing the chemical load in cases where glycols aren’t used as added ingredients. Many manufacturers will get back to you, and some use only burnt sugar as a caramel colour or flavour (or both). My call to France (once my voice came back) yielded a late-evening conversation with the master brewer himself for a certain brand of rum. He promised to send the request to the lab and get back to me, and he did.

If your sensitivity is incredibly severe, you may have to look a bit deeper, into the source of the raw materials used to make the ferment, to ensure lack of contamination on that front. As highly sensitive as I am to propylene glycol, I have not yet had any issue with that possible source of glycol contamination. This is most likely due to the low initial quantity and subsequent distillation process.

In the end, I received responses from the manufacturers of all of my alcoholic beverages, save two, which were the ones I bought to use on my hair. I plan to recontact these two companies when my life becomes a little less hectic. In the meantime, I’m using small amounts of a drinking rum I really like, which has been proven safe and cost no more than the hair rums. I gave away all of my liqueurs and flavoured alcohols, much to the delight of my friends and acquaintances.

Have you had any problems with allergic reactions to alcoholic beverages? What was the alcohol and what are your allergies? Comment below.

8 Responses to “Propylene Glycol in Alcoholic Beverages”

  1. Debby Davies

    I don’t know if I’m allergic to alcohol as such but certainly I can’t drink much anymore. I’m not sure if its the acidity particularly of wine and cider that aggravate my heartburn which developed a few months ago after exposures to PEG and PG or whether there’s PG in it. I seem to be Ok with craft beers made in small, local breweries

    • It does look like the main way propylene glycol could be added to beers is through “natural flavours” or “artificial flavours.” It’s very possible that smaller-volume and craft breweries will tend to use real ingredients to flavour their beers instead of adding “flavours.” Some breweries may also use caramel colouring, but it sounds like those are fewer and further between. From what I’ve read, it sounds like not all breweries who use “flavourings” are aware that these pre-made flavours can contain glycols. The most important thing is to ask, and ensure that you specifically mention that it could be in added flavours or colours, both natural and artificial.

      Glad you’ve found some beers that work for you!

      • Debby davies

        I sometimes get mild diarrhoea as well as the heartburn if I have more than 1 or 2 drinks. So far craft beers, German beers and organic wine have been Ok. I will make sure to ask before I consume any. Thanks

  2. hello,

    “For all other alcohols, I’ve learned it’s best to check with the manufacturer. This is difficult… In the end, I received responses from the manufacturers of all of my alcoholic beverages…”

    Kindly share with us which manufacturers you have heard from, and the information they have provided for their specific products.

    thank you

    • Hi Reza,

      I’m sorry, I don’t feel it would be helpful or responsible for me to do so. I don’t drink very much, so my list of alcoholic beverages is limited. My answers are specific to both the manufacturer and the specific products that I have, and are correct as of the time I purchased and checked – they may be inaccurate now for what is currently on the shelves if any changes of suppliers or reformulations have occurred for the manufacturer. I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking something is safe when the manufacturer may have changed it since I checked. It is always best to check with the manufacturer directly rather than relying on someone else’s list.

  3. William Rivers

    I’ve been struggling for about a year now with dermatitis and a variety of not so fun skin issues. In this time, I’ve been to several doctors who have struggled mightily to identify what might be causing me this pain. Several things seem to be triggers of my skin problems, most notably being alcoholic beverages. It often depends on how much alcohol I consume or what type (which as a college student in my early twenties has been characteristically erratic), however my doctors have been unable to explain this phenomena. This past week, I received a patch test on my skin that revealed that I had a contact allergy to Propylene Glycol. This didn’t mean anything to me at the time, but research in the past few days has shown me that propylene glycol is in alcoholic beverages and several other products I use.

    I must admit, I am a big fan of drinking alcohol, and as a young man I’d like to keep living it up with my friends! Are there alcoholic beverages that are free of propylene glycol? I’m not sure if this would solve my problems, but it is definitely the best answer I’ve found thus far.
    Thanks for posting this!

  4. rachel Harrison

    I cannot seem to drink any alcohol without facing debilitating side effects. Well let me expand on that wine gives me the worst hangover of my life, organic or not. It gives me headache that is just terrible, and often diarrhea. All hard liquor especially Fireball and Jack Daniels, anything flavored or caramel colored as referenced above give me a stomachache that makes it feel as if I have food poisoning. I have to stay away from a lot of beer I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing I can drink is Bud Light. And never in excess.

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